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Stop the Traffic 2 - The Australian Op/Ed piece

Stop the Traffic 2 (2003)

The Australian – Op/Ed piece

‘Fulfilling the potential?’

Australian and international experts will gather at a two-day conference
to be held in Melbourne this week to consider the subject of the trafficking
of women into Australia for the purposes of prostitution. The timing of
this event could hardly be better, following so closely as it does on
the major package of counter-trafficking measures announced by the Australian
Government only last week.

Recent ministerial pronouncements on this topic have articulated the
government’s acknowledgement of the scale of trafficking for sexual
exploitation within Australia and underlined the repugnance generated
by the presence of this appalling form of modern day slavery within the
borders of the country. The government has expressed an unequivocal determination
to tackle the problem and given force to this determination with last
week’s announcement of the new measures.

Within the context of an overall intention to ratify the benchmark international
standards on this issue as defined in the United Nations Protocol to Prevent,
Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children,
the package is a comprehensive one that provides a core framework within
which the essential components of a ‘whole of government’
response to trafficking for sexual exploitation can be developed.

Most importantly of all, the package includes a range of measures within
three separate but intrinsically linked dimensions; comprehensive support
measures that provide for proper treatment for victims of sex trafficking,
with access to new visa arrangements and re-integration assistance for
those amongst them that return to their source countries; the formation
of a new AFP investigative unit, supported by closer inter-agency intelligence
sharing links and access to specialist investigative techniques; and improvements
to current legislation to properly prosecute and punish those that engage
in this form of abuse.

The critical element of these initiatives is that they recognise the
inter-dependency of them and in this respect, the package is following
international best practice by acknowledging two key points. Firstly,
that improved identification, investigation and successful prosecution
of the sex traffickers to redress the levels impunity they currently enjoy
must be one of the central themes of any effective medium-term strategy
to combat the problem. Secondly, the challenge of creating new conditions
within which trafficked victims can feel secure and confident enough to
co-operate with the criminal justice system and testify against their
exploiters is the most just and cost-effective way of delivering this
arm of the strategy.

While the management of trafficking investigations and prosecutions is
an enormously complex issue, the point here is quite simple - the ‘best-case’
evidence in any trafficking prosecution is always likely to come from
the testimony of the victims. In this respect they represent the best
potential trial asset available and yet, in many locations across the
globe, this asset value is not being realised because of a reluctance
and lack of commitment to provide proper support for these damaged victims
to enable them to access their legal rights.

The evidence for this assertion is clear. This is a subject that has
always been bedevilled by widely divergent data as to the overall numbers
of victims – for example, a current UNICEF report states that over
one million children are trafficked globally each year whereas the latest
US Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report gives a figure of between 700-800,000
persons per annum. However, one statistical fact can be stated with certainty;
whichever statistic is selected, less than one per cent of the chosen
figure will have ever walked into a courtroom and testified against their
abusers. If this statistic fails to tell us that our current response
is inadequate, it is difficult to imagine which data would.

However, there are locations in the world, particularly in Europe and
the United States, where the latest developments have proven to be effective
and where the number of prosecutions based upon victim testimony has shown
a significant increase. Wherever these developments have been implemented
they share a number of characteristics in common; the law enforcement
response is being constructed around specialist, highly trained units
of designated investigators and prosecutors; the legislative instruments
have been strengthened to provide an all-encompassing platform for victim
treatment and prosecution of traffickers and: most importantly of all,
the specialist units are working in the closest partnership with the victim
support organisations in order to provide a comprehensive package of support

The victim support package is founded upon immediate access to specialised
treatment and counselling provided by local non-governmental victim support
organisations. This is underpinned by access to temporary visa provisions
to enable the victims to remain and co-operate with the criminal justice
system in the country of exploitation. The specialist investigative units
then work closely with the support organisations in what is a relationship
built upon mutual trust

This partnership represents a ‘win-win’ equation where the
two critical components of the response play to their specialised but
complimentary strengths. The police investigate the crime in co-operation
with the non-governmental organisations that provide specialised support
for the victims. The overall outcome is that significantly more victims
than before develop the resilience and belief in the criminal justice
system to enable them to testify, which in turn has led to a demonstrable
increase in the conviction and punishment of the traffickers.

This brings us back to the Australian context - so far so good. The government’s
package finally recognises the problem and provides the overall core framework
within which the key agencies in the combat of trafficking can develop
the partnership approach to trafficked victims that has been proven to
work so effectively in other parts of the world. The key issue now is
whether the practical development of this new approach at the operational
level will fulfil the potential of the framework provided by the government.

As has been the case elsewhere, the success of any strategy based upon
victims becoming witnesses will ultimately depend upon the specialist
skills and trust in the relationship developed between the investigative
units and those organisations that provide front-line, face-on support
to trafficked victims

By Paul Holmes Q.P.M. Consultant - Counter Trafficking &
Law Enforcement Co-ordination

Paul Holmes is an internationally recognised expert in counter trafficking,
child prostitution, paedophilia and the commercial sexual exploitation
of human beings. His experience is founded upon 30 years operational police
service with New Scotland Yard.

He is the keynote speaker at the Stop the Traffic 2 Conference to be
held at RMIT campus on 23-24 October. For information call 03 9416 3401.