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Alleged Trafficking of Asian Sex Workers in Australia

A joint statement of policy drafted by the Prostitutes Rights Organisation for Sex Workers; the Sex Workers Outreach Project; Workers in Sex Employment in the ACT; Self-Help for Queensland Workers in the Sex Industry; The Support, Information, Education, Referral Association of Western Australia; The South Australian Sex Industry Network; The Prostitutes Association of South Australia; The Prostitute Association Northern Territory for Health, Education, Referrals; Cybelle, Sex worker Organisation Tasmania; Sydney Sexual Health Centre, Sydney Hospital; the Queer and Esoteric Workers Union and representatives of Asian sex working communities in NSW.

Purpose of this statement

This joint statement is a pro-sex worker response to the anti-trafficking lobby which misleads many well meaning people into thinking that trafficking, "child prostitution" and sex tourism are enormous problems for Australia. With this statement we are offering a more realistic view that counters the anti-trafficking lobby and focuses attention on human rights infringements through the laws that discriminate against sex workers. We urge you to support our position.

Background to the anti-trafficking lobby
Following the 1949 UN Convention on the "Suppression of Trafficking in Persons and the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others" little attention was paid to trafficking until the surge of concern about sex tourism in the 1980's. Behind this were the United States anti-prostitution feminists, who promote the abolition of all forms of prostitution, like Kathleen Barry, Andrea Dworkin and British fundamentalist Sheila Jeffreys, as well as other feminist writers. They have been challenged and opposed by western sex workers, who developed their own structures of support and advocacy. Western sex worker organisations gained rapid support from feminists concerned with decriminalisation and improving working conditions for sex workers. As a result the fundamentalist feminists began to lose support for their abolitionist position. In response, they focused attention on those who are not in a position to speak for themselves: viz. Burmese workers in Thailand, sex tourists in Asia, and Asian sex workers in Australia.

In April 1993, a conference was organised by the US-based Coalition Against Trafficking of Women to "heighten awareness of the sex trade and to stem the sale of people into bondage" (Asia Watch Report 1993). Here an underlying agenda of abolishing prostitution was carried through by linking all forms of the sex trade with an emphasis on emotive words like "trafficking, slaves, and child prostitution".

Since this conference more international anti-trafficking conferences have been held, more anti-trafficking groups have been formed and the anti-prostitution lobby has succeeded in regaining international support for their fundamentalist aims.

Some of the anti-trafficking groups that involve Australian organisations like The Global Alliance Against Trafficking in Women purport to be non-abolitionist and state that their aim is to improve working conditions for Asian sex workers in Australia. However their public actions and campaigns have been conducted without proper consultation and are in fact most unwelcomed by those they claim to be concerned about. Through the use of the same emotive language as other anti-trafficking campaigns they reinforce the moral condemnation of prostitution and deflect from the real issues; the exploitation of migrant workers, not just sex workers, and the vulnerable position of illegal workers in Australia.

The Situation for Illegal Migrant Workers in Australia Migrant sex workers in Australia come from many different countries and cultural backgrounds. It is important to emphasize that as Asian sex workers have been the subject of attention by the anti-trafficking lobby recently, we are responding to this particular situation within the broader context of migrant sex work.

Asian sex workers who seek employment in the sex industry do so for the same reasons as Australian born workers, that is to make a good living, to have money, to support families and so on.

"It costs a lot to get an education, and it's been hard since my father died. Why not make the most of your rich country? It makes more sense than being a waitress in Bangkok. There is no money to be made there." Lina, Kings Cross "It comes down to how much money you have in your hand at the end of the night. A good night in Sydney I make $400, a good night in Bangkok I make $20. It's simple." Mary, Haymarket. (L. Brockett and A. Murray in R. Perkins et al Sex Work and Sex Workers in Australia 1994)

From our extensive research, contacts and working relationships with Asian sex workers in Australia, we know that conditions for Asian sex workers entering Australia vary greatly. This applies to their first entry into Australia right through to working conditions in the industry. Some Asian sex workers choose to enter into a contract with an agent, a system that makes it possible for them to come to Australia to work. The system of contracts differs as to the amount of money agreed upon, the systems of payment, length of visas, living arrangements etc. It is important to note that many Asian sex workers do not enter sex work through a contract arrangement at all; in Queensland for example, most Asian sex workers are residents who are working privately.

Because the sex industry is criminalised in much of Australia and Asia and because sex workers cannot obtain work visas freely, some of the terms and conditions for workers on contract are exploitative. It is their illegal status as workers rather than the nature of their work that is a potent form of control in the hands of their employers. However Asian sex workers in Australia are not " trafficked " to Australia because the workers are aware of the work they will carry out and choose to enter freely into contracts. Recognising the complexity of the issues and taking into account the range of cultural and moral factors makes it difficult to talk about choice in this context. It is most important however, not to bring in moral views of sex workers as victims. It is sex workers rights and working conditions that need to be the focus. Our experience shows that women travelling to Australia know they are coming here to work in the sex industry. There are rare cases where sex workers have been deceived about the type of work they will do and this practice is totally unacceptable to us.

Sex workers (and not just Asian sex workers) are often quite unaware of the legal status of prostitution in Australia, especially as there is such variation from state to state. Due to fear of prosecution, illegal sex workers once caught by Immigration Department officers are likely to say that they "didn't know" the kind of work they were required to do.

Anti- trafficking Campaigns and their effects on sex workers
We believe that it is the right of women and men to choose sex work in Australia whatever their country of origin. Campaigns that work towards abolition of the free movement of sex workers (under contract or not) to Australia increase the exploitation of workers and add to the discrimination against them.

