Action urged on sex trafficking visa abuse
By Paula Kruger
Posted Fri Mar 7, 2008 6:23pm AEDT
Anti-slavery groups say the Federal Government must do more to stop sex trafficking syndicates from abusing Australia's temporary work visas.
Australian Federal Police (AFP) and immigration officials say they rescued 10 Korean women yesterday who were allegedly being forced to work 20-hour days in a Sydney brothel.
Police say the women were brought to Australia on lawful work visas.
The AFP have charged five people over the alleged sex slave syndicate. One is a Korean woman, while two men and two women are from Sydney.
Glen McEwen is the manager of border operations for the AFP.
He says the women were aware they were going to work in the sex industry, but were held against their will and deceived about the conditions they were expected to endure.
“They were brought to Australia for certain reasons and those reasons were somewhat adjusted on their arrival in Australia, to the point where they were forced to work 20 hours a day,” he said.
They had their… travel documents removed from them and airline tickets, their passports.
“Basically they were pretty much held against their own will.”
Police say the women were relieved to be rescued. Both the Department of Immigration and the AFP say the sex slave syndicate was worth $3 million a year and the arrests are a major blow to the illegal trade in Australia.
But anti-slavery groups say the true extent of the problem is unknown.
The director of the Anti-Slavery Project at the Sydney University of Technology, Jennifer Burn, says that only anecdotal evidence is available and exact figures are almost impossible to know.
“There are varying reports of between 100 to 1,000 women recruited into debt bondage at any one time, but the Australian Institute of Criminology says that this is a research challenge,” she said.
“There is nothing authoritative about the numbers of people who are recruited into slavery, sexual servitude, and into other forms of slavery.”
The more worrying element to this case is that the alleged syndicate was able to bring women into the country on legal working visas.
Ms Burns says it is too easy for people to bring people to the country and then exploit them.
“Today's news is a warning that we really must ensure that there are proper measures in place to protect foreign workers,” she said.
“Most foreign workers who are coming to Australia are working in legitimate industries.
“Nevertheless, where there are high risk situations, there is an extra responsibility, I think, for us to ensure that we do have the best possible systems in place to protect those people who are coming into Australia.”
She says a rethink of work visas in Australia may be necessary, but that will not solve the problem of exploitation.
“Others come to Australia on a whole range of other visas such as visitor visas,” she said.
“The commission to work isn't going to deter a trafficker whose aim is to make a lot of money out of the exploitation of a person, but we do need to look at all the possible avenues of exploitation and develop better strategies.”
The 10 women rescued by police were put in the care of the Department of Immigration on Thursday.
The Department says they hope the women will assist with the prosecutions.