Intersections: Anti-trafficking Measures and Migrant Sex Workers in Australia
Intersections: Gender and Sexuality in Asia and the Pacific
Issue 19, February 2009

Anti-trafficking Measures
and Migrant Sex Workers in Australia

Elena Jeffreys

  1. There is international concern about trafficking in persons for the purposes of exploitation in the sex industry. Trafficking is a labour rights issue, affecting up to 800,000 people a year world wide according to US-sponsored research.[1] The UN estimates that there are 175 million migrants across the world each year.[2] Thus it can be said that trafficking affects 0.5 per cent of all migrants. Developed countries, including Australia, are not immune to this issue. The human rights abuses experienced by migrant workers in Australia as result of trafficking-like situations are not lessened by the low statistical representation of this phenomenon.
  2. Sex work in Australia is tolerated, decriminalised or legalised according to state or territory, leading to some of the best work conditions in the world. However, one of the outcomes of anti-trafficking raids on brothels and increased policing in the sex industry is the negation of legislative benefits for migrant sex workers in Australia.[3] Anti-trafficking approaches that are repressive towards sex workers' rights to migrate ultimately benefit traffickers by making their services more prevalent in sex workers' lives.[4] There is concern that reduced rights for migrant sex workers, and therefore increased vulnerability to trafficking, are unintended consequences of anti-trafficking efforts.
  3. Concurrent with practical and reasonable discussions about trafficking is moral hysteria surrounding the sex industry generally. Critics worldwide recognise that the conflation of anti-sex work policies with trafficking has tarnished responses to the issue. Sex industry abolitionists have co-opted anti-trafficking messages for their own cause. This has undermined efforts to prevent trafficking within a labour migration framework, and set sex worker rights advocates against anti-sex work campaigners. These debates are interesting for followers of sex radical or radical feminist politics but are a distraction from the actual issue of trafficking.[5]
  4. Radical feminists use trafficking discourses as an opportunity to promote stigma and negative stereotypes about the sex industry. For example, Mary Lucille Sullivan, in her anti-sex work text titled Making Sex Work, asserts that 'Sexual harassment and rape are indistinguishable from the sex the buyers purchase,'[6] and claims that all women working in the Australian sex industry are subject to 'sexual slavery where possible.'[7]
  5. Ronald Weitzer, in his 2007 article The Social Construction of Sex Trafficking, challenges these ideas. He writes,

      The claim that prostitution is intrinsically evil is an essentialist tenet that does not lend itself to evaluation with empirical evidence…but it is crucial to the debate because it is the very keystone for all other crusade claims regarding the sex industry and sex trafficking.[8]

    Weitzer views Sullivan and her ilk as part of a philosophical milieu that is primarily against sex work. The use of anti-trafficking rhetoric by these feminists is a method of convincing allies to support the abolition of sex work. He concludes:

      Regarding sex trafficking…interventions focused on persons who are unequivocally victims and perpetrators of coercive trafficking (involving force and fraud) would be a superior strategy to the undifferentiated and often counterproductive practices of many faith-based rescue organizations, whose practices are driven by this moral crusade's broad goal of abolishing the entire sex industry worldwide.[9]

    For the purpose of this article I will be referring to migrant sex workers generally. I do not believe or argue that migrant sex worker and trafficking are indistinguishable. At least one distinguishing factor—criminal status—is overwhelming in the Australian context. Trafficking is a crime, sex work is not.
  6. The United Nations Trafficking Protocol defines outlines three components to the crime of trafficking,

      Trafficking in persons shall mean [1] the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, [2] by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, [3] for the purpose of exploitation.[10]

    Australian criminal justice responses to trafficking include the criminalisation of deceptive recruiting, debt bondage, sexual servitude and slavery. These are sub-crimes that encompass the three components of trafficking. The Australian Criminal Code Division Section 271 defines that a person is guilty of trafficking if they have been involved in 1) facilitating the movement of a person AND 2) have used force, coercion AND/OR deception OR 3) are reckless as to whether another person will be exploited.[11]
  7. Sex workers have developed sophisticated views abput trafficking and migration. The World Charter for Prostitutes Rights asserted in 1986: 'Women who choose to migrate as [sex workers] should not be punished or assumed to be victims of abuse. They should enjoy the same rights as other immigrants.'[12] Sex workers internationally have campaigned for sex workers to have equal access to rights and justice, including the right to work without fear of criminal prosecution. This is manifested in the demand for decriminalisation of the sex industry. The less tangible rights to dignity, however, including understanding sex workers as people rather than victims, have been more difficult to achieve, even in the decriminalised environments of Australia. Sex workers in the Asia-Pacific region have led the world in their critique of the inherent victimisation of sex workers. When dealing with sex workers from non-western cultural and language backgrounds, advice from the Prostitutes Collective of Victoria SIREN (Sexual Health Information Resources and Education for Non English Speaking Background Sex Workers) project 1994 was: 'Don't be patronising. There's a good chance that the other person [Asian background migrant sex worker] is smarter, quicker, more experienced in survival, more successful and, sometimes, more informed than you are.'[13] In 2009 this advice is needed more than ever, as Australia emerges from a policy response laden with abolitionist overtones that victimise migrant sex workers.
  8. SIREN was groundbreaking in its approach to health service delivery and rights advocacy for migrant sex workers. The SIREN project produced multi-lingual information resources for migrant sex workers and an advocacy guide titled SIREN speaks about non-English speaking women who are sex workers in Australia. The advocacy guide was based on a research project with Thai background sex workers. I will elaborate on their research later in this article. SIREN was funded by the Commonwealth AIDS Prevention and Education Program of the Department of Human Services and Health, and executed in 1994 by the Prostitutes Collective of Victoria. The main aim of the Prostitutes Collective of Victoria at the time was 'To lobby for a legal and administrative framework which does not discriminate against people on the grounds of their involvement in the sex industry.'[14] The SIREN project held more than sixty consultation meetings during the development of the advocacy guidelines, including consulting with sex worker organisations and services in Thailand, Philippines, Fiji, Indonesia, New Zealand and Australia. Ten migrant sex worker workplaces (brothels) were included in the consultation process, and numerous individual migrant sex workers.[15]
  9. Many sex worker organisations at that time remodelled their service delivery based upon the needs of migrant sex workers that were identified within the project. The Prostitutes Collective of Victoria was one of these. The philosophy was based upon the key principle that migrant sex workers have a right to equal access to their service, its resources and its decision-making processes.[16] SIREN created an atmosphere of shared responsibility and inclusion for migrant sex workers, and set a high standard for the respect of migrant sex workers' human rights in Australia. In the later 1990s however, anti-sex work rhetoric dominated the trafficking debates, and the early work of SIREN was overlooked in favour of criminal sanctions that were steeped in anti-sex work sentiment. In 2008 a coalition of non-government organisations, led by the Human Rights Commission, formed a working group from the Commonwealth Attorney General's Roundtable on Trafficking, to develop new Guidelines for working with people who may have been trafficked. This new coalition is informing the ideology of non-government organisations and Government alike, and leads a return to a labour and human rights viewpoint of trafficking in Australia.
  10. Australian non-government organisations and the Government Departments that fund them must now decide whether to follow an abolitionist approach to migrant sex worker and trafficking or to support migrant sex workers' labour and human right to work in the Australian sex industry. Critically, returning to the SIREN project and the research it has influenced can assist in developing a viewpoint of migrant sex workers that is neither pathological nor victimising.
  11. SIREN advised Government and non-government organisations in 1994: '…your role is to resource the other person's needs—should they wish it. It is not your role to decide what those needs are.'[17] In the spirit of this endeavour SIREN did a small scale survey of nineteen Thai women working as sex workers in Australasia in 1993. Nine were working in Melbourne, five in Sydney and five in New Zealand. Most of the participants (eleven) were interviewed in Thai, eight were interviewed in English. SIREN summarises the demographics and methodology as follows:

