Mr CHARLES CASUSCELLI
(Strathfield) [6.21 p.m.]: At a recent Korean Ministerial Consultative Committee meeting the issue of Korean women being coerced or tricked into working in the sex industry was briefly discussed. I have had a number of discussions with Korean community leaders about this issue. I must admit that the majority of advertising in local newspapers for prostitutes and brothels features Asian women. Koreans are a dignified and respectful people. They are rooted in tradition, but they embrace the modern world. They have strong family values, they are a cohesive community and they are now reaching out to others much more than they have in the past. It is distressing to members of that community, both men and women, that Korean women are exploited and presented almost as the face of the sex industry in many local newspapers.
This problem has many dimensions and the continuing operation of illegal brothels, the standard of regulation and compliance of legal brothels and human trafficking means that women may end up in sexual servitude. I am aware of Korean community concerns about reports suggesting that at least 1,000 Korean nationals are working in the local sex industry. Some could be there as a direct result of sex trafficking. I am unable to confirm the veracity of the numbers, but there is real concern in the community. Immigration Minister Chris Bowen recently said that his department would conduct a targeted analysis of the student visa program to find any links with the sex industry. The Federal Government has previously indicated that $50 million in funding has been allocated to fight domestic anti-trafficking initiatives since 2003.
We have a substantial network of organisations involved in the anti-human trafficking community, including law enforcement agencies and support services. Clearly, that is not enough; we all need to do more. Stories of young Asian women arriving in Australia and being met at airports by strangers coercing them to participate in the sex industry are real; they are not Hollywood scenarios. They are far too common and they destroy the lives of young women. Having spoken to a number of people who are active in helping victims of sexual exploitation, I know that part of the problem stems from the fact that women over the age of 18 must ask for help, it cannot be forced on them. If a woman is found to be under 18 years of age, immediate and effective action can be taken to remove her from the exploitative situation regardless of her wishes.
The problem of protecting women over 18 years of age boils down to two issues: first, providing them with information about where to get help if they decide to seek it; and, secondly, making it easier for them to access support services provided by organisations such as the Salvation Army, the Red Cross, Asian Women at Work and others. Increasing awareness of sex trafficking and the risks of working in the sex industry before a woman is caught up in it is critical. My two daughters were shocked when we recently watched Taken
, a movie starring Liam Neeson. Unfortunately, in the real world there is no Hollywood ending. The only guaranteed outcome of sexual servitude is tragedy and grief.
I have today approached the Minister for Citizenship and Communities about this critical issue, which affects our Korean friends and neighbours and which speaks to their dignity and honour. I urged the Minister to consider asking the Community Relations Commission to look into the issues and problems associated with the trafficking and exploitation of Korean women in the sex industry in New South Wales and to establish what is being done to address these problems. I am pleased to report that the Minister immediately agreed to my proposal.
He has assured me that he will request the commission to conduct an inquiry and to provide him with recommendations about how the New South Wales Government might be able to cooperate with the Federal Government to address this issue. I am hopeful that representatives of the commission will meet with Korean community leaders, experts and other public sector authorities involved in this area. I also hope to arrange a meeting between the Korean Ministerial Consultative Committee and the chair of the commission, Mr Stepan Kerkysharian. I will also be meeting with Dr Kyungja Jung from the University of Technology, Sydney, who has conducted research into the issue of Korean migrant sex workers.
I will conclude my contribution by quoting Jenny Stanger, the supervisor of the Salvation Army Safe House, who believes that community awareness is critical in dealing with this issue. Jenny believes that education of frontline personnel most likely to come into contact with trafficked people should be a priority. She cites examples of police and community groups responding to incidents of wage disputes, domestic violence, self-harm and assault that were actually cases of trafficking and/or slavery. Jenny and her staff have also identified cases by following up media stories and by proactively reaching out to community and government agencies.
Jenny and the safe house team want to reduce the links in the chain of assistance for trafficked people so that people can access protection and support more easily and more quickly. She believes that we need to saturate the community with practical information about how to recognise a possible trafficked person and to pose some of the questions that should be asked. She points out that this issue is not on the radar of most people who may be in a position to help. We may very well need to increase community awareness, especially the awareness of those people who may unknowingly come into contact with victims.