SEX TRAFFICKING, SLAVERY AND FORCED MARRIAGE ON THE RISE IN AUSTRALIA
Federal police are investigating a record number of human trafficking cases in Australia involving sex slavery, forced marriages and child brides. The number of active investigations into human trafficking has doubled in the past two years to 60. Despite the increase, police warn trafficking crimes remain grossly under-reported. The revelation comes as the Victorian police force increases its focus on human trafficking by urging its officers across that state to be on the alert for indications of sex trafficking, forced marriages and labour trafficking in cafes, on farms and in the construction industry.
Police are also examining whether some karaoke bars across Melbourne are hosting trafficked women or operating as illegal brothels, which would add to estimates of at least 300 illegal brothels already operating across the city. Victoria Police and Australian Federal Police (AFP) have also revealed they are uncovering more cases of trafficking that are related to forced marriages. Police have more than 20 active investigations into alleged forced marriages, with 18 cases involving women aged under 18. Superintendent Matt Warren said these “child bride” cases were “a significant concern” for the AFP and mostly involved ethnic communities where arranged marriage is “very entrenched”.
“We are talking about females being forced into marriage. They are vulnerable, they are young,” Mr Warren said. Victoria Police detective superintendent Rod Jouning said forced marriages involved human trafficking and sexual assault and were grossly under-reported due to the fear felt by victims. “There has probably been a real concentration on the fact that human trafficking equates to sex trafficking. It is far bigger than that. Far bigger. The other areas that are not as obvious involve labour trafficking and trafficking for forced marriages. “With the growing number of communities we have with pre-arranged marriages, that becomes an issue for us,” Mr Jouning said.
“It’s really under-reported. It’s only when we have the women who have the courage to stand up and say no, I don’t want that. Or someone else sees it happening and gets concerned.” Mr Jouning said labour trafficking in Victoria was happening in the agriculture and construction industries as well as in cafes. He said trafficked workers “get charged an enormous rate for a little room and enormous rates for food. So they end up working for just about nothing. There have been other occurrences where workers have been extorted for sexual favours with the threat that ‘if you don’t do that, we’ll take away your visas’.”
The AFP believes the increase in cases of human trafficking is due to the police’s focus on attacking trafficking syndicates and changes in laws that allow for the prosecution of those who arrange forced marriages. But state and federal police warn that because of the fear and culture of silence confronting trafficking victims, it is likely many cases are never reported. Successful prosecutions for human trafficking remain difficult to achieve because victims are often reluctant witnesses. Victoria Police and the AFP are concentrating on disrupting syndicates, with some operations taking years due to the reluctance of witnesses to come forward.
Last year, the AFP arrested members of a human trafficking syndicate suspected of trafficking women into Victoria from Asia for a decade. Cancelling the legal brothel licences held by suspected traffickers who have not been charged or convicted also remains a challenge, with one prominent Asian brothel madam and alleged trafficking syndicate member, Lin Gao, still managing at least one Victorian brothel. The head of Victoria Police’s sex industry co-ordination unit, Marilynn Ross, is launching a campaign to educate state police about how to detect and act on warning signs that a person has been trafficked, including having false travel documents.
“One way we detect trafficking is when the suspected victims all have the same address and same story and they don’t have a key to their place of residence. Another is when you start to speak to someone and someone else jumps in to answer the questions for them,” said Ms Ross, whose team this week shut down two illegal brothels in Melbourne’s north. Mr Warren said: “Korean or Asian brothels in Melbourne and Sydney have consistently come to notice. “In terms of people being trafficked, there is no question that given the reluctance of victims to come forward in sexual servitude or slavery in the brothels, it is well under-reported. The problem is greater than we are seeing.”
Shakti Migration and Refugee Women’s Support Group Melbourne has been working with police and other agencies since 2011 to enable vulnerable girls and women to break free from forced marriages and other forms of abuse. Its service co-ordinator, Taeko Yamada, said victims of forced marriage could be as young as 12 and found it hard to come forward because the “prospect of ostracism and honour killing are very real”. “Also so many young girls and women do give in. Once a marital rape happens and they have children it becomes very hard to get out,” Ms Yamada said. Shakti will open a crisis phone line next year. It also has a Sydney office.
The Foreign Minister says Australians have a right to be shocked and outraged over chilling footage of radicalised children. A Muslim youth group is under investigation after a disturbing video of children as young as six years old calling for an end to Australian democracy was recently unearthed. In the vision, children as young as six years old call for violent action against non-Muslims and to reject Australia and its values. Foreign Minister Julie Bishop condemned the footage. “It’s an ideology that preaches hatred against the country in which they live,” Ms Bishop said. She also said that the Federal Government was working to push through new terror legislation to cover situations like this.
