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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2005 Week 08 Hansard (Tuesday, 28 June 2005 2005) . . Page.. 2400 ..


The typical working day in a brothel where someone is working in sexual servitude is usually 10 to 14 hours. They receive an allowance of perhaps a dollar or two a day. Admittedly, a more benign owner will allow them to work for themselves on their days off, but generally speaking they are de facto, though not legally, the property of the traffickers and the brothel owners. In plain language, this is bondage.

Because of the moves of the federal council of the Liberal Party about two years ago, there have been major changes in the way we deal with both victims and perpetrators in Australia since then. At all levels, governments have begun to take the problem seriously and there have been a few prosecutions. Most importantly, there has been a change in attitude towards victims. Until 2003, foreign women caught in brothels, who appeared to be victims of sexual trafficking, were just bundled off to detention centres and unceremoniously deported to their country of origin, making it impossible to get prosecutions against their traffickers. Now, if women agree to act as witnesses, they might be granted a special visa to stay in Australia while they are helping police and prosecutors with their inquiries. This is a significant change in policy.

Last year, in Canberra on International Women’s Day, Australia’s foremost advocate for women victims of sexual servitude, Kathleen Maltzahn, commented on the changes that had taken place over the previous 12 months. She said in part:

Another issue that I think is interesting in explaining why trafficking took off, so to speak, is the role of women from the Liberal party ... From what I understand, women members of the Liberal Party made it very clear to their party that trafficking was unacceptable and something had to be done.

I am proud to have been part of that group that really did bring about the change in 2003 to what happened in the way we deal with victims of sexual trafficking, and I am proud to have been involved in the motion last week, which was so unanimously and so warmly welcomed by the Liberal Party conference.

In dealing with the issue on the weekend, I drew attention to the quite different approach that other countries take from Australia, countries that are often facing similar or far worse problems. The most instructive case is Italy, where the policy is one of comprehensive victim protection and integration into the general community. In 2004 alone, the Italian government oversaw 69 projects to assist 8,600 women victims, at least 120 of whom were children, who entered into special social programs, training in literacy and vocational training, and with unconditional protection from the community.

Of equal if not greater interest is that this compassionate approach has gone hand in glove with an increased rate of arrests and convictions for the traffickers themselves, and several smuggling rings have been detected and broken up. As a result, it is probably not surprising that people are obviously more likely to cooperate with the authorities when they do not fear being deported. In other words, what the Italian policy demonstrates in this particular area is that what is morally right coincides with what is politically and legally effective. It is an unusual combination but one, I believe, that the Australian Liberal Party has learnt from and I hope that we will see it in action in the community.


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