Anti - trafficking campaigns... ...(1) perpetuate the stereotype of Asian sex workers as passive and exploited victims. They are also targeted in the media as "Sex slaves working in a haven for the spread of AIDS" (Hinch program, August 1991). The victimisation of Asian sex workers has grave consequences for all sex workers as it perpetuates the old stereotype that prostitution is bad and should be abolished. As a result of these campaigns the public is often not able to differentiate between forced prostitution and prostitution as a choice. Anti-trafficking strategies only serve to criminalise and victimise all sex workers through laws and social stigma. ...(2) encourage racism against Asian sex workers within the industry (Australian sex workers accuse them of undercutting prices and working without condoms) and also in the wider community. ...(3) increase police and Dept. of Immigration activity which results in workers being pushed further underground making it harder for support organisations including HIV/AIDS outreach workers to provide support, information and safe sex supplies. ...(4) result in prosecution, arrests and sometimes deportation of sex workers. For contract workers, who only earn money for themselves once the contractor has been paid, this means they would have worked hard for no money. ...(5) temporarily affects the business of the Asian sex workers. If clients are scared away women are under more pressure to work in substandard conditions. ...(6) encourages clients to think of Asian sex workers as helpless victims and encourages clients to violate the rights of these workers. ...(7) focus on specific ethnic groups perpetuating stereotypes and distorting public perceptions of culture and sexuality.

Support for Asian Sex Workers We support the rights of Asian sex workers to choose their country of work, particulary where there is a relevant market. It should be said here that the movement of sex workers from one country to another is not a specific issue of movements of Asian sex workers to Australia. The motivation for sex workers to seek work in another country is almost always that the money is better for the worker in that country. International sex working is a global phenomenon. It should be noted that Australia not only receives international sex workers but that Australians also seek employment in the sex industry overseas.

We support the rights of Australian clients to access the services of sex workers overseas, and encourage safe sex education campaigns targeted at those clients.

Child Prostitution
Anti-prostitution lobbyists such as ECPAT (End Child Prostitution in Asian Tourism) deliberately link the highly emotive issue of "child" prostitution to their anti- trafficking campaign because they know that it will create sympathy in all well meaning people. While a full discussion of this complex issue is outside of the scope of this paper, our research and experience in the sex industry in Australia tells us that Asian sex workers in Australia are not under aged and in fact most are in their late twenties to mid thirties.(L. Brocket & A Murray, 'Sydney Asian sex workers, AIDS and the geography of a new underclass' Asian Geographer December 1993) Overall we wish to reaffirm that "child" prostitution needs to be discussed in the context of child labour and international labour laws.

What can Sex Worker Organisations and their supporters do to improve the situation for all sex workers including Asian sex workers in Australia?

1. Lobby governments to decriminalise all forms of prostitution.
2. Support federal decriminalisation to eliminate discrimination due to different laws in different states.
3. Urge governments to implement internationally recognised human rights and civil liberties for all sex workers.
4. Advocate for the recognition of sex work as a legitimate occupation.
5. Support the rights of all sex workers to travel freely and obtain work visas overseas where there is a demand for their services.
6. Work towards eradicating all forms of discrimination against sex workers on the grounds of their chosen profession, occupation, trade or calling.
7. Encourage every effort to revoke the 1949 UN Convention on "The Suppression of Trafficking in Persons and the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others" and recognise that laws which punish the business of Prostitution particularly discriminate against female sex workers.
8. Urge the Australian government to immediately ratify International Labour Convention no 143 on migrant workers, and the UN Convention on "The rights of migrant workers and the members of their families".
9. Work towards improving the working conditions of all sex workers, including migrant workers.
10.Provide free induction training for all sex workers in Australia if and when required. Provide free English language classes for migrant sex workers where necessary, so that they are able to negotiate their working conditions successfully.
11. Lobby governments to provide continuing funding to those organisations that have access to Asian sex workers and that provide support and information to them.
12. Support Asian sex workers in establishing their own networks and self-help groups.
13. Network with prostitute rights organisations and prostitute projects in Asia so that workers wishing to come to Australia are well informed about Australian working conditions and choices.

What can Non-Sex Worker Organisations do to support this position ?

Express written support to implement these recommendations.

Written support and any questions should be addressed to the following organisations:

Sydney Sexual Health Centre, Sydney Hospital. Macquarie Street Sydney 2001 Phone 02-2237066 Fax 02-2233183 Att Polly Purser.

SQWISI (Gold Coast) PO BOX 557, Mermaid Beach, QLD 4218 Phone 075-317833 Fax 075-316671

WISE (ACT) 2/74 Townsville St, Fyshwick ACT 2609, Phone 06-2392905 Fax 06-2805393 Att Sue Metzenrath

SWOP (NSW) PO BOX 1453 Darlinghurst NSW 2010 Phone 02-3194866 Fax 02-3104262 Att Helena O'Connell

PROS (NSW) PO BOX 2001, Strawberry Hills NSW 2012,Phone 02-3181113 Att Erica Red

Good Luck to all of you going to the Conference, Roberta

Roberta Perkins Telephone: Senior Research Officer, National (02) 385 3745 School of Sociology, International +61 2 385 3745 Room G35, Morven Brown Building, Faculty of Arts & Social Sciences, Facsimile: The University of New South Wales, National (02) 313 7859 Sydney, NSW 2052, AUSTRALIA International +61 2 313 7859

School Office, MB157, FoAaSS, UNSW E-mail: R.Perkins@unsw.EDU.AU