      Nine of the women said they were originally from the North or North-East of Thailand, eight from the Central Plains area and two from the South of Thailand. Seven of the women said they had worked as prostitutes in Thailand, twelve said they had not. The women were not asked if they were currently under contract; nor were they asked how long they had been in the country. It was felt that these two questions may deter 'illegals' from participating. The women interviewed in Melbourne were unlikely to be under 'contract' since they were willing to be interviewed, sometimes in English, at their workplace or at the SIREN project office. They tended to be older and more experienced in the industry. Women in New Zealand tended to have less experience in the industry (four out of the five had worked in the industry for less than four months) and may or may not have been contract workers. Amongst all the women, eight had less than one year's experience in the commercial sex industry. Five had one to three years [experience]. Five had four to six years [experience] and one had more than ten years experience.[18]

  12. In May 1993, Sydney Sexual Health began their first ever survey of Thai, Chinese, Malaysia and other Asian background migrant sex workers who were attending their Sydney-based sexual health clinic. Opened in 1990, the sexual health clinic used a Chinese interpreter and a Thai-speaking health educator to administer the questionnaires. The Sexual Health centre also conducts joint outreach and promotions with the multicultural health outreach team at the Sex Workers Outreach Project, and has developed long term trust relationships with the Asian background migrant sex worker community in Sydney. The first survey was designed as an evaluation tool by a Masters student at the Faculty of Medicine, University of Sydney.[19] The first survey collection was a convenience sample, conducted over twenty-seven months. Ninety-one female Thai and Chinese sex workers participated in the survey, sixty-six Thai women, twenty-three Chinese women and two of non-specified Asian background. In November 2002 the Sexual Health centre began a follow-up survey. It also was a convenience sample, collected over one year. The survey was written in Thai and Chinese, and was administered by Thai and Chinese health educators. One hundred and sixty-five Asian background female sex workers participated in the follow-up survey, sixty-nine Thai women and ninety-six Chinese women. There was no attempt to include sex workers from the first survey in the follow up, and no-one participated in both.[20]
  13. In 2000, a research project with Thai migrant sex workers in Sydney was conducted by the Empower Foundation from Thailand, the Global Alliance Against Trafficking in Women, also from Thailand, and the Sex Workers Outreach Project in New South Wales. The overall design and reporting was a collaboration between these groups. The research was for the purpose of establishing up-to-date data for the Scarlet Alliance National Forum and ICAAP, both in Melbourne in late 2000. At that time the abolitionist lobby in Australia had begun to use migrant sex work and trafficking issues as a platform to promote the 'recriminalisation' of the sex industry.[21] The presence of anti-sex work campaigners at the ICAAP meeting was anticipated, and sex worker groups and supporters felt that recent data would assist in meaningful engagement with this topic. Twenty interviews were conducted over one week, seven in private homes or escort agencies, and thirteen in massage parlours or brothels, with Thai speaking migrant sex workers in Sydney.
  14. In 2006, Scarlet Alliance led the Australian component of a trans-national study of Chinese migrant sex workers in seven countries. Partner organisations in the research in Australia were the Sex Workers Outreach Project in New South Wales, Sex Industry Network in South Australia, Resourcing Health and Education in the Sex Industry in Victoria, and the Sex Workers Outreach Project in Australia's Capital Territory. Surveys were based upon the trans-national study survey, designed by Zi Teng, the Hong Kong sex worker concerned organisation. Focus groups of Chinese-speaking sex workers in Australia made adjustments to the survey for local issues and needs. The research project was approved by both the AIDS Council of New South Wales and Inner South Community Health Service (Melbourne) ethics committees, prior to data collection. The survey collection was conducted by Chinese-speaking peer educators while on outreach to brothels and private workers in four Australian cities, Sydney, Adelaide, Melbourne and Canberra. A control group of non-Chinese sex workers was recruited through Scarlet Alliance activities and volunteers. Sex workers received a small gift for participation. Seventy-two sex workers participated in the survey; forty-three Chinese background sex workers and twenty-nine non-Chinese background sex workers.
  15. Some similarities and differences in methodology emerge from these successful research projects. All had multi-lingual sex worker peer educators involved in the design, interviews and/or survey collection. The SIREN research in 1993 and Chinese Sex Workers Needs Analysis in 2006 decided not to ask sex workers directly about their contract and/or visa status. SIREN explains; 'The women were not asked if they were currently under contract; nor were they asked how long they had been in the country. It was felt that these two questions may deter 'illegals' from participating.'[22]
  16. By contrast, the Sydney Sexual Health Research and the 2000 research projects both asked direct and specific questions about contract work and immigration status. I have used the data from the four research projects to inform this article. However it is appropriate that we first hear from individual migrant sex workers themselves.
  17. Pornpit Puckmai, a Thai background sex worker, National Thai Human Rights Award winner in 2004 and spokesperson for Empower Foundation, Thai sex worker organisation, shares her thoughts about sex work and trafficking:

      The first Thai visitor to come to Australia was 80 years ago, when a man came to buy horses for the King. Your most famous horse had a Thai name – "Phar Lap" – meaning lightning. I also have many good customers from Australia. So we are not really strangers! Every year about 400,000 Australians visit my country. 280,000 Aussie men and 120,000 Aussie women come looking for adventure, to study, visit friends, find cheap shopping, or do business. Many work illegally, like teaching English, or doing computer work, import, export, translation. Many also overstay their visa, and worry about the police catching them. And every year about 76,000 Thai people visit Australia. Around 40,000 Thai men and 36,000 Thai women come looking for adventure, to study, visit family or to do business. Like the Australians I know, some will work illegally as farm workers, domestic workers, cleaners, sex workers, cooks, or masseuses. Some will also overstay their visa, and worry about the police catching them. Same – same, but different? Most Thai women are return visitors, only about 14,000 are visiting Australia for the first time.[23]

    Porn expresses a narrative typical of migrant sex workers; one of travel, and desire to be considered a migrant worker. This idea is echoed by Jum Chimkit at the annual Globali$ed Sex Work seminar hosted by Scarlet Alliance, 'Sex work is work…Travel is dream of sex workers. I think it [is] not only dream of sex workers…'[24]
  18. From the research projects mentioned, the most common demographic and experience of Thai sex workers in Australia can be imagined. I have chosen to describe a representation of the Thai women from the research projects in first person:

      My name is Noi. I am Thai. I am 30 years old. I have children back in Thailand . I am in a relationship in Australia. I have been married and divorced, and my current partner is an Australian man. I can speak English. I completed high school. I had not done sex work prior to coming to Australia.

