August 27th 2005

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Articles from this issue:

FILM CLASSIFICATION: Child sexual abuse now allowed in films

STRAWS IN THE WIND: The wages of spin is ... death? / First, the good news / Indoctrinating Muslims, and others / Hacks and spivs

OPINION: The shocking reality of sex trafficking

CINEMA: 'The Ninth Day' - Priests who suffered under Hitler

CINEMA: The Island - Futuristic nightmare of disposable humans

Women in combat (letter)

We already have a Bill of Rights (letter)

NCP not to blame (letter)

BOOKS: BETWEEN PACIFISM AND JIHAD: Just War and Christian Tradition, by J. Daryl Charles


COVER STORY: Is Canberra listening to 'the real world'?

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Family First senator throws down gauntlet

WORLD AFFAIRS: Behind Washington's nuclear deal with India

THE WAR ON TERROR: Tony Blair's U-turn on Islamic extremism

NATIONAL AFFAIRS: Quarantine and trade policy - a deadly mix

QUARANTINE: Citrus canker outbreak 'a national disgrace'

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The shocking reality of sex trafficking

by Babette Francis

News Weekly, August 27, 2005
Politicians loudly proclaim their abhorrence of global sex slavery, writes Babette Francis, but they are happy to pass domestic laws which encourage it.

Politicians of all political parties claim to be opposed to the international sex trade, i.e., the trafficking of women and children for prostitution. Indeed, trafficking in persons is a criminal offence in Australia under the sex slavery laws enacted by the Commonwealth in 1999.

However, many politicians and the Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission take a benevolent view about domestic prostitution, failing to realise (or acknowledge) that the legalisation of brothels within Australia fuels international sex trafficking.

Article 6 of the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) says: "State Parties shall take all appropriate measures, including legislation, to suppress all forms of traffic in women and exploitation of prostitution of women."

Unfortunately, in clear breach of this treaty - which Australia has signed and ratified - several Australian states have legalised brothels. This is an example of how permissive state governments and agencies such as the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission are only abiding by UN Conventions when it suits them.

Where brothels are legalised or tolerated, there is greater demand for foreign-trafficked victims and an increase in the number of women and children trafficked into commercial sex slavery.

Domestic prostitution fuels international sex trafficking. Demand develops for girls of a particular ethnic origin: it may be Thai girls, or the latest "flavour of the month", such as women from Eastern Europe or Russia.

Brothels were legalised in Victoria, NSW, Queensland and the ACT on the assumption that legal brothels would eliminate illegal prostitution and would protect prostitutes - and their clients - from health risks.

Neither of these assumptions is correct, as is evident from the practical experience in those states which have legalised brothels. Illegal brothels have flourished along with the legal ones, as have strip clubs, escort agencies and street prostitution.

Many prostitutes become users of, or addicted to, drugs to dull their physical and mental pain.

Physical and mental pain

In Canberra earlier this month, a former prostitute and madam, Linda Watson, told a Sexual Integrity Forum, organised by the Fatherhood Foundation:

"The girls start out as fresh, pretty young things, excited about all the money they are making. Then, perhaps three or six months later, the pain sets in.

"It is physical pain - in the back, the legs, the head, all over - and mental pain.

"The mental pain is the worst. It is what makes girls turn to drugs - alcohol and cannabis at first, then harder drugs.

"When I was a madam I would get together with other madams and we'd talk about how many of our girls had a drug habit.

"In those days, about 85 per cent had a habit. These days I'm told it is worse. I myself had a problem with alcohol and pethidine.

"You won't find madams admitting this in public. They all pretend their establishments are squeaky clean, but I know what really goes on ...".

All prostitution is brutal, dangerous and damaging to women - 60–70 per cent of women in prostitution are raped; 70–95 per cent are physically assaulted; 68 per cent experience post-traumatic stress disorder.

Criminal activities

Prostitution fuels public health problems, including HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis B, cervical cancer and fertility complications. Profits from the sex trade fuel other criminal activities.

A June 20-21 conference, organised by the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Migrants and Travellers, presented shocking statistics and stories of the victims who are bought, sold and trafficked across the globe.

Many of these souls face extreme physical and psychological exploitation.

An estimated 500,000 women from Eastern Europe are enslaved and forced to prostitute themselves on the streets of Western Europe alone. The data are even more staggering from Asia, India, Africa and the Americas.

Church organisations and religious communities are already active in the field of rescuing the victims of human trafficking. Human trafficking is now estimated to be the world's third biggest category of crime, rivalling the illicit sale of drugs and arms.

Sister Eugenia Bonetti, of the Italian Union of Major Superiors - an expert in the problem of human trafficking - has offered practical guidelines for fighting human trafficking and emphasised how a new "focus should be on the demand for the services too."

Sister Bonetti said that she would not have to be trying to raise the 80,000 euros ($96,000) to free each young woman enslaved if society were better informed of the problems and imbued with stronger concepts of morality. (Sweden is one country which prosecutes the clients of prostitutes rather than the prostitutes themselves).

The US Government adopted a strong position against legalised prostitution in a December 2002 national security presidential directive, based on evidence that prostitution is inherently harmful and dehumanising and fuels trafficking in persons, a form of modern-day slavery.

The US embassy in Rome and the Vatican have joined forces in the fight against the illicit trade in human beings. Their initiative has led them to combine their contacts in the field to analyse the action being taken to destroy the network that fuels the slavery - paying men.

On June 23, 2005, the 94th UN General Assembly passed the Victim Trafficking Law, creating the offences of involuntary servitude, sexual servitude of a minor, and trafficking of persons for forced labour and services.

At the recent Sexual Integrity Forum in Canberra, federal Labor MP Jennie George spoke eloquently on the exploitation of women trafficked in the sex trade.

It is now up to her to persuade her state colleagues - particularly the Labor premiers who have legalised brothels - to shut down both legal and illegal brothels. This is where the demand for sex trafficking originates.

Brothel applications

It is an outrage that local councils cannot reject brothel applications.

Indeed, in Queensland, according to Logan City's deputy mayor John Grant, councillors would be acting unlawfully if they refused compliant brothel applications.

Thus far, councillors in Logan have avoided prosecution by "failing to approve" rather than "refusing" applications.

Over to you, Jennie!

  • Babette Francis is coordinator of Endeavour Forum Inc.

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