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The Modern Slavery Act: is it our lost opportunity?

Thursday, 1 March 2018  | Andrea Tokaji

Australia will soon be introducing the 
Modern Slavery Act, following in the footsteps of California, France and the UK, but I hope we will learn from their mistakes. There is a real danger that this legislation will be written without teeth, becoming yet another token gesture in response to the heinous crime of human trafficking in Australia and our region.

My anti-trafficking organisation, Fighting for Justice Foundation, has spent the last year providing submissions, briefings and recommendations, and lobbying parliamentarians, on an approach to the Modern Slavery Act that takes into account the reality that the majority of the world’s, and Australia’s, slaves are in brothels.

Our recommendations have also included advising the Federal Government against a threshold, for no business or corporation should be exempt from reporting on slavery in their supply chains. Andrew Forrest’s Fortescue Metals mining company operates slave free, as does a cafe in Waterloo. If they can do it, so should every other business. 

We have been lobbying to ensure that reports are released into a public repository through which the common person can hold businesses and corporations to account, and that high-risk service supply chain industries such as brothels have additional reporting requirements and are penalised for non-reporting. 

As Lord McColl of Dulwich has said, the failure of the UK Modern Slavery Act to address demand for sex trafficking was ‘a very serious oversight given that, according to the National Referral Mechanism figures, sexual exploitation is consistently the most prevalent form of human trafficking in England and Wales’.

Corporate social responsibility often comes secondary to profit margins, but if we are serious about ensuring that Australian businesses do not benefit from slavery in their raw material and service supply chains, there have to be both strong incentives and a deterrence for corporations and businesses to report on slavery in their supply chains.

The demand for slaves victimises the vulnerable 

It is often the most vulnerable who are targeted by traffickers for slavery. The Global Slavery Index estimates that 85% of the 45.8 million known slaves in the world are women and children. According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), over the past 30 years, over 30 million children have been sexually exploited through human trafficking

The majority of the world’s slaves are in brothels: legal, criminal or otherwise. In fact, the demand for prostitution in 2016 saw 4.8 million people around the world become victims of sexual exploitation, with the average age of those entering the sex trade globally being 12-14 year olds. Eighty per cent of those sold into sexual slavery are under 24, and some are as young as six months old.

Victims of modern day slavery experience grave human rights violations against their persons, liberty, life and safety, and are traumatised as a result of ongoing daily abuses. An estimated 30,000 victims of sex trafficking die each year from abuse, disease, torture and neglect.

Slavery is ‘lucrative’ for criminals. Today, slaves are cheaper than they have ever been in history, with the average cost of a slave just $90. A human trafficker can earn 20 times what he or she paid for a girl by forcing her into sexual servitude. Many sex slaves are kidnapped or coerced against their will.

Sex slavery is now a $180 billion a year industry, and the reality is that human trafficking will continue as long as there is a demand from men who purchase or rent these women’s or children’s bodies by the hour. We must demand an end to the demand for the commodification of flesh.

Gender-based violence is prevalent in the sex trade

Australia has more than 20,000 people in prostitution on record. The normalisation and the legalisation of prostitution in Australia contributes to the demand for sex industries in the Asia region.

Demand drives the supply for human flesh. Demand leads to coercive, deceptive and fraudulent recruitment and enslavement, including debt bondage. 

According to a report from the Australian Institute of Criminology, around half of migrant sex workers enter Australia as international students but end up in the sex industry because they can’t afford school fees or the high cost of living.[1]

Melissa Farley’s international studies into women working in prostitution uncovered that 89% of the women in prostitution wanted to get out, but felt trapped. These statistics not only lead us to question the ‘voluntary' nature of women entering prostitution, but also how vulnerable her circumstances were for her to opt for an often cited ‘last resort’ option to sell her dignity and experience daily rape. 

Globalised practices such as sex tourism, mail order brides and the porn industry are encouraged by the social normalisation of the legal renting of human bodies in prostitution. 

As long as men perceive their right to sex at a price from impoverished and vulnerable women over the woman’s rights and liberties, the prostitution industry will continue not only to thrive, but also to victimise the most vulnerable in local, national, regional and global communities. 