      While I have only ever worked in Australia, many of my colleagues have worked in at least one other country on their travels around the world: Singapore, Malaysia or Japan. Many of my colleagues have been to Australia three times or more. I planned ahead and organised to do sex work while in Australia. I came into Australia legally. I paid for my own ticket to come to Australia. I work in a brothel. I have my passport with me, I did not have to give it to the brothel owner. I am not on contract in Australia. I am working legally in Australia. I see about twenty clients per week. I use condoms with my clients.

  19. I will now elaborate using the data from the research projects mentioned. The most prevalent age ranges for Thai sex workers in the 1993 SIREN survey were twenty to twenty-four and thirty to thirty-nine years old.[25] The 2000 survey found that the most prevalent age range was twenty-five to thirty-five years old, with one fifty-two year old woman who had been in Sydney for seven years.[26] The overall median age of participants in the Sydney Sexual Health survey increased from twenty-six years in 1993 to thirty-three years in 2003.[27] This included ALL participants, including Chinese speakers, whose proportion also increased by 2003. The average age increase over the last decade is among Thai women, and this is backed up by anecdotal information from sex worker organisations.[28] Thai migrant sex workers are generally older than the stereotype, and in 2008, if the trends have continued, are coming to Australia older than in previous decades.
  20. Thai sex workers in the Sydney Sexual Health 2003 survey had a higher rate of divorce, separation, or widowhood, than Chinese sex workers.[29] As Cathy Pell et al suggest, 'Thai women were more likely to have Australian partners whereas Chinese women were more likely to have Asian partners.'[30] Relationship demographics were not taken in the 1993 Sydney Sexual Health, SIREN or Global Alliance Against Trafficking in Women/Empower Foundation/SWOP interviews.
  21. Eleven of the participants in the SIREN project were interviewed in Thai, and eight in English, however this is not recorded in the research as an indication of literacy.[31] All twenty of the Thai sex workers interviewed in 2000 research could communicate in English.[32] English fluency reportedly increased for Thai and Chinese attendees at the SSH clinic between 1993 and 2003, from 41 per cent to 67 per cent, with Thai sex workers 'more likely to report better English reading and writing skills than Chinese speakers.'[33] Overall education levels of migrant sex worker participants in the Sydney Sexual Health survey increased between 1993 and 2003. Primary school level education was 12 per cent in 1993 and 33 per cent in 2003; tertiary was 37 per cent in 1993 and 18 per cent in 2003.[34]
  22. Questions about previous work in the sex industry were common to all research projects. In 1993, seven (36 per cent) of the SIREN participants had worked in the sex industry prior to travelling to Australia, twelve had not.[35] Similar statistics came through the 2003 survey; 29 per cent of the Thai sex worker participants had worked in the sex industry prior to working in Australia.[36] Of the total sample of Thai and Chinese sex worker participants, twenty-nine had worked in the sex industry in a country other than Australia, with 44 per cent of this group having worked in Thailand, 16 per cent worked in Singapore, 12 per cent in Malaysia or Japan. Four women had done sex work in two countries previously."[37] The 2000 research found that '…some women felt embarrassed/ashamed about working in Thailand (more stigma), they felt more confident to work as a sex worker here rather than Thailand / more income here,'[38] Also interesting is the amount of travel that those Thai women who had done sex work before had undertaken. Thai migrant sex workers in the Sydney Sexual Health research were globally aware and embarked on a range of travel: 'Twenty-five (15 per cent) of the women said they had visited Australia for sex work three times or more previously. In both 1995 and 2003, about 20 per cent had previously been in Australia for sex work.'[39]
  23. The research also suggests that Thai women were more experienced with sex work and migration for sex work than their Chinese counterparts. 'More Thai women than Chinese planned to work in the industry when they came to Australia (33.3 per cent vs. 6.4 per cent). Twenty-five per cent of the women had intended to study in Australia.'[40] What is not able to be drawn from the research is whether level of experience in travel and sex work correlates to level of information about Australia or the sex industry prior to travel. It is known from the 2000 research that Thai women gain information from their migration agents about the nature of sex work in Australia. As the Global Alliance discovered, 'All women got information from an agent that working here [in Australia] will get a lot more income.'[41] Thai sex workers in the 2003 survey also reported entering Australia legally.[42] Most Thai sex workers (73.9 per cent) participating in the 2003 component of the Sydney Sexual Health survey paid for their own tickets to come to Australia.[43] The venue of work was known, and the factors impacting upon a persons' choice of venue were directly explored. For example, none of the Thai women in the 2003 survey were doing street-based sex work, most worked in parlours. However there was an increase in escort work for the 2003 group (6.7 per cent) compared to the 1995 study (1.7 per cent)[44] This corresponds to anecdotal evidence from sex worker organisations that the anti-trafficking responses in Australia were causing the industry to go further underground in order to avoid the raid activity that was popular at that time. As the Scarlet Alliance explained, 'Extensive and repetitive raids push the workplaces underground'[45] It can be concluded that the increasingly underground nature of Thai migrant sex work in Australia in 2003 was not necessarily a result of actual criminal activity, as 92.7 per cent of participants had retained their passports, an indicator at that time that the participant group was generally not on contract, and thus had not been trafficked into Australia for work. Their legality did not make them immune to having to cope with punitive anti-trafficking approaches targeting their workplaces. As asserted by a British Medical Journal Article in 2004, 'efforts to reduce trafficking may be making conditions worse for voluntary migrants.'[46]
  24. Chinese background migrant sex workers in Australia are also a subject of attention in relation to trafficking. Much has been written about these Chinese sex workers. Elaine Jeffreys is a key English-speaking contributor to academic understanding of Chinese sex work. Her analysis is morally driven and recommends that sex work not be legitimised in China.[47] In opposition to this view, Chinese sex workers in south China and Hong Kong have been given a voice through a number of active sex-worker organisations. JJJ Association, Zi Teng, and Action for Reach Out have all conducted a range of local surveys and needs analysis with Chinese sex workers, and recognise sex work as legitimate. Professor Pan Sui-Ming at the Institute of Sexuality and Gender, Renmin University of China, is the leading expert on sex work in China and has published widely on the topic. He advocates for decriminalisation of sex work in China. In this next section I will explore research relating to Chinese sex workers in Australia, beginning with a representational story drawn from research, of Chinese sex worker Ming.

