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Posted November 18, The sex industry is pushing for changes to Australia's immigration system to give migrant sex workers the same visa rights as other professions and trades. Campaigners say a legitimate visa category for sex workers would strike at the heart of trafficking from South-East Asia, while opponents say the move could contribute to exploitation. The United States, spurred on by the conservative Christian lobby, has for several years been leading a global push to eradicate prostitution around the world.
By contrast, in some Australian states prostitution has been decriminalised and largely brought into the open. But even in legal brothels, the problem of sex slavery and women being sold into servitude persists.
Jules Kim, the migration project manager at sex workers association Scarlet Alliance, says the current approach to trafficking is punitive rather than preventative. She says discriminatory visa restrictions force women to go to intermediaries, leaving them vulnerable to traffickers. Ms Kim is pushing for sex workers be given the same access to employment visas as other professions and trades. And she is calling on the Government to make immigration information available in other languages.
Even stamps in the visas are only available in English and this opens the doors to deception. Shirley Woods, a Melbourne-based community outreach officer with Project Respect, works directly with victims of trafficking. She estimates 80 per cent of women who come to Australia to work as prostitutes know that is what they have signed up for.
Ms Woods says the proposed reforms could lead to an increase in the numbers who are deceived into sexual servitude. Of the 14 human trafficking cases heard in Australian courts since , 13 involved the sex industry. But as transparency grows, Ms Woods says the criminal networks become more sophisticated in the way they trap women in the sex industry.