Technology and the sexual exploitation of women: Our submission to the UN

Call for input on the use of technology in facilitating and preventing contemporary forms of slavery

In our submission to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and its consequences (April 2022) we presented evidence of modern technology being used to recruit and subject people to contemporary forms of slavery in Australia.

We highlighted the fact that sex trafficking is fuelled by increased demand for paid sexual services as a result of decriminalisation, legalisation, and overall deregulation of the sex industry.

Demand is not met by local women who are mostly unwilling to work in the sex industry. Australian men frequently seek out women who are young, inexperienced, and of Asian background.

Watch: Violence Against Women - Does Technology Harm or Hinder? MTR at Commission on the Status of Women

End to end encryption and OnlyFans as tools for contemporary slavery

We highlighted specific technologies and platforms used to recruit and subject women to sexual slavery and exploitation:

Anonymity allows traffickers to interact with potential victims and customers via anonymous accounts and end-to-end encryption (E2EE). Technology is used to identify, groom, recruit, control, and sell women. Dating websites and apps are used to geolocate and thoroughly research victims.

Tech platforms provide space for advertising, including deceptive advertising, grooming (including the use of pornography to ‘train’ and desensitise), and recruiting via websites, social media and chat rooms.

The sex industry has used online tech to diversify: social media, brothel/escort websites, OnlyFans, sugar dating, and Pornhub all profit from trafficked women. These platforms may have terms of service, or community guidelines prohibiting trafficking and non-consensual material. However, it appears that they rarely enforce their own terms of service.

Tech use in combatting contemporary forms of slavery

As part of the Online Safety Act 2021, Australia’s eSafety commissioner has power to require tech platforms to use proactive detection technology to intercept images or film of child sexual exploitation. Similar technology is able to detect violent sexual activity, and first-generation child sexual abuse material.

We noted that sex industry peak body Scarlet Alliance resists the use of these technologies and opposes regulation requiring platforms to use them.  

Social media platforms have the capacity to use algorithms to be alert to grooming behaviour and trafficking red flags; we said they should use these capacities as much as possible.  

Practical Recommendations:

  1. The Australian Government move away from conflating sex trafficking/slavery with other forms of trafficking/slavery. This has accompanied the Government’s acceptance of the sex industry’s argument that sex work is like any other job. In this modern view, it is only non-payment, rather than the violence and degradation, that harms sex-trafficked women. However, as Project Respect states: “Women in the sex industry and women who have been trafficked are ignored in government initiatives to combat violence against women and family violence. The particular experiences of this cohort of women needs to be recognised and addressed. The government recognises and condemns violence against women but largely ignores the violence faced by women in the sex industry and women who have been trafficked.”
  2. The AFP be better resourced to identify, investigate, and prosecute traffickers and pimps with the best technology available.
  3. Organisations independent of the sex industry be funded to provide digital outreach, education and support to vulnerable women in the sex industry. Scarlet Alliance has received funding from the Federal Government to conduct its Migration Project and provide domestic outreach to migrant sex workers. 40 Yet sex work organisations typically do not believe that sex trafficking is a significant problem in Australia.
  4. Social media and technology platforms should be required to use algorithms and human moderators to detect, report, and remove any grooming, recruiting, advertising, or other red flags for sexual exploitation and trafficking. Research by The Avery Center analysed accounts for indicators of third-party trafficking, finding that 36% of accounts are likely third-party controlled. They found that 28% of respondents said it was “very obvious when a trafficker was managing a victim’s account on OnlyFans.”
  5. Governments should require all companies selling sexual services to report annually, in a modern slavery statement, on how they are addressing the risks of modern slavery in their operations and supply chains, whether or not the business has a turnover of $100 million.

Other Recommendations

  • Separate sex trafficking/slavery from other types of trafficking/slavery. They are not the same. Survivors need a unique approach to exit and recover.
  • Develop an understanding that the legal sex industry escalates demand for women and trafficking arises to meet that demand. The industry is inherently exploitative.
  • The sex industry fosters attitudes that perpetuate slavery, including ethnic preferences and rape fantasy.
  • Many sex buyers are aware that women are trafficked, but they proceed regardless and take no action to assist.
  • The sex industry generally opposes technological strategies like proactive detection or limits on sex industry use of digital spaces.
  • The legal, adult sex industry fosters a tendency to prefer underage girls.

Click image below to read our full submission.

See our full list of submissions here.

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  • Collective Shout
    published this page in News 2023-05-12 16:16:44 +1000

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