Activist, writer, sex-positive feminist, single mother, sandgroper, grumpy old woman.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

More sex slavery fuckwittery - migration agents

First paragraph...  "Licensed migration agents are helping bring women to Australia on student visas who end up working in conditions of sexual slavery or at illegal brothels".

Second last paragraph... However a [DIAC] spokesman said it has "no evidence to suggest any migration agents have been linked with people trafficking in the sex industry in the last five years".

Last paragraph... The Migration Agents Registration Authority [said] no agents in the past ten years had been sanctioned over allegations of sex slavery or trafficking.

No evidence to back up your claims, no experts in the field to support you, so just start the article with a clear statement of what YOU BELIEVE to be true and hope the reader doesn't read all the way to the disclaimer at the end? Is this what passes for 'investigative journalism' these days?

If we're going to talk about sex work and visas, lets look at what role migration agents actually play. And more importantly, WHY.

If you're an English 20-something barmaid who wants to come to Australia on a working holiday, you can apply for your own visa and sign up with one of a multitude of Australian employment agencies. On arrival, those agencies will ship you all around the countryside, from pub to pub, arranging your accommodation and transport, and (I would assume) negotiating your pay rate and working conditions.

You are only allowed to stay in the same place for a short time before you have to change employers - which country pubs are all in favour of because, and I quote, "We get a steady stream of pretty young things and it keeps the boys happy. Keeps them coming back to check out the new ones". So basically, backpacker barmaids are being used as the cheap and unskilled equivalent of skimpies, but I digress...

If you're a 20-something SE Asian or Eastern European sex worker who wants to come to Australia for a working holiday, there's a good chance you won't be able to apply for your own visa. Thanks to over-the-top anti-trafficking policies, some countries are actually denying visas to young single women who they 'suspect' might be intending to work as a sex worker.

Even if they do manage to get their own visa, sex workers don't have the luxury of employment agencies to assist them in finding employment and accommodation once they get here. In many Australian states, brothels are not allowed to sponsor or advertise for staff, and procuring (and anti-trafficking) laws make it difficult for third parties to help sex workers find work. So think about it... you're in a foreign nation, where you don't speak the language, trying to secure employment in an industry that is heavily regulated and often shrouded in secrecy. You don't know the local laws, you have no way of knowing which are the well-run brothels and which ones are dodgy and once you find a job, you have no idea what your rights are.

*Note: If the only information a migrant sex worker gets about Australian sex work is "Foreign sex workers are sex slaves, exploited, offering unprotected services, being raided and rescued", etc - from our sensationalist media - how do you think that affects their choices? What sort of working conditions will they accept if they think that's the norm? How do they stand up for their rights if they're led to believe they don't have any?

Taking all of this into consideration, is it really any wonder that sex workers from other countries choose to go through a migration agent and/or brothel syndicate? It may be their best option, or perhaps their only option. One thing's for sure, it will always be the most expensive option. Bringing someone into the country and circumventing (not necessarily breaking) laws costs a lot of money. That expense is then passed on to the sex worker. Having huge debts and being in a precarious legal position then leaves these sex workers vulnerable to exploitation.

Let me just say that again, to make it doubly clear - migrant sex workers are vulnerable to exploitation thanks to anti-trafficking laws and immigration policies. Unscrupulous operators might be taking advantage of it, but our laws and attitudes are CAUSING it.

Blanket bans and excessive controls lead to a violent, exploitative black market, dominated by organised crime. Did the world learn nothing from prohibition?

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