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Australia’s first Modern Slavery Bill passed through the NSW Legislative Council earlier this month. MLC Paul Green, who lead the charge for the new legislation praised the NSW state’s upper house for their support:
“In Australia there is well over 4000 cases of human trafficking with many remaining hidden in plain sight. The evidence is in,” he said after the bill passed.
The Modern Slavery Bill 2018 confronts slavery and slavery-like practices such as servitude, forced labour, debt bondage, organ trafficking, deceptive recruiting as well as forced marriage and childhood brides. If the new law is passed by the Legislative Assembly, it will require businesses with a turnover of more $50 million to monitor their supply chains and report to a new Anti-Slavery Commissioner.
We were pleased to be able to provide evidence of the existence of sex trafficking in Australia (see our submissions for more information):
Campaigning group Collective Shout provided evidence that [women] are being trafficked into Australia, citing the case of a brothel in the Sydney suburb of Willoughby that forced workers on student visas to work 20-hour days to pay off so-called “debts”.
Collective Shout also pointed to a US State Department report finding that in Australia: “Women and girls are sometimes held in captivity, subjected to physical and sexual violence and intimidation, manipulated through illegal drugs and obliged to pay off unexpected or inflated debts to their traffickers.”
Most people recognise sex trafficking as a serious human rights violation, but what about prostitution?
There is sometimes a perception of sex trafficking and prostitution as two separate and unrelated issues, with trafficking being viewed as forced, and prostitution as freely chosen. However, the two are intrinsically connected- the demand for prostitution fuels sex trafficking.
A study of 150 countries found that legalised prostitution leads to an expansion of the prostitution market, increasing human trafficking, and that on average, countries where prostitution is legal experience larger human trafficking inflows. Essentially, legitimising and normalising the sex industry leads to a rise in trafficking, as women must be brought in to meet increased demand.
German Detective Superintendent Helmut Sporer described the devastating impacts of legalising the sex industry in Germany, including worsened conditions for women, greater power to pimps and organised crime gangs and a significant increase in trafficking:
“What is very important here is the awareness of the fact that prostitution and trafficking are a joint phenomenon. There is no such thing as clean, good prostitution on the one hand and quite separate from this the bad trafficking with pimping on the other.”
One prostitution survivor highlighted some of the commonalities between supposedly ‘forced’ and ‘free’ sexual exploitation:
“Prostitution and sex trafficking are intrinsically linked: you have one because of the other. For the last 18 months of my time on the Burlington Road, I stood alongside a trafficked woman. She became my closest friend, and I have never seen a human being so broken down. The conditions in which she lived were inhumane, and, although we had arrived at the same place through different means, we were connected because we were bought, used, exploited, humiliated and raped by the same offenders. One night I would be bought, and, a few nights later, the same man would buy her. On a couple of occasions, we were bought together. That connection can never be broken by anyone at any time in any country.”
In 2003 Dorchen Leidholdt, Co-Executive Director of Coalition Against Trafficking in Women International summed up the connection between prostitution and trafficking as follows:
“Prostitution and sex trafficking are the same human rights catastrophe, whether in local or global guise. Both are part of a system of gender-based domination that makes violence against women and girls profitable to a mind-boggling extreme. Both prey on women and girls made vulnerable by poverty, discrimination and violence and leave them traumatised, sick and impoverished. Both reward predators sexually and financially, strengthening both the demand for criminal operations that ensure the supply.
“The concerted effort by some NGOs and governments to disconnect trafficking from prostitution- to treat them as a distinct and unrelated phenomena- is nothing less than a deliberate political strategy aimed at legitimizing the sex industry and protecting its growth and profitability.”
Pic: Dorchen Leidholdt
Sweden’s solution to prostitution and trafficking, the ‘Nordic model’
The Nordic model was implemented in Sweden in 1999 after extensive research, and it is based on the view of prostitution as a form of men’s violence against women.
The Nordic model criminalises the demand for sexual exploitation, decriminalises those exploited, and provides exit pathways for individuals in prostitution who wish to leave the industry. As Swedish lawyer Gunilla Ekberg explains:
“One of the cornerstones of Swedish policies against prostitution and trafficking in human beings is the focus on the root cause, the recognition that without men’s demand for and use of women and girls for sexual exploitation, the global prostitution industry would not be able to flourish and expand.”
Various human rights organisations, academics and prostitution survivors advocate for the implementation of the Nordic model, which has been adopted in a growing number of countries around the world, including Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Northern Ireland, Canada, France and Ireland.
Progress under the Nordic model
Since Sweden's legislation criminalising the buying of sex, considerable progress has been made. According to research out of the Nordic Gender Institute, the number of men buying sex has decreased from 13.6% in 1996 to 7.9% in 2008. Street prostitution in Sweden has halved while in neighbouring countries such as Norway and Denmark it is estimated to be three times higher. Police have intercepted phone correspondence between pimps and traffickers who now regard Sweden as an unattractive market and suggest Denmark, Germany or Holland (where prostitution is legal) as more profitable alternatives. Reportedly, there has been a cultural shift in Sweden where it is no longer considered acceptable to purchase another person.