A terror expert says it’s brainwashing, aimed at creating violent extremists. The video shows 4 Australian children, aged 6 to 13, calling for an end to our way of life. “These are shocking images and raise concerns about the welfare of the 4 young boys who are identified in the video,” Family and Community Services Minister Gabrielle Upton said. A group known as The Muslim Youth Project runs regular events for young children. In the video of an event held in Lakemba, young boys rally under the banner “Soldiers of Khilafa” with a 6 year-old proclaiming: “You’re never too young to be a Soldier for Khilafa.” The children promise to die fighting, to end democracy in Australia, and replace it with a Caliphate ruled by Islamic Sharia law.
They also call for American President Barack Obama to ‘go to hell’, for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to be beheaded and for an end to Western ideals. “I think it’s ugly, I think it’s sickening, and I think it’s absolutely disturbing,” Immigration Minister Scott Morrison said. “It’s one thing for these peddlers of vicious hate to do that themselves, which is appalling enough, but to recruit children into such a sickening display I think appals Australians of all religions, rightly.” The man leading the chant in the video is Bilal Merhi, a senior figure in the radical group Hizb ut Tahrir. He was recently in Indonesia delivering a sermon to 200,000 people.
“Yes my brothers, we will change the world to suit Islam. The Muslims living in Australia are also engaging in this struggle,” he said in a video of the sermon. After the 2012 riot in the streets of Sydney, Merhi lead the call for Muslims to hit back with force, saying: “Those who mock you, ridicule, insult you, they will not hear our response, they will see our response.” His involvement with this national Muslim Youth group has jolted governments into action. The group’s Facebook page proclaims democracy stands for death, corruption and slavery and to avoid non-Muslims at Christmas and Easter.
It has prompted the Government to take action. “I’ve instructed my department to work very closely with the police to get to the bottom of the facts, because what we see is the welfare of these young boys being put at risk,” Minister Upton said. Among those who registered their attendance were at least four senior members of Hizb ut Tahrir and Sheikh Haron, who is currently on bail charged with 40 counts of indecent and sexual assault. A key concern is that the boys are being radicalised to carry out violent attacks like 17-year-old school student Abdullah Elmir, the new poster boy for ISIS in Iraq.
“Ultimately you get the situation where you have young people cross the line and carry out violent activities, as happened in Ottawa in recent days, as happened in Melbourne with the attack on the two police officers, and as happened with drummer Rigby in the United Kingdom,” security expert Neil Fergus said. Mr Morrison said “This is a cult which exists in a very small section of Australian society and it’s a cult that we need to weed out,” he said. “Hizb ut Tahrir is not part of the solution in this country in terms of countering violent extremism… They’re rats that are crawling under their rocks as the spotlight comes onto them, but we need to get this poison out of the system.”
An overhaul of alcohol taxes and a review of liquor-licensing laws will be raised in a bid to curb street violence and protect the $100 billion “night-time’’ economy. Australia’s peak civic leaders will tell Tony Abbott there needs to be a national solution to the alcohol and homelessness scourges infecting major cities. The mayors will push for the overhaul of alcohol pricing, as well as backing the removal of exemptions or concessions for alcohol open to abuse, such as cheap wine. The Council of Capital City Lord Mayors (CCCLM) will warn the Prime Minister that the country is at a tipping point on alcohol abuse and there needs to be an integrated approach to the problem across all tiers of government.
The rising tide of abuse — including the increasing numbers of people suffering random king hits from violent drunks — has sparked intense debates in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. Options have included restricting the availability and supply of alcohol, earlier closing times and tighter controls on packaged liquor sales. CCCLM chairman Robert Doyle said that the group backed the Henry tax review finding that some cheap alcohol attracted insufficient tax. The 2010 review by former Treasury secretary Ken Henry recommended that all alcohol be taxed at the rate applied to draft beer.
It found that while beer was taxed according to alcohol content, wine was taxed according to price, meaning consumers of expensive wine were hit hard while cask wine was taxed lightly. Mr Doyle, the Lord Mayor of Melbourne, said the concerns about cask wine and other cheap alcohol related to the causal links with violence. “We’re all dealing with the root problem of violence in inner cities. That is why we need national standards for liquor licensing. Alcohol-related violence is an absolute scourge.’’ The lord mayors also will call for a cut in red tape to enable licence holders to better manage problems and for a national focus on collecting data on where and when the worst problems arise.
Alcohol, homelessness, greenhouse gas abatement and international students will be the core issues discussed with Mr Abbott as the mayors attempt to forge a tri-partisan approach to reform. The stance on alcohol comes as the Inter-Governmental Committee on Drugs finalises a national statement of priorities for alcohol, with a range of measures under consideration. On homelessness, the mayors argue that the move by federal governments to invest less capital for social housing in favour of private rental assistance for tenants needs examining. “Appropriate support for people in the private rental sector is important but cannot be at the expense of properly resourcing the social housing sector,’’ the CCCLM argues.