Sex Trafficking Fantasies in New Zealand

Nightmare, by Nikolaj Abildgaard

The other day I wrote about a protectionist clause in New Zealand’s Prostitution Reform Act that was tacked on at a late stage as part of a political deal. There had been little  discussion of migrants working in New Zealand’s sex industry beforehand, and there has been little enough since. The following story is really absurd, based completely on fantasies of what could happen. All the scary things. The story apparently exists at all because of the United States’ interference in judging (in the form of the TIP reports) the whole world’s efforts to get rid of trafficking. But given a complete absence of evidence, the reporter is forced to use every possible hedging device, including in the headline. I’ve highlighted all this evasive language in bold.

Note the fundamental fallacy being used to justify increased anti-trafficking efforts: ‘Two out of every five countries did not have a single conviction for human trafficking last year.’  One could imagine there isn’t much trafficking happening in those places, right? But no, a lack of convictions is ascribed to countries being ‘in denial’ or to inadequate policing. Well, it’s possible but is a very flimsy base on which to set up a Government Task Force.

I don’t mean to say there couldn’t be any coerced people working in New Zealand, or any bad guys who’ve managed to slip through immigration controls. But this story has more in common with the Nightmare painting above than with any real evidence. I’m interested in evidence, if you remember a post that got some people very upset indeed: Prostitution v. trafficking: Judging the Evidence.

Sex slaves may be working in NZ, officials say

The New Zealand Herald, 4 April 2009,  by Jared Savage

Fear of reprisals can stop victims from speaking up. Immigration officials admit that women could be working undetected as sex slaves in New Zealand, despite previous assurances that there is no evidence of a problem. The Cabinet will be asked to set up a taskforce involving seven Government departments to stop human trafficking in this country. The action plan follows criticism in United States intelligence reports, which name New Zealand as a destination for traffickers from Malaysia, Hong Kong, China and other Asian countries.

Police and advocates for change believe it is likely the trade exists here and has become harder to detect since the liberalisation of prostitution laws in 2003. Documents obtained under the Official Information Act show that advisers told Immigration Minister Jonathan Coleman the critical comments about trafficking in New Zealand were “unsubstantiated”. The December 2008 briefing paper goes on to say there is no verified evidence to suggest trafficking is happening here, but New Zealand had the potential to be targeted.

“Similarly, there could potentially be cases of people trafficking in New Zealand that remain undetected,” the paper said. “People trafficking for sexual and labour exploitation is an evolving global phenomenon and New Zealand remains at risk.”

Dr Coleman told the Weekend Herald there was no verified evidence that New Zealand was a trafficking destination, but conceded that the Government does not “assume immunity” to being targeted now or in the future. He said the multi-agency action plan would increase training for enforcement officials to identify potential victims. Intelligence on trafficking would be more readily shared, Dr Coleman said, as well as enhanced risk profiling for potential victims both at the border and in visa applications.

A United Nations report into trafficking criticised any country that had not prosecuted any human trafficking offences. Two out of every five countries did not have a single conviction for human trafficking last year, according to the global study of 155 countries released last month.

“Many governments are still in denial,” said United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime executive director Antonio Maria Costa. “Either these countries are blind to the problem, or they are ill-equipped to deal with it, or both.”

Public submissions on the Department of Labour-led action plan took exception to comments about the lack of evidence of people trafficking in New Zealand, noting that does not mean it is not happening. Advocates and academics went so far as to say it was “implausible” to believe women and children were not being brought into the country to work as prostitutes, urging law enforcement to investigate the link with international organised crime syndicates. Detective Inspector Scott Beard, Auckland district field crime manager, said there was no evidence to back that up, but noted: “Human trafficking is about making money. Organised crime is about making money.”

[What? Everything is about making money.]

With a boom in the number of brothels in Auckland suburbs – many unregistered – and police no longer able to raid brothels without search warrants, Mr Beard said trafficking could be going on undetected. Trafficked women are often brought into a country under false pretences of working in another industry, then exploited sexually to repay debt. Travel documents and passports are confiscated by traffickers to force compliance, as well as threats of physical violence, reprisals and public exposure.

