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Hot topic of the moment – human trafficking. Not to be confused with people smuggling. But feel free to mix it up with sex work and migrant workers, or just Asian women generally. There’s been a lot of media about the problem, politicians are discussing it, feminist and church groups are concerned about it and 4 corners is exposing it. Well I’m calling bullshit and here’s why!

I’ve worked in nearly every brothel in Adelaide for many years and I’ve never worked with anyone or met anyone who has  worked with someone who was being forced into it. If I or anyone I knew, ever worked with someone who was there against their will, we would call the cops.

It makes sense that sex workers would care the most about this sort of thing. If it’s happening, it’s happening in our industry, to our colleagues, in our workplaces, by our bosses and with our clients. Of course we would know and ofcourse we wouldn’t do nothing while this happened to us or our colleagues!

Maybe we don’t know about these sex slaves in our own industry. Maybe they are not in the brothels that I work at, or anyone I know has worked at, but in some secret dark and unknown brothel that no one knows about. Well there are still some people who would need to know about it – the clients.

I’ve seen a lot of clients in my time and I have had a lot of requests. Clients generally seem to prefer workers who want to be there, or are at least very good at pretending they enjoy their job. Most of my clients ask to kiss and cuddle not to have me sad and broken. 

Our clients are not demons. They are just clients. If you went to a restaurant do you want to be served by someone who is being forced to work against their will under awful conditions, or do you prefer to think your waiter is treated well and therefore treats you well? I have faith that there is more business in happy hookers than there is in Asian sex slaves. Not to say that there isn’t any money in Asian sex slaves, but happy hookers can play that character if required.

I have worked in Asian brothels. I worked for 12 months in a brothel that was run by a Chinese sex worker and had many workers, mainly Thai, Chinese, Vietnamese and Korean. These women were not your stereotype victim. They were very often strong, clever, motivated women who worked hard to provide for themselves and often their family. They were also very good business women, who knew how to manipulate the industry to bring in the maximum profit.

That includes playing up to your stereotype, if that’s what will make them money. We all do it. Find our niche and work it. I loved listening to the workers play up their soft accents or act out the submissive Asian girl character for the sake of taking his money. Just like most of us hookers, they knew how to be a mattress actress, while skilfully and assertively negotiating their terms and providing their service without ever breaking character. Until the client leaves. And then its back to loudly laughing and teasing each other, cooking the whole place a feast or yelling down the phone to their family and friends.

And these workers know how to make money.

There are a few well-known cases of rich old white men roaming around South East Asia or poorer parts of India trying save the prostitutes by “buying their freedom” from the brothel that has captured them. In many of these cases the newly freed victim returns to the brothel of their own accord and it’s usually blamed on drug addiction, inability to cope in outside world or economic necessity. But it makes me wonder because I can totally picture a sex worker in a Thailand brothel meeting one of these geezers while they are on shift, he starts talking about buying her freedom and the $$ flashes above his head. She goes down to the boss and says something like “it’s another one of those knight in shining armour fantasies again, I reckon he’s rich, lets tell him its US$5000 to buy my freedom”. She goes back to his hotel with him and tells him sad stories, he then takes her “home to her village” before he trots off to write his award-winning saviour book and she goes back to work having made a months wages with that one client.

In the Asian brothels I have worked at, I have been treated better than in many of the other brothels I have worked at. The working conditions were better. My cut of the service fee was fairer, and I felt like part of a family. Lots of the workers came and went, but that’s because most of the workers I worked with in Adelaide Asian brothels actually lived in other states. They came to Adelaide to do sex work because they wanted to remain discreet. They didn’t want to do sex work in their own small communities in their own home states because of the stigma we all face. But we felt like part of a family. Often the workers would live and work in the brothel for a few weeks at a time before returning home and the coming back every few months. This meant our workplace was also someone’s house so we’d share home cooked meals and intimacies that you share when you spend that much time in someone’s living space. This community was networked and looked after each other.

I have been to parts of Asia and Pacific countries and hung out with sex workers there. When I was in China recently, all the sex workers I met wanted to come to Australia. They asked me so many questions about how they could get here. Many knew someone, who knew someone, who could help them come here for a considerable fee. Many knew people who had decided to take that option and had been happy with their business arrangement. No one knew people who had been tricked into doing sex work in another country. Although some people knew some sex workers who had been mislead about work conditions or contract arrangements, but they weren’t told they were going to be a waitress.

Why would traffickers have to trick someone to come to Australia to work as a sex worker, when I could right now give you the contact details of 20 gorgeous young Chinese sex workers who would pay you money to bring them here to work happily and voluntarily in your brothel? They can even  play a perfect game of submissive sex object if you’re willing to pay.

Why would someone take these risks for an unhappy unwilling worker when other sex workers and our clients will not tolerate it?

It doesn’t ring true to me. It isn’t logical. There is no evidence and I call bullshit.

And it’s more than that. I was reading this great book about the history of sex work in Australia and it talked about in the early 1900’s the media and public concern with the “white slave trade” back then it was all about young white girls accepting overseas domestic jobs with evil European or Japanese villains who would then trick them into prostitution. There was very little evidence of this however and infact it seems there is a lot of evidence of workers of all nationalities migrating for better work conditions, include young white Australian female sex workers. It also tells of how the Salvation Army and many feminists attempted to save sex workers by forcing them to work in laundries in sweatshop like conditions, and had their pays docked to cover lodge and boarding. It’s still the feminists and the salvation army who are trying to raid our workplaces, rescue sex workers and rehabilitate us into a less than suitable job.

That rings true to me.

And it’s more than even that. If people care about us, how come the cops don’t do anything when you tell them your boss is withholding pay or taking unlawful fines or blackmailing you but they jump on the trafficking bandwagon, taking it upon themselves to raid Asian brothels intimidating everyone they find. How come the same feminists who fight to close our workplaces now act like they care about us but don’t listen when we fight for workers rights. How come the church groups that used to be about saving us from our sins now want to force themselves upon asian sex slaves and call themselves an anti trafficking group. And how come adult business groups (big bosses of big legal brothels) are so quick accuse their competition of trafficking, the same brothels they used to accuse of spreading disease. Why don’t any of these people care about trafficking in other industries? And how come I still haven’t met any of these trafficked sex slaves. It’s because these groups have seized the few sad stories they have ‘exposed’ to serve their purpose and further their agenda. Sex workers have been yelling for years about our problems, but no one is interested in sensible boring workers rights and anti discrimination strategies.

Sex workers DO experience exploitation at work. Migrant workers DO have barriers to accessing support and services. Our immigration and our Visa systems DO make Asian sex workers vulnerable. We DO want allies and attention to these issues. We DO need urgent legislation reviews and reforms.

But you’re getting it all wrong. Media hysteria and more cops and reactionary policy and strengthened stereotypes and preconceived ideas and misinformation and salivating over discovered victims and villains and then some more cops. It isn’t helping!

I wont leave this here,  I’ll write more about this very soon, in particular about the real life harms of the sex trafficking rhetoric and what sex workers want to address these issues. Up next in the ‘stop the traffic’ series is ‘the car accident you can’t look away from’ followed by ‘the scenic route’ .