There are strong ties between organised crime, human trafficking and prostitution, a NSW inquiry has been told in an ACL submission.

The Legislative Council Select Committee on Human Trafficking is looking at human trafficking in NSW with the committee expected to report by September 2017.

ACL’s submission focused on evidence which points to the relationship between prostitution and sex trafficking and the influence of organised crime on trafficking.

There is a clear link between prostitution and human trafficking which should be recognised. In the Seventh Report of the Interdepartmental Committee on Human Trafficking and Slavery titled ‘Trafficking in Persons’, the committee states:

To date, most trafficked people identified in Australia have been women working in the sex industry, from both legal and illegal brothels. [1]

A previous inquiry in NSW which looked at the regulation of brothels found it probable that:

  • Sexual servitude occurs in NSW; and
  • Criminal networks do operate in some parts of the NSW sex services industry.[2]

While local councils recognise the link between organised crime and prostitution, in a decriminalised jurisdiction they will be powerless to stop it and will spend tens of thousands of dollars each year trying to shut non-compliant brothels down.

Deputy Police Commissioner Nick Kaldas has stated previously that 40 NSW brothels have some recorded connection or ties to outlaw motorcycle gangs and that Asian organised crime has been linked in numerous NSW brothels.[3]

The US Department of State noted in 2010 that women from Southeast Asia, China, and South Korea may come to Australia voluntarily to work in both legal and illegal brothels, but “under conditions that amounted to debt bondage or sexual servitude.”[4]

The link between prostitution and human trafficking is supported by the findings of an evaluation report on the Prostitution Act 1999, by the Queensland Crime and Misconduct Commission (CMC), which states:

In general, sex trafficking appears to be one of the unfortunate consequences of an industry driven by excessive demand for services with insufficient safeguards to protect vulnerable people.[5]

The CMC has also acknowledged “clear evidence of a link between the legal brothel industry and organised illegal prostitution.”[6] It found that the effect of legalised prostitution is the reverse of its intention to minimise harm.[7]

ACL recommended that NSW adopt a policy approach consistent with what has become known as the Nordic approach towards prostitution.

Sweden, under the Nordic approach, has recognised prostitution as a “serious form of male violence against women and children” and has sought ways to protect women from prostitution by focusing on the core cause, that is, the demand for paid sex.[8] 

Under the Nordic approach, prostituted women are not criminally liable; it is the purchaser of sex who is guilty of an offence. This policy position covers all forms of sexual services purchased in any circumstances.[9]

The Nordic approach in Sweden has been effective in reducing street prostitution and human trafficking. Sweden’s National Board of Health and Welfare has reported significant decreases in the number of women in street prostitution and the number of men buying sex.[10] There has been an estimated 50 per cent real reduction in street prostitution, without corresponding increases in other types of sex work, such as indoor sex work.[11]

The inquiry is a positive step towards addressing the terrible crime of human trafficking, an issue that needs a strong policy and resourcing response from the NSW government.

You can read ACL’s submission here.


[1] Trafficking in Persons, The Australian Government Response. 1 July 2014 – 30 June 2015. The Seventh Report of the Interdepartmental Committee on Human Trafficking and Slavery. p.32.

[2] Inquiry into the regulation of brothels / Select Committee on the Regulation of Brothels. [Sydney, N.S.W.] : The Committee, 2015. – [183] pages; 30 cm. (Report; 1) p.61.

[3] Ibid.

[4] US Department of State (2009), 2009 Human Rights Reports: Australia. http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2009/eap/135985.htm.

[5] Crime and Misconduct Commission (2004), Regulating Prostitution: An Evaluation of the Prostitution Act 1999 (QLD). p. 27

[6] Crime and Misconduct Commission (2011), Regulating Prostitution: A follow-up review of the Prostitution Act 1999. p.22. 

[7] Crime and Misconduct Commission (2004). p.30. 

[8] Gunilla Ekberg (2007), Update on Swedish Model of Sex Industry Reform, pp 2-3.

[9] Ibid. p 4.

[10] Ibid. p 5

[11] Swedish Institute, Selected extracts of the Swedish government report SOU 2010:49 “The ban against the Purchase of Sexual Services. An evaluation 1999–2008”, https://ec.europa.eu/anti-trafficking/sites/antitrafficking/files/the_ban_against_the_purchase_of_sexual_services._an_evaluation_1999-2008_1.pdf