Below is a copy of ACL Chief of Staff Lyle Shelton's statement to the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade. It is currently holding an Inquiry into Slavery, Slavery like conditions and People Trafficking in Australia:

Thankyou Chair for the opportunity to address the sub-committee.

Whilst your inquiry is quite broad encompassing slavery and people trafficking in all its forms, ACL is one of several submitters to focus solely on the issue of sex-trafficking.

We support the good work that is being done to eradicate non-sexual slavery, particularly of children.

However, we are concerned that our society is blind to the drivers of the demand for out-of-control global trafficking of women and that countries like Australia unwittingly support it through our ignorance.

The International Labour Organisation estimates that 4.5 million people are victims of “forced labour for sexual exploitation”.[1] This is 43% of the forced labour population.

The industry is estimated at between US $7bn and $19bn.

It is a sad indictment that 200 years after William Wilberforce and the men and women of the Clapham friends won their long-running human rights campaign against the English Parliament to abolish slavery in the British Empire that today there are more people in slavery than ever.

We know this is a Commonwealth inquiry but trafficking of women for sex cannot be considered without acknowledging the role State Governments play, perhaps unwittingly, in fostering demand.

Since the 1980s several State Governments moved to legalise prostitution and the establishment of brothels.

The rationale was that regulating prostitution would cause it to become safe for women and that illegal prostitution would be minimised.

Of course the evidence has been to the contrary with the illegal industry blossoming everywhere a culture of State-sanctioned prostitution has been established.

This has in turn put pressure on the legal industry to compete which has in turn gone to government asking for the strict controls – put in place to protect women – to be loosened.

In short the system is a failure and this was epitomised by the tragic death of a 17 year-old girl of a drug overdose in a legal Canberra brothel in October 2010.

We know from evidence that Australia’s culture of legal prostitution – ie treating it like any other form of work – makes it easier for traffickers to lure women into sexual slavery in legal and illegal brothels here.

The warnings have been sounding for some time.

In 2004 the UK Home Office in its landmark study of global prostitution regulation noted that “Victoria and New South Wales were the two worst states for the abuse of children through prostitution. The trafficking of East Asian women for the purpose of prostitution was also found to be a growing problem.”

Our submission documents how the UN, the University of Goettingen and the Seoul Metropolitan Policy Agency note that Australia is seen by women traffickers as an attractive destination.

The University of Goettingen, in a study this year, has also strongly linked legal prostitution with increasing the demand for trafficked women.

One part of the world has made inroads in the battle against trafficking of women and that is the Nordic region.

Having tried Australia’s approach to legal brothels and found it exploitative and violent against women, Sweden introduced a new policy approach in 1999.

Instead of criminalising prostituted women, the hard edge of the law fell on the purchaser of sex.

Just as a prohibition on murder doesn’t succeed in stamping out all killing, neither has the Swedish approach been a cure-all.

However, it has dramatically lessened the harm to women of prostitution and has made Sweden an unattractive place for sex traffickers.

Other Nordic countries have adopted this approach with early success.

The European Parliament has found that “traffickers have had problems finding enough sex buyers in Sweden, the demand has been much lower than expected”.

The Coalition Against the Trafficking of Women say in their submission that “Countries that have legalised or regulated prostitution are those into which the highest number of women are trafficked.”

ACL submits that we cannot seriously tackle sex slavery into Australia until we join the dots between the legalisation of brothels and the demand this creates for trafficked women.

We respectfully submit that pressure has to be put on State Governments to consider the Nordic policy approach in order to begin to address the scourge of sex slavery.