      My name is Ming. I knew many friends from my home that have come to Australia to study. I am in my mid-thirties. I travelled from Shanghai to Australia, I didn't stop along the way. I was a sex worker in my home town. This is the first time I have travelled to Australia, but I have travelled to other places for work in recent years. I organised my own work visa before I left China. I decided to come to Australia because I had heard so much about working here from a friend, and I knew the working conditions were good. I worked hard for eighteen months to pay for all the expenses of my flight and visa.

      I work around twelve hours a day. I see between four and six clients each day. I share a split of my earnings with the owner of the premises. The place where I work is a full service brothel. I have sex with my clients. As well as sex, I offer extra services, for a fee, to my clients. Most of my clients are English-speaking background. I speak English and Mandarin while I am at work. I mainly see clients that I have seen before. I use condoms at work.

      If I suspect that I have a sexually transmitted infection, I go to the doctor. The service that I have the most contact with while I am in Australia is the Sexual Health service. I access information from the Sexual Health service and my local sex worker organisation.

      I have not been sexually assaulted during my time in the sex industry. However, if I was sexually assaulted, I know what I would do – I would go straight to the police. I know my rights in Australia. I think the laws are fair here. I have never been arrested.

      My income here is better than my income in China. I am quite satisfied with my earnings here. I will return to Australia to work again.

  25. I will now summarise the Chinese Needs Analysis survey of 2006–2007. It is the only dedicated survey for Chinese migrant sex workers in Australia. It has not been previously published, and is more current than other available research. As such it provides a strong contemporary evidence base for understanding this group of sex workers in Australia. The most common age range for Chinese sex-worker participants was thirty-one to forty. Less common was forty and over, even less common was twenty-one to thirty. No one was aged twenty or below. One respondent answered that they were fifty-one years old. Shanghai and Guan Dong were the two most common home regions of Chinese sex-worker participants, followed by Liao Ning, Shandong, then Hong Kong, Sichuan, Taiwan and Beijing. Due to the identifying nature of this question, answering it was optional, and twenty-eight out of forty-three (65 per cent) participants chose not to disclose their home region.
  26. Sex work was the largest single previous occupation of participants, at 31 per cent, followed by housewife (14 per cent), small business owner (12 per cent), student (12 per cent) and farmer (4.8 per cent, or two out of forty-one). Other individual occupations listed were mechanic, accountant, bank officer, beautician (two respondents), police officer (one) and public servant (one). This is the first time most participants (79 per cent) had left their home to work in another country. Nine respondents (20.9 per cent) had previously travelled internationally to work. The overwhelming majority of Chinese sex-worker participants had a visa in order to travel (88.57 per cent). Two respondents had help from an agent or friend (5.7 per cent), two chose the response 'other' without elaborating (5.7 per cent). Five people did not answer this question. This was also an optional question, however unlike the low number of respondents to the question about home town, 81 per cent chose to discuss their method of travel to Australia.
  27. When asked why they had chosen to travel to Australia, 28 per cent answered that someone had introduced them to the idea, 24 per cent had been to Australia before and chose to return, and an equal number listed they chose to travel to Australia because the sex work environment is good.
  28. Participants reported the hours they worked each day. Most reported working more than eight hours each day (61 per cent), with most of those responses being twelve hours. A notable percentage reported working less than eight hours a day (35 per cent). Most participants reported seeing four to six customers a day (51.2 per cent). Ten people reported seven to nine customers a day (25.6 per cent); six people reported three customers a day (15.3 per cent); three people reported seeing ten customers (7.69 per cent) daily. This question was not optional; however four participants (9.3 per cent) chose not to give information about the number of customers they see.
  29. Many people reported they shared a split of their earnings with the owner of the premises (44.1 per cent). More than half of respondents worked in full service establishments where sex is a standard part of the service (64.5 per cent). However, 39.5 per cent reported working for themselves and/or being the business owner. Another 16 per cent nominated working in another situation, but did not elaborate. Of the forty-three participants, two chose not to give information about their work environment.
  30. Over half of the participants indicated they provided full service 全套 (按摩+做愛) (52.27 per cent), followed by massage 半套 (按摩) (45.45 per cent). Only one person indicated other services 其他. Three participants chose not to give this information. The majority of respondents provided extra services to clients for extra money (55.5 per cent). No extra services were provided by 44.5 per cent. Nearly all respondents reported their customers to be primarily Anglo (92 per cent, or thirty-eight respondents). Of the remaining participants, three reported seeing primarily Asian background clients and three participants chose not to answer this question.
  31. Chinese sex-worker participants chose multiple responses when asked what languages they use at work. The vast majority of respondents (70 per cent) use English language at work, 英文. Half of all respondents use Mandarin language at work, 普通話. However, nine participants chose not to answer this question. It can be inferred from the answers given that most participants were multilingual and speak English.
  32. Over half participants reported seeing mainly the same customers on a regular basis (68 per cent). The remaining participants (32 per cent) indicated they primarily saw new customers. Almost all participants (97 per cent) indicated that they used condoms with all customers. This is comparable with condom use among general sex worker populations in Australia. Of the forty-three participants, two chose not to answer this question.
  33. Almost everyone reported going to a Doctor if they suspected they had contracted a sexually transmitted infection (STI), 求醫, (93 per cent). One person indicated they purchased medicine from a chemist, 自行買藥. Not one participant answered 待回鄉後才處理, 'wait until I go to my home country, then I will address it.' This is comparable with general sex worker populations in Australia, who access sexual health clinics at a higher rate than their non-sex workers. A large majority (84 per cent) of participants had heard of their local sexual health clinic. Major capital cities in Australia have free STI services for sex workers from non-English-speaking backgrounds, and workers are not expected to use their real names. This makes it extremely convenient to access clinics in Australia, and clearly the participants have benefited from this regime.
  34. Sex workers were also asked about their main sources of information while they are in Australia. The majority of participants (58 per cent), answered that they obtained information in Australia from the Chinese Daily, 中文報章. Half also obtained information from their local sex-worker organisation. A further three respondents answered that they obtained information from other sources; one of those participants specified that they got information in Australia from their 'friend' and nine participants did not answer this question.
  35. Over half of the respondents said they had never experienced sexual assault in the workplace (27 respondents), whereas nineteen respondents (44 per cent) reported they had experienced sexual assault in the workplace. Comparative data with the English-speaking control group had not been analysed at time of publication, so it is unknown if this is higher or lower than non-Chinese background workers. Half the respondents (51 per cent) reported that they called the police in response to sexual assault in the workplace, 報警. This is heartening in light of the number that experienced sexual assault. Given that a significant number of the participants reported being sexually assaulted at work, the willingness of participants also to contact police in response to that sexual assault is an important indication of intention to seek justice in the event of crime taking place. Follow up questions about the quality or usefulness of police responses should be included in future studies.
  36. Answers on the topic of human rights were also very positive. In all, 74 per cent of participants were clear on their rights while 81 per cent (thirty five) of the participants answered they believe the laws are fair in Australia 公平. Only three answered that the laws are unfair 不公平. Levels of arrest were extremely low; one person answered that they had been arrested, thirty-eight responded that they had not.
  37. Most participants stated that their income in Australia is better than China (61.9 per cent), however sixteen (38 per cent) respondents stated the income is comparable to China. Fewer than half (45 per cent) of the participants were reasonably satisfied with their income in Australia and fifteen participants were satisfied (37.5 per cent). Some participants were not satisfied (19 per cent). However, 75 per cent of participants answered that they will come back to Australia to work. One participant said they would not return, due to low income, 收入低. No one answered that it was a dangerous working environment. Five participants answered that they would not return due to other reasons; including one respondent who wrote, 'too hard, China now is good.'
  38. Korean sex workers are an emerging population among migrant sex workers in Australia. Korean sex workers in their home country are not supported by either health services or a legislative regime that offers rights or recourse to justice, as Sealing Cheng, Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University, observed in 2004:

