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sex slavery in Australia? « Previous | |Next »
May 15, 2008

Thai contract girls in Australia's sex industry? Wasn't human trafficking something that happened in Eastern Europe or Asia? Are there cases of one person treating another as his or her sexual property in Australia? Yes, for sure, as can be seen from this Parliamentary inquiry in 2004 by the House of Representatives Joint Committee on the Crime Commission.

Anne Gallagher says in The Age that sex slavery exists in Australia. Individual girls are brought over here from Thailand, Korea, China and other countries to meet Australia's growing demand for commercial and "exotic" sex. When the "contract girls" arrive in Australia they:

...owe a debt of between $35,000 to $50,000, an amount that is often inflated to cover employer "costs" such as medical tests and food. They are required to engage in sex work, without any payment, for as long as it takes to discharge that debt. "Contract girls" are not stupid and most end up understanding the nature of their exploitation very well. Many decide not to fight. They accept their fate and try to make the best of the period of their debt bondage — waiting for a time that they will be free to work normally or to go home. Others try to resist and escape. Physical violence, forced detention, withholding of identity documents and intimidation are used to control recalcitrant individuals.

Recently in Victoria, Judge Michael McInerney handed down a guilty finding to Wei Tang, ex-licensee of Club 417 in Brunswick Street, who kept five Thai women as slaves in the Melbourne brothel to "service" up to 900 men each over a period of months to pay off "debts" of up to $45,000.These women earned nothing in cash during the period of their "contract," while Wei Tang earned up to $43,000 per woman with each woman's "owner," including Tang, earning as much as $75,000.

In Sydney, a similar trial is currently underway involving the case of a 19-year-old Thai woman who was allegedly put to work in a Sydney brothel against her will.

Gallagher says that:

There is considerable room for improving Australia’s current legislative framework. While component offences are more or less covered, existing legislation only addresses certain of the possible exploitative outcomes of trafficking and even these in an extremely limited way.xv It does not criminalize trafficking per se and in fact does not even recognize the “movement” aspects such as recruitment, transportation and transfer. It also does not recognize aspects of migration fraud associated with trafficking. In summary, and as recognized by the Government’s own enquiry, existing criminal laws do not adequately reflect the realities of the trafficking tradexvi and fall far short of international standards.

Given the important distinctions between people smuggling and trafficking, can trafficking, forced prostitution and forced labour be legally linked to slavery? Is it slavery? Gallagher says that this linking is one of the main questions for the High Court in Queen v Wei Tang. Australia has strong laws against slavery, and they are based on and give effect to Australia's acceptance of one of the oldest of all international rules: the absolute prohibition of slavery. The High Court is being asked to look at this prohibition. What does it mean? Which practices does it cover and which does it exclude?

Update: May 17
We know more about the Wei Tang case. It all began in a brothel in Brunswick Street, Fitzroy, where the licensed owner, a Chinese immigrant named Wei Tang, had five Thai women working for her as prostitutes. They arrived in 2002 and 2003 on visas that were fraudulently obtained and worked for her under conditions that prosecutors would later allege amounted to slavery. The women had all worked in the Thai sex industry and knew they were to work as prostitutes here. Four of the women were "purchased" from Thai recruiters for about $20,000 each (one woman was bought from a "Sydney owner").

Upon arrival in Australia, they had little if any money or English and knew no one. They were told they were "contract girls" who owed a "debt" of between $40,000 and $45,000 that they had to work off (a figure much higher than they had been led to expect). This would involve providing sexual services for no payment for up to 900 men. They were housed in bedrooms in which they slept up to four at a time on mattresses on the floor. Their passports and return tickets were taken from them and locked away and their freedom of movement was restricted. They worked 10-to-12-hour shifts six nights a week just to reduce their "debt", and if they worked a seventh night could keep that money for themselves.

UIpdate 2

The history is this:

AUGUST 1998 Wei Tang granted prostitution service provider's licence to operate a brothel and escort agency business in Fitzroy (Club 417).

JUNE 2002 Paul Pick approved as manager of Club 417 under the Prostitution Control Act.

2002-2003 Five Thai women voluntarily agree to come to Australia to work as prostitutes. Thai recruiters were paid a sum of money, generally $20,000, as a purchase price for each woman. Women are told they must work off a total debt of up to $45,000.

JANUARY 2003 Tang, Pick and an associate, Thai national Donporn Srimonthan, arrested and charged. Srimonthan pleads guilty to three slave-trading offences and is jailed.

MAY 2005 Pick found not guilty of eight counts; the jury is hung in relation to other counts against him and all counts against Tang.

JUNE 2006 Tang is re-tried alone and convicted of five counts of possessing a slave and five counts of exercising over a slave a power attaching to the right of ownership, namely, the power to use. Sentenced to 10 years' jail with a non-parole period of six years.

FROM JULY 2007 Victoria's Court of Appeal quashes Tang's convictions and orders another re-trial. Tang is freed on bail. Federal prosecutors appeal to the High Court against the quashing of the convictions. Wei Tang cross-appeals to the High Court. Case began before the full bench this week.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 8:59 AM | | Comments (12)


Wow, what a surprise. Imagine some people not being honest when filling out an application to enter Australia. Why not one of those dumb self-reporting clauses that Centrelink includes in some of its forms? And to think some people advocate open borders.

So we have two instances of one woman and five women - incidently brought in and made slaves by another woman (yes Wei Tang is a woman, a fact curiously ommitted), and all of a sudden we have an epidemic worthy of special legislation.

But lo, Ann Gallagher is in possession of a mass of detailed information about the 'trade'. What trade? Where does she get her facts - or factoids - from? These six women? The interrogation of Mrs Tang the Slaver? They resemble the ones that do the rounds in the feminist movement where verifyables are rare and mendacities abound.