As proponents of the Nordic model attest, we cannot oppose sex trafficking of women and children and simultaneously support the commercial sexual exploitation of women and children in prostitution. Sex trafficking would cease to exist if men stopped buying women. There can never be gender equality while women are commodities to be bought and sold.
Campaigners and survivors of sex trafficking celebrated last week after amendments to US federal law would hold websites facilitating sex trafficking accountable. In response to the legislation, various major websites including Craigslist and Reddit have implemented major changes- and now, federal law enforcement authorities are in the process of seizing Backpage.com and its affiliated websites.
The websites are being seized as part of an enforcement action by the FBI, U.S. Postal Inspection Service and the Internal Revenue Service, according to a notice that appeared Friday afternoon on Backpage.com.
The notice didn’t characterize or provide any details on the nature of the enforcement action.
It said that authorities planned to release information about the enforcement action later Friday.
Backpage.com lets users create posts to sell items, seek roommates, participate in forums, list upcoming events or advertise job openings.
But Backpage.com also has listings for adult escorts and other sexual services, and authorities say that advertising related to those services has been extremely lucrative.
Campaigners and survivors of sex trafficking are celebrating what has been dubbed “the most important anti-trafficking legislation in a generation”.
According to the National Centre on Sexual Exploitation, despite investigations by the U.S. Congress, websites that facilitate sex trafficking have not been held to account. New amendments to the “outdated” law, the Communications Decency Act (CDA) would allow victims of sexual exploitation to pursue legal actions against these websites and aid prosecutors in bringing charges against them.
A still image from the 2017 documentary I am Jane Doe.
As reported in the Washington Post:
The legislation arose as Congress learned that its current anti-trafficking laws could not be applied to websites like Backpage, which host thousands of ads daily for female and male prostitutes, some of which are children being trafficked by adults. Backpage has successfully cited the Communications Decency Act, which protects websites from liability for material posted by third parties, to evade both criminal prosecution and civil lawsuits.
Congress launched an investigation into Backpage which showed that its operators helped customers modify their ads to delete references to teenage prostitutes, yet still allowed the ads to run. The Washington Post then reported that Backpage used a company in the Philippines to solicit both prostitutes and johns from other websites, and created new ads for the prostitutes.
In response to the amendments, various major sites have implemented significant changes:
Cityvibe shut down completely, the Erotic Review, the “Yelp of the sex trade” where men rate their experiences with trafficking victims, shut down advertisement boards in the United States, NightShift shut down to review policies, VerifyHim shut down its “newsreel,” Craigslist personals section was shut down, Reddit’s prostitution-related “subreddits” were marked private and the site instituted new policies banning the sale of sex acts and drugs, Google reportedly deleted its publicly shared commercial sex-related advertising, WordPress.com reportedly removed its commercial sex-related advertising sites, Paypal reportedly disabled advertised accounts for commercial sex-related payment, Rubmaps, Erotic Monkey, and USA Sex Guide had extended maintenance periods over the weekend, suggesting upcoming changes due to the new law, Microsoft is issuing new Terms of Service effective May 1st covering all of its platforms, including Skype and Xbox, to urge users not to use the services to share pornography or criminal activity. Read more.
This is a massive victory for survivors of commercial sexual exploitation.
Watch the trailer for 2017 documentary I am Jane Doe
Backpage’s Sex Ads Are Gone. Child Trafficking? Hardly. New York Times
Sexual exploitation of girls and women is the most common form of trafficking worldwide.
Back in April, Collective Shout made a submission to the federal inquiry into establishing a Modern Slavery Act in Australia. Following the UK Parliament’s establishment of a Modern Slavery Act in 2015, a Joint Standing Committee was tasked with investigating whether Australia could adopt a comparable Act.
Photo: 2016 Trafficking in Persons Report USRead more
Most Australians wouldn’t consider the links between sexism, objectification of women and sex trafficking in sport, or even think about it at all.Read more
Statement to Amnesty International by prostitution survivors and those who have been harmed in the sex trade
This is a statement and response developed for the attention of Amnesty International leadership and grass roots membership by prostitution survivors and people who are or have been harmed in the sex trade. Although we have all experienced harm in the sex trade, we also have extensive knowledge from all perspectives, having researched thoroughly the impacts of different legal systems around the world from an objective point of view. Some of us are active Amnesty International members and are concerned about the organisations capacity to further inflict human rights violations and expand harm to women and girls - 90 percent of prostituted people are women/girls and over 99 percent of buyers are men, so this is a women’s rights issue (Sullivan 2007).Read more