Understanding the Difference Between Sex Work and Sex Trafficking

Confessions of an Australian Escort

Like any country’s history, especially one with such a wild and colonial past, prostitution plays a central and colourful role in Australia’s history. The industry in Australia has ballooned over the past decade and business is booming for escorts, yet legislation and social discussion complicate an escort’s life by blurring the line between sex trafficking and prostitution, often confusing them as the same thing. In reality, trafficking and prostitution are very different and this lack of distinction has made things worse, rather than better, for those involved.

We’ve all seen the reports of people from foreign lands, shipped to Australia and New Zealand and forced to become sex workers. These people are trafficked and have had their human rights abused in the process but should not be lumped in with your average sex worker.

Sex work on the other hand, involves men and women who consensually offer sexual services in exchange for money. Sex workers might choose to engage in this profession for many reasons but the key distinction is that they do it voluntarily, not because they’ve been coerced or forced into it.

As a result of grouping sex work with trafficking, migrant sex workers are particularly affected with authorities tending to assume that all migrant sex workers are victims of sexual slavery. Fear of raids leads migrant sex workers to work solo, in less safe work environments, isolating themselves from mainstream society. This compromises their access to support and services, and is unsafe.

Sex worker activists aim to improve sex-working conditions but they’re fighting a difficult fight with sex work frequently being confused with trafficking and regarded merely as another form of slavery.

The Scarlett Alliance Migration Project in Australia works to improve education resources and support for migrant sex workers and has made a huge contribution to the trafficking debates in Australia, as well as helping sex workers when dealing with government agencies. Over the ditch, the New Zealand Prostitutes Collective (NZPC) has developed literature in various languages, including Chinese, Korean and Japanese, to help migrant sex works identify their rights in the workplace.

Sex law often constrains, rather than liberates women. Resources, time and energy that might actually help trafficking victims are wasted in sensational ‘rescues’ that are ineffective and counterproductive. People concerned about the rights and well-being of migrants should talk in terms of migration and workers’ rights, rather than confusing matters by using the all-encompassing term ‘trafficking’.

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By Mia

24 Oct, 2014

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