A federal inquiry into slavery and people trafficking ignored calls to criminalise the purchase of sexual services like Sweden has done as part of the solution to preventing human trafficking in Australia, despite hearing evidence that most trafficked victims are women who’ve been exploited in the sex industry.

The House of Representatives’ Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade handed down its report Trading Lives: Modern Day Human Trafficking on Monday the 24th of June making eight recommendations including introducing a compensation scheme for victims of trafficking, developing fact sheets for visa applicants on their rights as part of the visa application process and utilising the UK Internet Watch Foundation’s URL list to block access to child abuse sites in Australia.

The report showed a link between people trafficking and the sex industry. Since 2004 the Australian Federal Police have undertaken 375 investigations and assessments into allegations of trafficking in persons, slavery and slavery-like practices. 209 suspected victims of trafficking in persons and slavery were provided government support through the Support for Trafficked People Program. In the report (chapter 5, page 71) it says of the 209 suspected victims, 164 (78%) were trafficked into the sex industry.

The report acknowledged evidence given by the Victorian Police to the inquiry (Chapter 3, page 19) that it had encountered trafficking in Victoria primarily around the sex industry. It also quotes the Australian Crime Commission evidence (ACC) (chapter 3, page 23) that most victims of trafficking in Australia have been women trafficked for the purpose of exploitation in the sex industry (in both legal and illegal brothels). The ACC had shown that 70 per cent of its investigations related to trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation and the remainder related to exploitation in other industries.

Despite acknowledging the Swedish Model and ACL’s calls for the federal government to put pressure on the state and territory governments to consider the Nordic policy approach, the report (chapter 7, page 95-97) dismisses the Swedish approach as part of a solution to the problem of human trafficking.

It quotes the Attorney-General’s Department (AGD) view that the ‘Swedish Model’ was ‘unlikely to be an effective strategy for combating slavery, slavery-like practices or people trafficking’. It is disappointing that AGD along with the Law Council of Australia has formed this view against evidence groups like the ACL presented to the inquiry to show that the Swedish Model has had a positive impact on stopping human trafficking. In a country that promotes gender equality it’s a sad fact that women are being trafficked here and sold for sex.

In ACL’s submission to the inquiry it had quoted evidence from Max Waltman’s 2011 paper “Sweden’s Prohibition of purchase of sex: The law’s reasons, impact, and potential”. Waltman had quoted the Swedish Ministry of Justice: “Studies of wiretaps in cases of procurement human trafficking also indicate that the demand in Sweden is not as great as the procurers and human traffickers would like. According to the Swedish Police, it is obvious that the ban against the purchase of sexual services works as a barrier for human traffickers and procurers to establish themselves in Sweden.”

The inquiry, which was announced in August 2012 by Minister for Foreign Affairs, The Hon Senator Bob Carr, had received 74 submissions and public hearings were held between October 2012 and May 2013.

The ACL, along with many other organisations including Collective Shout, the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women Australia (CATWA), and Family Voice Australia, had made submissions to highlight the problem of trafficking of women for sexual servitude and called for Swedish type legislation which criminalises the purchase (but not the sale) of sexual services. The ACL’s then Chief of Staff Lyle Shelton and Research Officer Daniel Simon appeared at the inquiry to give evidence relating to the submission on Tuesday the 20th November 2012.

Other recommendations the committee made include the Australian Government reviewing the People Trafficking Visa Framework and the Support of People Trafficking Programs; getting the Government to negotiate re-funding of contracts for non-government organisations one year ahead of contract’s conclusion; undertaking a review to establish anti-trafficking and anti-slavery mechanisms appropriate for the Australian context with the objective of improving transparency in supply changes, introducing a labelling and certifications strategy for products and services that have been produced ethically, and increasing the prominence of fair trade in Australia; the Australian Government continue to use international forums including the United Nations Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review to combat people trafficking.

Further information

Read the ACL’s submission to the inquiry here

Read about the ACL’s appearance at the inquiry here

To read the House of Representatives’ Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade report click here