Survivors of the sex trade cite weekly rape, abuse, being spat on, kicked, bashed, bitten and worse. In no other work place is this behaviour accepted as ‘just part of the job’. The sex trade is not only fraught with physical and sexual violence against women, but it also creates a power imbalance between ‘customer’ and the ‘service provider’:

The [sex] buyers’ economic power means he determines how the sex act will be played out. Buyers believe their purchasing power entitles them to demand any type of sex they want. (Mary Lucille Sullivan, Making Sex Work, 2007, 285, 287)

In their major international study, Comparing Sex Buyers with Men Who Don’t Buy Sex, Melissa Farley et al. found that over half of the buyers of sex are already married or in de facto relationships, that men who pay to sexually exploit women are aware of the harms they inflict, that they are able to recognise signs of trafficking among the women they frequent, and that they regard women that they buy as mere objects for sexual gratification.

Comparing Sex Buyers critically found that, in systems of prostitution, sex buyers are motivated by the opportunity to control and dominate a woman so that they can perform degrading sex acts against her that female partners would refuse.

According to international studies, just like rapists, prostitution buyers are disproportionately pornography users, they resent women's refusal to do sex acts they want, and they see their sexual behaviour as not particularly harmful to others.

Rachel Moran, a survivor of the sex trade in Ireland, gives insight into the disempowerment of women in sexual servitude by drawing a parallel between the legitimisation of the sexual subordination of women in society on the one hand and of prostitution on the other, articulating this absurdity with the thought that, ’if sex is just a service, then rape is just theft’. In this context, she argues that both the immediate goal of obtaining women’s liberation and the end goal of gender equality are impossible to achieve.

Australia’s contribution to demand

It is estimated that there are over 7,000 people living in modern-day slavery in Australia today, but it is unclear how many are trapped in the sex trade. 

Australians are over-represented as child sexual abuse perpetrators internationally and have been caught out by several international investigations into live child sex webcam exploitation.

As a developed nation in a developing region, Australia is a demand nation for trafficked and exploited persons, either through sex tourism, pornography, live sex web cam shows or the commercialisation of slavery and exploitation in prostitution.

This is evidenced by the most recent cases of 53-year-old Australian man Peter Scully in the Philippines who brutally raped and abused several children, the youngest being an 18-month-old child, video taping the assault and selling the footage online to other perpetrators,[2] and Michael Quinn, a 36-year-old Melbourne footy player, who was recently sentenced to 12 years’ jail in the US for trying to procure sex from a 6-year-old boy.[3] Aussie men are perpetrators of these heinous crimes overseas.

Prostitution is incompatible with human dignity and human rights

Buying or renting a person’s body is incompatible with International laws and principles, including the principle that all persons have dignity, as captured in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948). The Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (1979; CEDAW) defines forced prostitution as violence against women and various International Conventions, such as Article 2 of the United Nations Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others (Palermo, 1949; henceforth ‘Trafficking Convention’), condemn the actions of brothel owners and managers as criminal.

The Palermo Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons Especially Women and Children (2000; henceforth ‘Trafficking Protocol’) includes ‘the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation’ within its use of terms referencing human trafficking and exploitation.

The Preamble to the Trafficking Convention acknowledges that ‘prostitution and the accompanying evil of the traffic in persons for the purpose of prostitution are incompatible with the dignity and worth of the human person and endanger the welfare of the individual, the family and the community’.

These International Conventions go further and state that countries have a due diligence obligation in taking measures to encourage ‘the prevention of prostitution’ and provide ‘for the rehabilitation and social adjustment of the victims of prostitution’ (Article 16 of the Trafficking Convention). Many in the sex trade suffer ‘cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, as described in Article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is the due diligence obligation of the Australian Government and civil society to ensure that survivors of human trafficking and the sex trade are protected from re-victimisation and assisted through comprehensive policies, programs and other measures - with full respect for their human rights (Article 2(b) of the Trafficking Convention).

Laws can only do so much - the rest is up to us

International and domestic laws only have a certain amount of reach. Laws exists in our society to set boundaries around how we should behave towards one another and interact in different settings, such as in business or as a family and so forth. Yet there is only so much human behaviour the law can seek to influence. 

For example, although we have extensive laws criminalising domestic violence, there is no indication that harsher sentences, stronger penalties or in-your-face political campaigns against this toxic behaviour have actually curbed violence in intimate relationships. According to Our Watch, domestic violence results in a police call-out on average once every two minutes across Australia.[4] Domestic violence is also extremely costly to the community, socially, economically and otherwise: the combined health, administration and social welfare costs of violence against women have been estimated to be $21.8 billion a year.

Perhaps this is because we are not addressing the root cause of the problems within these harmful relationships. 

My academic research as a PhD Candidate on the international crime of human trafficking and how to curb its demand is looking at gender-based violence behaviours and predispositions as the root cause that leads to demand, which in turn leads to the slavery, exploitation and trafficking of vulnerable women and girls into an industry that normalises physical and sexual abuse and trauma.