      In the women's movement of Korea, the total absence of a discourse on sex workers' rights precludes any approach based on the right to health in NGO advocacy or services. The victim paradigm, which emphasizes the women's powerlessness, presumes that the need to 'stop trafficking' is of paramount importance and attempts to do so by exposing abusive conditions through published reports and international lobbying. There is no critique in this paradigm of the mandatory STD/HIV tests and deportation, or the absence of health education for foreign entertainers, or suggestions to rectify these violations of migrants' right to health. The limited services provided by these NGOs are directed only at runaways and do not include women in the clubs. There is no rights-based analysis of a woman's health or working conditions.[48]

  39. Similarly, little research has been done with Korean sex workers in Australia, though they are a new focus of anti-trafficking measures. They feature more heavily in contemporary unpublished research than the earlier examples I have cited. Korean sex workers were not surveyed in 2003 by Sydney Sexual Health, and SIREN was not produced in the Korean language. A 2006 – 2007 University of New South Wales survey of sex workers in Sydney, Melbourne and Perth included Korean sex workers; however the results were not available at time of print for discussion in this article. Below is a representational story of a Korean sex worker in her home country. This story, based on the imagined experience of a sex worker named Shin, provides a back story to Korean sex work migration to Australia. Sex work in Korea was criminalised in 2003, leading to protests, class conflicts and heavy-handed policing. Media reports of these activities, and knowledge gathered by Sex Workers Outreach Project Multicultural Team in NSW inform the story of Shin.

      My name is Shin. I live in South Korea. I am thirty-eight years old and I have two university degrees. I have worked as a sex worker near Seoul for almost ten years. My clients are local business men. Not many of my friends know that I work, and I have never told my family. At the place where I work the owner doesn't want us to use condoms. I use try to use condoms in the room with clients, I put them on with my mouth to make it sexy, but many of the clients would prefer if I didn't use condoms. Sometimes I don't use condoms - if work has been quiet and I need to convince a client to come with me, I will tell them I won't use a condom. There are Government run health clinics that I go to. The clinics are very expensive. It costs the equivalent of $AUS300 to get a health check up at the clinic. I go to the clinic every two weeks, but I probably have unprotected sex a few times a week as well. I have had a few sexually transmitted infections, but the doctors are good, they give me medicine and I am usually very healthy.

      Sex work used to be tolerated in South Korea, but harsh new laws against our industry were introduced in 2004. Our work used to be very predictable – eight hour shifts, I worked at the same place for three years, I had many regular clients and reliable income. Now I travel around working in smaller places that are not set up for the sex industry. In 2004 the violent raids began, the police closed down the businesses I worked in, and we were all arrested. I had money then, so I paid the police off and they let me go. Some of my friends, especially the younger women, had lots of trouble in detention with the police. A hunger strike was held to try to make the Government change their mind. We delivered a petition to the Government. The petition said: 'We feel only forsaken by the good-for-show policy of the Ministry of Gender Equality that has no correspondence with our realities. Those who are wealthy and in lack of nothing seem not even interested in how difficult and urgent our immediate realities are. They are drowned in their own illusion, thinking that they are helping us but in effect they have pushed us to this cold and bleak place.' The Government never listened. The Government only listened to the US Trafficking in Persons Report.

      I went along to the protests in the streets against the illegality in 2004. Every sex worker I have ever known was at the protest, more than 2,000 of us, all ages and from all around the city, all wearing masks and sunglasses to hide our identity. We held banners that said 'You kill our business, You kill business men.' I felt very angry — I hate the USA for pressuring my Government to make us illegal. I felt that the USA is hypocritical, there are so many American troops who are our friends and lovers in South Korea, yet their army wanted to portray us as victims of trafficking. Now our Government has been rewarded by the United States. Yet the raids and arrests continue.

      Since 2004 things have changed for us. The raids and arrests happen regularly, every holiday period. I was arrested in 2006. I was arrested again in 2007. Sometimes I can pay the police off, sometimes I can't afford it. I have many friends and family who travel to Australia and the United Kingdom for work. I have many friends who say that in Australia work conditions are better, such as condom use, and better money for work. There is less pressure from clients to not use condoms. All the arrests have made me think about going to Australia to work for a while. I don't know if I will go to Australia, but there are many ways I could come. There are people who will help me come to Australia if I want to go. I won't have to pay anything upfront. I pay it back by working for free for a few weeks when I first arrive. They will organise transport, somewhere to stay, it makes it very easy for us. It is something I think about every day. I would like to go to Canada and America and Australia. I have learnt a little bit of English and maybe I will go soon. Every time the raid happens I think about it. I think about it every time I have to change workplaces because another brothel has been closed down. I would also like to study English overseas, so maybe this is a way for me to go to another country and work while I am there, and have another person organise my papers and flight for me.