Those reasons, as well as language barriers, meant potential victims would be reluctant to come forward and lay a complaint with police, said Mr Beard. “If no one knows where these brothels are, how do we know there’s not women who have had their passports removed and are forced to work in prostitution?” Susan Coppedge, a US federal prosecutor who spent a year in New Zealand studying trafficking, profiled three cases which occurred before the law changes in 2002 that would now be considered for trafficking prosecution. The most high-profile one was the “pink sticker” campaign of 1999 where Thai women were held against their will in Auckland brothels. The focus on the international Asian sex industry led the Human Rights Commission to use pink stickers to publicise a safe house and fast track repatriation with travel documents. However, many of the victims returned to Thailand before their traffickers could be prosecuted. Copyright ©2009, APN Holdings NZ Limited

10 thoughts on “Sex Trafficking Fantasies in New Zealand

  1. Pingback: Topics about Malaysia » Archive » Sex Trafficking Fantasies in New Zealand

  2. Pingback: Topics about Thailand » Archive » Sex Trafficking Fantasies in New Zealand

  3. Kris

    Hi Laura, I want to respond again. I’m following your blog daily and I find it very fascinating and also puzzling.

    I read your book lately (Sex at the Margins), and I think I found out what all the controversy is about. I think that you have a very strict definition of forced prostitution. For instance, from what I understand is that you admit that many migrant prostitutes go into debt to travel to another country and that they have to take several months or years to pay off those debts. You don’t see that as particularly sinister but others would call that debt bondage.

    You also talk about prostitutes who are sheltered by nuns whose decision to return to their pimps is respected by the nuns. The nuns see the women as ‘trafficked’ when the women say of themselves that they have been forced or deceived, and that this is also the definition of GAATW. I think if you use this definition then indeed the scale of human trafficking becomes a lot smaller because from what I read forced prostitutes are often very loyal to their (boyfriend-)pimps. A sort of emotional attachment, like in a religious cult. The women indeed don’t identify themselves as being forced. But others would see it that way, the women themselves could see it that way afterwards. Some are blinded by love. And debts could be really tricky when the ‘service providers’ charge high amounts of money for all kinds of things: condoms, a place to live, food, clothes….. Also think about high interest rates (80% per year for instance). Things of which the prostitutes don’t think about in advance but a situation where they are slowly sucked into….. not realising how unfair it all is, still feeling loyal.

    By the way…. (I visited another prostitute lately :P)

  4. Sb

    “Susan Coppedge, a US federal prosecutor who spent a year in New Zealand studying trafficking,”

    How does one do that? I mean if she had spent a month doing it it would sound OK but what did she do for the other 11 months?

    “1999 where Thai women were held against their will in Auckland brothels. ”

    Reality check! after a high profile campaign involving social workers, newspapers, police and immigration exactly two women were located. Yup TWO! And the cops reported that they did not believe their stories, the women had worked out that if they turned themselves in they got a free airfare home.

    “If no one knows where these brothels are,”

    Gosh that a problem – oh wait no its not…….

    Want to know where they are? go to a local gas station, buy a copy of NZ truth, turn to the adverts. You will find adverts for approx 60 brothels in front of you, hard to find yup!

    “it was “implausible” to believe women and children were not being brought into the country to work as prostitutes”

    Lets be clear on this, are women being brought into NZ to work as prostuties agains the rules of the PRA 2003. Yes no doubt about it.

    Are Children ? There has not been a single case every found of this happening. All detected underage prostution has involved NZ Citizens.

    Do the women who are being brought in know what up? yes of course they do, a Thai sex worker can make in NZ in six weeks the same amount of money that she can make in six months in Thailand. They jump at the chance.

    I support this review, and when its over I expect us to wave at the us state department, and we will use only one finger!


  5. sarah

    i was sex trafficked within nz and i am nz european i am now 18 and have been out of the sex industry for nearly a year this sort of thing does happen in nz and we need to be on the look out for it

  6. sarah

    in response to sb who ever that is i think you need to challenge your beliefs about thai women i sense a little judgment and generilisation of the race of the women that were found you dont know these women nor do you know their circumstances or their story the police are unable to prove many cases and sex charges are particuly hard to substansiate thats presiscely why women dont report them because people like you take one comment of a ploice officer and discredit the whole story i think you need to do some research and get a better understanding of the sex industry and those who fall prey to it before you make judgment calls on people you have never met and know little about

  7. summer

    Yeah, there is actually sextrafficking going on in NZ, it happens in every country. They define(d) it differently in NZ. What is sextraffcking was not seen there as sextrafficking. Also, there is enough information to find on it online. Also the title of this article is really painful. To the sextrafficked people in NZ (or anywhere else) you wont be seen as a friend.


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