My research connects an addiction to pornography that leads to the demand for sex slavery in prostitution, and therefore the trafficking of women and girls into prostitution, to supply this demand in the legalised or decriminalised brothel models.

My research also highlights the fact that Australia has a due diligence obligation under the CEDAW and other international instruments such as the Trafficking Protocol to prevent harm against vulnerable women and children and to protect those who have experienced gender-based or sexual violence - particularly in prostitution - from re-victimisation through comprehensive policies, programs and other measures (Articles 2 and 9, Trafficking Protocol).

In considering the causes and consequences of gender-based and sexual violence in Australia and in our region, the greatest form of gender-based violence takes place through the exploitation of our community’s most vulnerable in the sex trade, because there are those who are willing to exchange money for sex, therefore turning a person into chattels once again.

You contribute to disrupting Modern Day Slavery

Jesus was politically outspoken. He was an advocate for minorities and the vulnerable, especially for women. The Word upholds justice alongside righteousness and requires us to do the same. Before we become ‘social justice warriors’, we need to understand our own theological and ideological framework and motivations. Once you have figured out your theology on justice, politics and advocacy, once you know what you are personally called to in your life and work, and once you are practicing your ‘love thy neighbour’ theology, you have to know: you have the power to disrupt modern day slavery.

Firstly, through your voice as an advocate or lobbyist, we all have the opportunity to contribute to political discourse that results in evidence-based policy reform. Our voice for truth, beauty and goodness into places of influence is integral.

Secondly, we need to ensure that we are part of the solution, not the problem. This means ensuring that victim survivors have therapeutic restorative pathways for their rehabilitation and ensuring that perpetrators have healthy alternative pathways accessible on their journey of rehabilitation. 

Thirdly, while men are overrepresented as perpetrators in gender-based, sexual and domestic violence, I strongly believe that they are part of, and in fact ARE, the solution. Men need to speak up and have this conversation with other the other men in their lives. 

Finally, we need to be prevention-focused, which means disrupting human trafficking before it begins. This means addressing the root cause behaviours of gender based violence prevalent in men towards women in our society that sexualises and commodifies their interactions with women to just a sex act: starting with the viewing of violent, harmful images online. 

Taking a preventative approach by disrupting demand means that you don’t consume pornography. In fact, it means boycotting the adult industry as a whole. 

Disrupting demand means respecting women as equal: seeing the Imago Dei in all women, acknowledging their worth, value and dignity, and not putting sexual urges above the safety, health or vulnerability of others.

You can disrupt modern day slavery by refusing to watch porn! 

The grave reality is that the only reason the trafficking of human beings continues is that there is a demand for the purchase of flesh. 

You can be part of the solution: refuse to watch porn, be informed about the harms of gender-based sexual violence and become an advocate today.

Fighting for Justice Foundation is working hard to disrupt demand. We are launching our End the Demand seminar workshops for men in line with International Women’s Day this year at NSW Parliament, where we will also be hearing about NSW’s Modern Slavery Bill

Come along to our events, sign our online petition, sponsor a participant in the End the Demand seminars or donate to our ongoing work. For more information go to www.endthedemand.com. 

Andrea Tokaji is the founder of the anti-trafficking organisation Fighting for Justice Foundation, the founder of the Demand an End to Demand Campaign and Seminars, a Human Rights Consultant and a PhD researcher on human trafficking and slavery.

[1] Emily Moulton, ‘AIC Report into migrant sex workers reveal majority enter country on student visas to study’, 12/2/16, http://www.news.com.au/finance/work/careers/aic-report-into-migrant-sex-workers-reveals-majority-enter-country-on-student-visas-to-study/news-story/f2f52e759e442e23f647d1accb159e66.

[2] Candace Sutton, ‘Australian child molester Peter Scully faces death penalty in Philippines’, 23/9/16, http://www.news.com.au/world/asia/australian-child-molester-peter-scully-faces-death-penalty-in-philippines/news-story/f15a28a8b971d95f815b5f6105814ff9

[3] AAP, Nine News, ‘Australian child sex predator Michael Quinn sentenced to 12 years' jail in the US’, 1/11/16, http://www.9news.com.au/world/2016/11/01/04/19/us-aust-child-predator-jailed-in-us.

[4] Police across Australia dealt with 239,846 domestic violence incidents in 2015, an estimated 657 domestic violence matters on average every day of the year (or one every two minutes) – calculated for police data sourced across all states and territories, collated at, http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-05-29/domesticviolence-data/6503734.

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