The 2004 report by the House of Representatives Parliamentary Joint Committee on the Australian Crime Commission states:

While it seems to be generally accepted that approximately 300 women are trafficked into the country each year for sex work, the number of these who can be considered to be in servitude is likely to be relatively small. Whether the figure is as low as Scarlet Alliance's estimate of ten, or as high as Project Respect's estimate of one thousand, is impossible to determine accurately. Contract women who have been trafficked into Australia represent a continuum of those who enter with full knowledge and consent; those who enter with consent but are deceived as to conditions; and those who enter Australia completely deceived as to their work in the sex industry.

The cases mentioned in the post are those that have been prosecuted in the courts.

I do not think that the Joint Committee under the previous Howard Government was a hotbed of members from the feminist movement where verifyables are rare and mendacities abound. The committee went on to say that:

However, the Committee agrees with Ms Maltzahn of Project Respect that, whatever the final proportions represented in each category, [it] is a significant enough problem that we need to take it seriously. I do not think it is just a few aberrations that we are finding.

Unlike you the Australian Crime Commission is taking the issue seriously, as judged by its latter submission in 2005 to the Joint Committee.

Look I'm sure it's only 2 or 3 women involved in this. Everybody back to sleep.

odd that both RumpoleQC and amfortas say there's nothing here to worry apart from the odd case when a Parliament committee and the Australian Crime Commission found otherwise.

Strange. I would have thought that Rumpole QC would have been interested in the legal questions around human trafficking, sexual bondage and slavery and could have informed us about the way the High Court would address these issues in the Queen v Wei Tang case in relation to international law.

This is one of those issues that surfaces from time to time and largely gets ignored, partly I think, because as in this case, Asian women are exploiting other Asian women.

It's also an ongoing problem for Russian and Ukrainian women.

I don't see how it's a feminist issue. What kind of man would think this sort of thing is ok?

plenty, Lyn plenty

you people here sound like you know what your talking about, what excalty are the legal issues that would prevent the prosecution from winning this case. I know we aren't judging this case under international law, but what effect does this have on the case?
and why is it important for trafficking, forced prositiution and slavery to be linked togethet for the case?

I'd guess that the number who are clearly in "sex slavery" is probably small - of course we should prosecute vigorously in these cases. For one thing, most johns would prefer the lady to cooperate (despite what Gary says). As implied, there may be rather more borderline cases though.

The reason it's hard to know, though, is that everyone involved has a strong incentive to lie. Granting permanent residency to freed "sex slaves" to encourage them to go to the police (as reformers often suggest) is likely to result in an awful lot of bogus cases.

There are disagreements about numbers and definitions according to this account in The Age by Karen Kissane. Thus Nina Vallins, joint co-ordinator of anti-trafficking group Project Respect, says 1000 women are trafficked every year into Australia for the purposes of sex work.

Elena Jeffry's, from Scarlet Alliance (the Australian Sex Workers Association), claims the figure is only 400 and says the women are not "trafficked" but are migrant sex workers. "The money they earn here sets them up for the rest of their lives in their home country," Jeffreys argues.

Vallins defines trafficking as having three ingredients: a person is moved from place A to place B; the person has either been kidnapped, or has agreed to go but been deceived about the circumstances that await them at point B; and the purpose of moving the person is to exploit them.

According to Karen Kissane's this account in The Age the Wei Tang case before the High Court is important because the questions being raised — such as whether Tang should have been convicted if she did not knowingly intend to possess slaves — have implications for cases even under the new laws about sex trafficking and causing a person to enter into debt bondage.

The High Court must decide the constitutionality of the slavery laws, how slavery should be defined in the 21st century, and what needs to be proved to win a conviction. It must also decide how the crime of slavery should be interpreted in relation to our international human rights obligations. Solicitor-General David Bennett, who appeared in order to speak for the federal Attorney-General, argued that the slavery laws were supported by the external powers section of the constitution. He said the laws were drafted along the same lines as international anti-slavery treaties to which Australia is party. Brett Walker, for the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, who also joined the case argued that international and Australian lawmakers had intended the definition of slavery to include slavery in all its forms, including sexual servitude and debt bondage.

Nina Vallins, joint co-ordinator of anti-trafficking group Project Respect, says "It's the most crucial test of our criminal laws against sexual and all other forms of slavery ever to come before an Australian court."

The harder ball to catch about Australia's sex industry, is the local women have been forced into slavery!!

There is a technique popular among Australian criminals, which men teach to each other in the prison system, by which a group of people organised into it, can cause the form of mental illness which, when not well managed, can manifest in many people, as a real multiple personality disorder. There is information available in the internet about how American psychologists have uncovered cases of teenage girls raped and abused by organised crime, through specific techniques of ritualised abuse; until they are either displaying the symptoms of a multiple personality disorder, or they are working as a drug addicted, and drug selling, prostitute.

A few folk escape to tell the tale, and the stories are horrendous, and are endemic among Australians who are involved with drug crimes. How I know? is a very long story, but with much thanks to a considerable few Aboriginal men who have spent time in the prisons, and spotted me as somebody who was worth saving from the worst of what goes on.

In the prisons, the men who gain the right favour from the right bosses of organised crime, are being paid to study psychology to get the job right. Its a very serious social problem that the mainstream has been too afraid to tackle, but which is acknowledged well in the indigenous community, who normally will not speak about the matter due to need for immediate safety, (and also for cultural reasons which require that nothing is spoken about until a real resolution is found), but since I am a white Aborigine, I can cope with the story of being who puts the information out. Check out the first post of my website "do you know me" at wordpress, if you want a bit more detail.