Thursday, July 18, 2002
Australia and Cambodia Illustrate the Tragedy of Sex Trafficking
By Janice Shaw Crouse, Ph.D., Senior Fellow
and Anne Stover, Intern
Sex Trafficking is a worldwide problem with ties to the underbelly of multi-national big businesses and to international thugs and gangsters of the worst kinds. The United States State Department estimates that over 2 million women and children are abducted and forced into sexual slavery every year. One wrinkle on this tragic problem is the growing sex-tourism industry –a despicable development that is binding nations in appalling alliances. What is happening in Australia and Cambodia reflects the worldwide linkages of sex trafficking, sexual slavery and sex tourism.
The Australian government is currently trying to tidy-up their sex tourism problem by keeping the sex tourists home; they are trying to pass legislation that would decriminalize and legalize street prostitution. Government officials have suggested “tolerance zones” for prostitutes to legally solicit, and “safe houses” where prostitutes could service their clients out of sight. Among those leading the charge is a woman who suggested tolerance zones nearly 20 years ago, Professor Marcia Neave, who is now the state’s Law Reform Commissioner. She also helped create Victoria’s first legal brothels. These efforts have not discouraged street prostitution, nor has legalizing prostitution healed the social problems created by illegal prostitution. The drug trade has not slowed and the number of street sex workers in areas where prostitution is legal continues to grow.
Residents of St. Kilda, Australia, have described their town as an “open-air brothel.” According to The Melbourne Age, “Residents are confronted with sex acts in lanes, in their front gardens, and in cars outside their homes.” In addition, residents feel threatened by the pimps and spotters who lurk in the shadows. Sexually transmitted diseases have also increased. According to the Sydney Sexual Health Center, it is estimated that up to 50 percent of adults have an STD, and of the 10 million Australians in the sexually active age group: 1 in 3 has a strain of genital warts and at least 1 in 5 has genital herpes. The only thing tolerance zones and safe houses have secured is an environment for sexually transmitted diseases and the continuation of sexual, physical and emotional abuse.
At the same time, Australia is turning a blind eye on legislation it passed to end sex crimes against minors in Cambodia by Australian sex tourists. What Australian sex shoppers cannot satisfy legally in Australia, they are satisfying without fear of prosecution in Cambodia. Child welfare workers in Cambodia estimate that every year several hundred Australian sex tourists take advantage of Cambodia’s convenient geographic proximity to feed their pedophilic desires.
In 1994, legislation was introduced to prosecute Australian tourists for sex crimes against minors. However, Australian authorities have not attempted to prosecute cases against Australian sex tourists in Cambodia since 1996 when an attempt to prosecute former Australian diplomat to Phnom Penh, John Holloway, failed. Australian authorities continue to alert Cambodian authorities of suspected pedophiles, but no one is prosecuting.
It is estimated that there are 20,000 children involved in the child sex industry in Cambodia. In Svay Pak, an impoverished town near Phnom Penh, the number of brothels has doubled in five years selling children as young as 9-years old for sex to Australian sex tourists, according to The Melbourne Age. Yet both Australian and Cambodian authorities are abandoning their campaigns designed to stop Australian pedophiles from harming Cambodia’s children. Part of the problem, according to Australian ambassador to Cambodia Louise Hand, is getting the local authorities to act on the information the Australian Embassy gives them. Local officials are making more money protecting sex tourists than by protecting their weakest citizens.
Bernadette McMenamin, head of the Australian branch of ECPAT (End Child Prostitution, Pornography and Trafficking), said, “there is something terribly wrong in Cambodia.” But she is forgetting that there is also something terribly wrong in Australia. Even worse, and tragically, what is happening in both countries simply reflects the sex trafficking and sexual slavery that is happening-and being ignored-all around the world.
Janice Shaw Crouse, Ph.D. BLI’s Senior Fellow, is a member of the DC-Based Initiative Against Sexual Trafficking, the World Evangelical Fellowship’s Task Force Against Abuse of Women and Children and Concerned Women for America’s policy director for sexual trafficking issues. Anne Stover, a Senior at Asbury College, is a summer intern at the Beverly LaHaye Institute.