  40. Shins' story is one of Government policy creating unmet domestic sex-worker industrial needs, and the resulting migration outlook. US foreign policy has encouraged an abolitionist agenda in the South Korean sex industry laws, ruining sex workers' career prospects and resulting in sex workers looking outwards in the region for work options. This is coupled with a general increase in South Korean migration to Australia, thus sex workers, as a subset of all South Korean migrant labour, are travelling more and have increased needs in regards to visas and migration transparency generally. I will now substantiate Shins' story by exploring anecdotal evidence, government, sex worker organisation statements and media stories.
  41. Media report that sex workers are well educated in South Korea, generally with tertiary level education and able to engage in lively conversation with clients also of a professional background.[49] According to the Sex Workers Outreach Project NSW (SWOP NSW) Multicultural Project, condom use is not common in Korea generally, and sex workers still struggle with the issue of condom negotiation with clients there.[50] Sexual Health visits in South Korea are expensive, equivalent to around $AUS300 per check up.[51] Regular visits to the sexual health centres is common for sex workers in South Korea, however unprotected sex is common also.[52] Where established sex work had previously operated, media report that the Government crack down on sex work means that more clandestine operations now dominate the industry.[53] Sealing Cheng documents that sex workers protested vigilantly, with hunger strikes outside the National Assembly buildings that began on 2 November 2004 and continued for many weeks.[54] Cheng also documented the petition handed to the Government during that time, and persisted in reporting that pressure from the US State Department Trafficking in Persons report was the main factor in the closure of the previously legitimised and tolerated sex workplaces.[55] Other academics and journalists concur, including David Scofield, who reported that the threat of US economic sanctions against South Korea was the main motive behind the criminalisation of sex workers: 'Indeed, the drive behind this latest exercise is international pressure, not domestic outcry. South Korea has been included in the US State Department's 2004 Trafficking in Persons Report…Membership on the list could have real economic ramifications…The United States could seek to penalize the country by inhibiting access to US markets.'[56] The US campaign to have South Korea criminalise sex work was being fought on a range of fronts. Joining the US State Department was U.S. Deputy Defence Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, who was alleged to have 'called for the elimination of prostitution.'[57] The protests against the Government policy were overwhelming:

      On seventh October and first of November, more than 2,000 sex workers took to the streets of Seoul in protest. Braving the stigma of prostitution with only sunglasses and masks, female sex workers have been making the strongest public statement ever in Korea against threats to their livelihood and well-being—and those of their families.[58]

  42. For the next two years huge crackdowns against sex workers were declared a success by the South Korean Government. In November 2006 reports of up to 19,000 individuals picked up in raids were being publicised by some news sources.[59] Other sources reported that 24,000 individuals were netted.[60] By February 2008, the Korean Times reported that the US was looking more favourably upon South Korea, as a result of the crackdown on sex work that had begun in 2004.[61]
  43. At the same time it was reported that 28,000 young South Koreans were travelling to Australia for work, 'making Korea the second largest holder of the working holiday visa after the United Kingdom for the country.'[62] With travel to Australia for work being an ongoing trend, and the anti-sex work policies so highly publicised, it would not have surprised consumers of mainstream media across Asia when a new consensus emerged, drawing a link between sex-worker migration and the abolitionist approach in South Korea. This narrative can be found in articles published in the China Post, the Korean Times and the Asian Sex Gazette.[63] In a large survey by the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family, 60.3 per cent of South Koreans believed migrant sex work would increase due to the abolitionist laws.[64] In April 2007, the US State Department announced that the program for trafficking victims in the US saw an over-representation of South Koreans, making up 23.5 per cent of the 230 individuals.[65] It is not known how many of these individuals became vulnerable to trafficking in the US as a result of a sex work contract. However we do know that sex work contracts are a characteristic of trafficking-like conditions in Australia.
  44. In Shins' story, she refers to entering into Australia on a contract. There are less than 400 Asian-background migrant sex workers a year choosing to enter Australia via a contract agreement.[66] The 2003 Sydney Sexual Health study of 165 non-English speaking background sex workers in Sydney found that 10 per cent of Thai sex worker participants entered the country as a result of a contract.[67] The same study found that there were no Chinese-speaking sex workers entering the country as a result of a contract. This is corroborated by the Chinese Sex Worker Needs Analysis study. It may be concluded that Chinese sex workers in Australia do not enter the country as a result of a contract, while noting that 2 per cent had been on contract previously, though not necessarily in Australia.[68] The percentage of Korean sex workers on contract in Australia is unresearched to date.
  45. Contract work has been a acknowledged phenomenon within the contemporary Australian sex worker rights movement for over a decade. It was first documented in sex-worker peer education training manuals by the Prostitutes Collective of Victoria in 1994: 'Contract Worker – A worker who comes into Australia with the specific purpose of sex work and who is expected to "repay", to one agent or other, costs associated with travel and other disbursements (sometimes including accommodation). Often these "costs" are inflated, producing a "contract debt" which is very high.'[69]
  46. In 1994, Alison Murray documented the contract system in the Roberta Perkins edited anthology Sex Work and Sex Workers In Australia:

      [Thai background migrant sex workers in Sydney are] bonded to a verbal contract agreement that outlines both terms and conditions of employment and the scheduled repayment of debt for recruitment, passage and placement within an establishment. This system undoubtedly exploits the Thai women, but they are far from a homogenous group.[70]

  47. Sera Pinwell, Scarlet Alliance President in 1999, told Eros advocate Yolanda Corduff a similar story of both injustice and complexity:

      The 'debt-contract' system is certainly not the most practical or humane way of facilitating labour migration in the Asia-Pacific region. There are significant problems with some agents who insist on total repayment of debts before money can be sent back home; who may pressure sex workers to use unsafe sex to increase their income; who may confiscate passports or restrict the freedom of the sex workers once they're here. While these agents exercise greater and lesser degrees of control over sex workers lives, I would say the majority do not do so in a way that's overly onerous from the sex workers' perspective. However, the fact remains, that in some cases it's used in a way that's totally unacceptable to any humanitarian person, and therefore should be remedied as soon as possible.[71]

  48. Migrant sex workers, including those who have entered the country as a result of a contract, are both educated and skilled. In the 2003 Sydney Sexual Health Survey of Thai and Chinese sex workers, the majority of participants had completed years eleven and twelve at school. The Chinese Sex Worker Needs Analysis survey similarly found that the majority of participants came from professional backgrounds prior to working in the sex industry. Only 4.8 per cent in the latter survey were from a farming background. The existing research projects do not find a direct correlation between the likelihood of being on contract labour and educational background, previous work, economic status or class background. Comparative statistical analysis of this data would provide a more conclusive outcome. Based on existing research projects however, it can be assumed that sex workers choosing to come to Australia as a result of a contract are as potentially upwardly mobile and internationally savvy as sex workers who choose to come to Australia without a contract.
  49. There has been no specific research done to establish whether sex workers entering Australia on contract have first exhausted other means for entering the country. The specific barriers to entering Australia without contract is also unresearched among the target group. It is clear however that sex workers from developing countries in Asia and the Pacific face barriers to mobility when trying to migrate to Australia, and that these barriers to the formal means of migration push sex workers towards using contracts to enter Australia. Pornpit Puckmai describes these barriers:

      for Thai people, especially Thai women we must show, we have money to support ourselves for our holiday, at least $1000 a month. If we don't have that much we must have someone here to guarantee our support. We must prove by phone accounts, or emails, or letters and photos that we have known the guarantor very well for a long time.

