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Australian sex worker group opposes moves to police industry | Asia Pacific

Australian sex worker group opposes moves to police industry

Australian sex worker group opposes moves to police industry

Updated 29 February 2012, 11:50 AEDT

An Australian sex worker association says new a proposed law giving police oversight of the legal brothel industry in the southern state of Victoria will increase corruption and not help tackle human trafficking.

The legislation is expected to be introduced into the Victorian state parliament on Wednesday.

It comes as media reports by the ABC and Fairfax newspaper have alleged links between the sex industry and international crime networks involved in human trafficking.

Elena Jeffreys, the president of Scarlett Alliance, the Australian Sex Workers Association, says the current reporting on the issue amounts to hysteria.

Presenter: Liam Cochrane

Speaker: Elena Jeffreys, the president of Scarlett Alliance, the Australian Sex Workers Association

JEFFREYS: Scarlett Alliance totally denies the implication that there's a large scale trafficking problem in Australia. The evidence shows exactly the opposite.

COCHRANE: The Australian Federal Police are saying that they've found 147 women who've been forced into sexual slavery since 2003. Are you saying those figures are not correct?

JEFFREYS: No, we're not at all. They're not saying they've found 147 women have been forced into sexual slavery. They're saying they've found 147 sex workers who have been affected by trafficking-like work conditions, which in Australia, includes people having consented to bad conditions. This is not about force, and this is not about slavery. This is about work conditions.

In the scale of the size of the industry, over 20,000 workers at any one time working in Australia, 147 cases of people affected by trafficking-like work conditions since 2003 is an issue, but it's a very, on the scale of the day-to-day issues sex workers face, it's not a systemic issue. This is not an everyday issue.

COCHRANE: One of the criticisms to emerge from the media reports over the last few days is the overlapping and confused regulation system with local councils, police, consumer affairs and health inspectors all playing roles in regulating legal brothels, at least in the state of Victoria. The state government is expected to propose new laws today shifting the oversight of the sex industry from consumer affairs to police. Can I get your response to that move?

JEFFREYS: We absolutely oppose this move. This is the move that (Justice) Marcia Neave recommended the opposite of in 1986, when Victoria first looked at their corruption problem and their number one corruption problem was police involvement in the industry, moving the police back into the industry in Victoria is a recipe for disaster and people in 20, 30, 40 years time, are going to be saying exactly that. We in the sex industry don't want to have to wait that long for people to understand police in our lives is a bad mix. Police are not trained to regulate work places. They are the wrong people to be in sex worker work places, they are particularly the wrong people to be the work places of individuals whose first language is not English. We're talking about police who are there to protect victims of crime, and instead are going to be the prosecutors against sex workers and that is absolutely unfair. It reduces our access to justice and we 100 per cent oppose it and we think it's an absolute abomination that groups that call themselves feminist groups in Victoria have been supporting this move. We think it's terrible that the committee in Victoria made this recommendation and it's just playing straight into the hands of corruption.

COCHRANE: As one of the alternatives, I understand your organisation is suggesting better access to visas and that that might help curb trafficking, human trafficking for sexual exploitation. I suspect many people in Australia would have trouble with the concept of making it easier for people to migrate from Thailand, Korea, China to end up becoming a sex worker in Australia. Can you put forward the benefits of making that process easier?

JEFFREYS: Look, anybody concerned about trafficking should understand that people travel for work. People travel for work whether or not there are good and safe processes of migration in place. If we want to make it safe and we want to improve peoples human rights, then we need to improve their access to visas, so that people don't end up in bad work place conditions when they arrive in Australia. It is actually the most solid, humanitarian approach that we can take to actually substantially reduce trafficking-like work conditions in Australia.

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