      We must show a plan of what we will do and where we will go. We must prove we have a job, land [or] house to return to. [A] job in the entertainment industry does not count. Sometimes you must have a big amount of money in the bank as well.[72]

  50. Sittee Duern Tang, Thai migrant sex worker, speaking from Thailand, had this to say about the reasons why Thai women seek contracts to enter Australia:

      Many young Australian backpackers arrive at Bangkok airport with a little bit of money, no references…and get a visa straight away. Some will get paid to teach English while they are here, even though they have only a tourist visa. It's not a big deal.

      When we Thai women want to visit Australia it's very different. We cannot apply for a work visa to do sex work, even though it's a recognised job in NSW and legal in other places, even though I know there are enough customers for us all, there is no question of robbing Australian sex workers of their jobs. But anyway many of us want to come to travel and work in Australia anyway.

      We don't want to live there full time, we love our own country, our family is here, and the best food in the world is here. I just want to be able to work to build up lives of myself and my family. Australia is a great country. It's a very beautiful place that is accepting of many cultures, religions, and ways of life. You have good education, health and welfare systems. The basic cost of living is OK, we can easily find Thai food and meet up with a Thai or Asian community. The weather is not so different from Thailand. So although we are away from home for a while we don't feel too strange.

      So when I want to go I can only apply for a tourist visa. But we can't just get a stamp at the airport. We have to pass many investigations first. We have to show our identity papers, names and addresses of all our family members (even though they do not plan to travel) and many other details. This includes showing proof we will return to Thailand. Our children are not considered proof…they think we will just abandon them??? We need a letter from an employer but it cannot be associated with the entertainment industry or we will not pass even if we have been a good employee for ten years. So we either buy a letter for about 10,000 Thai Baht or we get a second job for six months to have a letter. Then even when all the paperwork is complete the final decision depends on the mood of the person in the embassy that day. If they have a hangover or a fight with their partner then we probably won't get a visa. All this for what? I can't believe little me going to work for a few months is a national security issue! I'm not a terrorist…just sometimes a tourist! I understand why some women pay an agent to do all the paperwork! The harder the process the more the [agent] can charge.[73]

  51. Some of these barriers to migration were developed in the last ten years, in an effort to combat illegal work in Australia or visa overstayers, as explained by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship in 2006:

      Visitor visa legislation and policy seeks to strike a balance between assisting and encouraging the entry of genuine visitors, and protecting Australia by refusing entry to those people who are perceived seek to enter Australia to work illegally to breach Visitor visa conditions in some way. When deciding whether an applicant intends a genuine visit, decision-makers must take into account such factors as the applicant's personal circumstances, their employment and financial situation (including their ability to support themselves in Australia without working), and any other matters that may impact on their desire to depart Australia at the conclusion of their visit.[74]

    There's a range of visa relationships between Australia and the home countries of migrant sex workers—not everyone faces arbitrary decisions by Department of Immigration staff. South Korean nationals have access to an electronic visa system. Hong Kong passport holders don't need a visa when visiting Australia.
  52. Anecdotally, women from Thailand face the full brunt of barriers when applying for visas to visit Australia. The Department of Immigration and Citizenships' argument does not explain the barriers faced by Thai sex workers trying to migrate to Australia for sex work. Sydney Sexual Health research shows that Thai sex workers are coming into Australia on valid visas—not illegally.
  53. One of the Department of Immigration and Citizenships' indicators of visa overstayers is the 'Non-Return Visitor' rate.75 Thailand's 'Non-Return Visitor' rate is incredibly low, 0.82 per cent of the 50,189 Thai visitors to Australia in 2006–2007.[76] We know that Thai people coming to Australia are compliant with visa restrictions. It can be concluded that there is no incentive for the Department of Immigration and Citizenship to police Thai people coming to Australia more than people from other backgrounds. Existing data could lead one to assume that Thai sex workers should not be subject to the investigative measures to ensure their visa is genuine.
  54. Thai sex workers claim they face barriers when applying for visas. Thai sex workers feel that it is largely pointless applying for a legitimate work visa to enter a western-developed country for work.[77] They claim there is a general perception of Thai women as migrant sex workers, and that they face discrimination when applying for visas based on discrimination against sex work generally. It is difficult to conclude if there is such discrimination, or whether anti-trafficking attention in the last six years can explain a general drop in the ratio of Thai representation in both the Sydney Sexual Health survey and in the SWOP NSW outreach Stats.[78] This may be reflective of the general drop in people from Thailand coming to Australia, illustrated by the 9.6 per cent drop in Visitor Applications for 2005–2006 compared to 2004–2005.[79]
  55. Systemic discrimination against Korean sex workers planning to travel to Australia may be implemented in coming years. Currently Korean citizens aged between eighteen and thirty-one are eligible for a one year working holiday visa, with applications made on-line. This is a result of a reciprocal agreement between the Australian and Korean governments. Since the ongoing, expensive and generally failed crackdown on the sex industry in Korea, the Korean Government has been under increasing pressure to do something about the migration of Korean nationals, clients and sex workers, who travel overseas to engage in more liberal sex industries in other countries, including Australia. Incentives include cash gifts to males travelling overseas if they promise not to see sex workers while travelling.[80] Penalties include the cancellation of passports of those found to be clients while travelling. Recent inquiries by the Korean Government in Australia have illustrated an enthusiasm for preventing the travel of Korean sex workers into Australia and other destination countries, including the US. There is no effective way to do so however, without changing current visa arrangements.[81]
  56. Under the previous Federal Government there was a common perception among policy makers, researchers and legislators, that preventing sex-worker migration prevents trafficking. Kevin Andrews, former Immigration Minister, promised to ban student visa holders from working in the sex industry during the 2007 Federal Election.[82] However this policy is misplaced and creates the opposite of its intention. Creating barriers to visas directly contributes to women choosing to enter Australia on a contract—which makes them vulnerable to trafficking.[83] Pornpit Puckmai explains:

      No wonder we think it's easier, and surer, if we pay a broker to organise our trip. This is a common practice for Thai migrant workers and students. A broker will arrange visas, flights, work or enrolment [for an educational institution], and the money will be paid back. If we had easy access to passports and visas, like you, we could travel independent of others.[84]

  57. Creating insurmountable barriers to accessing visas leads to an increased uptake of contracts. In an environment where there is no realistic way to access a work visa independently, the benefits of the contract are immediately quantifiable—a guaranteed visa. Scarlet Alliance explains what is included in a contract:

      – airfares – visa/Passports/Information – accommodation – day to day support and communication – cultural support [such as] food, language, religion – guaranteed work over agreed timeframe – financial agreement[85]

  58. As well as the practical necessities of travel, work, accommodation and living costs, the contract also provides the immeasurable opportunity of working in another country. When a contract is negotiated between an agent and a sex worker planning to travel overseas, the debt is usually measured by the number of clients that the sex worker will have to see to pay back the debt. The attractiveness of a contract is clear; low overheads, all travel organised, a place to work and a guaranteed visa, generally a valid work visa. Less than four hundred migrant sex workers a year enter Australia as a result of a contract.[86]
  59. As observed by Larissa Sandy in her research with Cambodian sex workers in contract situations:

      This [contract] labouring relation is often incorrectly labelled 'enslavement' with debt-bonded women often identified as 'victims of trafficking'…Debt-bondage or indenture contracts buy a person's labour or their time for a certain period. As a contract, bonded labour is not slavery and indeed the period of the contract can be very brief. Thus, debt bondage is distinct from slavery because 'servitude' ends with repayment of the debt.[87]

  60. To argue that debt contracts are a labour matter is not to downplay or deny the potential exploitations that can occur as a result of a contract relationship. In the 2000 research, all twenty of the Thai background sex worker participants who had worked on contract in Australia said they would recommend against it 'because living under contract is very difficult and suffering [sic].'[88] Contract labour is criminalised in Australia, within a section of the Criminal Code that specifically criminalises activities associated with human trafficking and sexual exploitation. The specific crime is 'Debt Bondage.'[89] Other related crimes include 'Deceptive Recruiting'[90]—encompassing contract negotiation that conceal or misrepresent the nature of work that the contract includes.
  61. Debt bondage and deceptive recruiting are minor offences compared to the more serious offences of slavery and trafficking. Sex-worker organisations in 2004 estimated that ten sex workers who come to Australia as a result of a contract in any eighteen month to two year period will be subject to trafficking-like or slavery-like conditions including being forced, coerced or deceptively recruited.[91] Some of these sex workers will seek justice for the crimes committed against them. In the last five years there have been 150 investigations of alleged trafficking in Australia, involving about a hundred alleged victims of trafficking.[92] Convictions however are generally for extraneous crimes, related to the contracts that many sex workers utilise to get into the country. No one has been charged with the actual crime of people trafficking, in its fullest form, in Australia. To be classed as a trafficking crime, a negotiated contract must be based on coercion, deception or exploitation. Aggravated trafficking can be prosecuted when violence or multiple people are involved. The consent of the sex worker is not taken into consideration.
  62. Trafficking-like, slavery-like or servitude-like conditions within the sex industry can occur in a variety of situations:

        Every other sex worker on the premises may be happy, with no problems or crimes against them; however there could still be one person who is working in trafficking-like or slavery-like conditions, as a result of a negotiated contract gone wrong.

        A group of women, perhaps all of the workers in one workplace, experiencing a trafficking-like or slavery-like situation, having come over to Australia as a group, negotiated a contract, and found that it is not what they had agreed to.

        Substantial fines for seeing a client out of hours. These fines are illegal under Industrial law, but common in the sex industry.

        Interest added to the debt at a high monthly rate.

        No choice of workplace or being moved suddenly, even interstate. This potentially moves the individual away from friends or support networks.

        Workplace conditions being below acceptable standards.

        Business being 'slow'—meaning it may take many months longer than planned to repay the debt.

        The person who has taken on the management of the contract here in Australia, including the right to substantial profit, may make an ad hoc decision to increase the remaining debt.

  63. When faced with these conditions some sex workers choose to come forward, give evidence and become witnesses against their bosses, by contacting a sex worker organisation that refers them to the Australian Federal Police. Other sex workers simply want to go home and get away from their bad experience in Australia. They too contact a sex worker organisation and are referred to their embassy for a new passport and reprint of their air ticket. Sex workers picked up in anti-trafficking and immigration compliance raids may be pressured by the Australian Federal Police to give evidence against their bosses. There is a visa and support programme for trafficking victims that is currently tied to the criminal justice system. If an individual does not have enough information to convict a person or make a meaningful contribution towards assisting the Australian Federal Police to gain a conviction, they become ineligible for the support programme. Thai nationals account for around 65 per cent of the people in the trafficking victim-support program in Australia.[93]
  64. Closer inspection of the Department of Immigration and Citizenship's visa system, its application in Thailand and other countries, and its effects on the rights of sex workers migrating to Australia, is one component of understanding the actual results of anti-trafficking efforts in Australia. More detailed understanding of the relationship between the anti-trafficking laws in South Korea and the migration of South Korean clients and sex workers into Australia would also assist in improving knowledge about trafficking. These questions bring me back to the original problem of this issue—the intersection between anti-sex work moralism and practical trafficking prevention. As well as the practical barriers that anti-trafficking approaches create for migrating sex workers, there are philosophical barriers that prevent labour rights being extended to sex workers. One of those barriers is the simplistic conflation of sex work and trafficking.
  65. Many academics and thinkers are urging a move away from the conceptualisation of sex workers as victims. About South Korean sex work, Sealing Cheng asserts: 'A paradigm shift in the way these migrant women's situation is understood is essential to stop the violations of their human rights.'[94] Michael Duffy claims that in Australia 'the so-called rescue industry often deliberately confuses it with another and far more common activity: voluntary travel by women who want to work in another country's sex industry.'[95] Laura Agustin argues

      'Sex trafficking' headlines claim that all migrant women who sell sex are invariably being abused, without regard to their diverse backgrounds and without asking them how they feel. But many [migrant sex workers] reject being defined as sexually vulnerable and in need of 'rescuing' and protection.[96]

  66. These ideas are not new, as Alison Murray warned in 1998, 'It is the prohibition of prostitution and restrictions on travel which attract organised crime and create the possibilities for large profits, as well as creating the prostitutes' need for protection and assistance.'[97] Scarlet Alliance warned the Howard Government of these issues in 2003 and 2004, only to be ignored in favour of anti-sex work rhetoric presented within an trafficking framework. Penelope Saunders lauded the dedication and difficult road walked by sex worker advocates in relation to trafficking, documenting that:

      Sex worker rights activists have, with due cause, opposed initiatives to stamp out 'trafficking in women and children.' Activists are, of course, opposed to abuse of women migrants but substantial evidence exists to indicate that anti-trafficking initiatives are more concerned with eliminating prostitution and stemming migration than in protecting human rights.[98]

  67. Clearly the issues are more complex than presented in sensationalist Australian media, and involve real people, real advocates and real policy makers trying to make a difference to trafficking in Australia. Migrant sex workers should be able to travel into lawful Australian workplaces and access practical and independent means to do so, avoiding the contract system if they wish. The challenge is for policy makers, legislators, law enforcement and sex worker communities to overcome the barriers of stigma and discrimination to build a shared vision for ensuring trafficking and the negative effect of the bulk of anti-trafficking measures takes their place in history among social problems Australia has successfully overcome.


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    [34] Jeffrey Dabbhadatta Catherine C. O'Connor, Kate Tribe, Cathy Pell, 'Changes in migration status and work patterns in Asian sex workers attending a sexual health centre,' in Scarlet Alliance Submission to Commonwealth Attorney General's Department, Scarlet Alliance, 2004, p. 42, URL:, site accessed 10 July 2008.

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