Rising number of Southeast Asia women forced into sex slavery in Australia

by Alisha Hassan and Suwedi Silva | 2 October 2012 | posted by Bikyamasr - Indipendent News for the World 

Thailand girls fall victim sex trafficking to Australia.

KUALA LUMPUR and BANGKOK: She is one of the lucky few who was able to escape her “job” in Australia. The woman, who asked not to be named, had been promised a job at a top spa in Sydney last year, but when she arrived, she knew giving massages was not to be her job.

“I saw inside and saw what the girls were wearing, or weren’t wearing and knew immediately that I was not here for my skills, just my body,” she told Bikyamasr.com on the heels of a new report on Southeast Asian women being forced into sex slavery in Australia.

“I was lucky to get out before they forced me into a room with one of the men, but the girls I met told me horrible stories of being forced to be naked for days at a time and would be showered every hour as a new customer would come in for them,” she continued. “It was horrible and I wish I could do more to help them.”

Up to 2,000 women, mainly from Southeast Asia, are being trafficked into Australia annually and forced to work as sex slaves in Sydney and Melbourne, a new study reported.

A number of the victims are young Asians duped into working at the brothels and red light areas in the two cities, the Australian Associated Press reported.

“Many have been forced or tricked into being trafficked in the sex industry from a young age and have no knowledge of anything else,” said University of Queensland Associate Professor Julie Hepworth.

“They also fear deportation because they face being ostracised by their home communities.”

Making matters worse, Hepworth’s new five-year study, compiled with help from the University of Sydney, found that government services available to trafficked women was “sparse, uncoordinated and poorly funded.”

Australian women’s rights groups have called on the government in Canberra to do more to end the trade in women’s bodies, but in Kuala Lumpur, it is the younger generation, college students, who are making the biggest difference.

For Malaysian university students, the issue of the sex trade hits home, and is becoming personal.

“I think we all experience it daily and it is frustrating to see that some young girls are actively participating in the sex trade in this country,” Tamara Razak, a university student in Kuala Lumpur, told Bikyamasr.com after the discussion with other female students on action that could be taken to battle sex work in Malaysia.

“We are all hopeful that we can develop help centers or online assistance for girls who are part of the industry,” she said.

The girls, all university students between 18 and 24, are angry at the recent reports of young girls selling their bodies on Facebook to men, often for sex, in order to earn money.

“Malaysian girls need better lives than this and while what they are doing is because they don’t have money, the government should boost assistance,” said Lara, who as a senior student working to be a social worker, has become the defacto leader of the group. “We understand that sex sells and for some girls it is the only way to get where they want to be, which is why we are pushing for change and hope that it will create new options away from the sex industry.”

The reports, including Bikyamasr.com’s interview with a 19-year-old girl, of young women selling their bodies online has created a stir in the country.

The girl, Susanne (name has been changed) said she pocketed over $500 for one evening with a man after he contacted her through Facebook. They had sex three times, she said.

“Since then, I have a solid base of customers who pay for me to go out with them,” she told Bikyamasr.com. “Most of the time, the men are just looking for some kissing and a companion, but there are a few who want sex. It pays well.”

The 19-year-old university student from Kuala Selangor in southern Malaysia, said that she turned to the online sex work when she couldn’t pay her debts and her family refused to assist her.

“It was really hard, but now I have a way to make money. In the past month, I have made almost $10,000. I charge more now, especially if I am spending the night with the client,” she argued.

Worrying women’s rights groups in the country is that the phenomenon appears to not be as isolated as previously thought. Girls as young as 16-years-old are posting photographs on their Facebook accounts as well as stipulations for their “services” and what is being dubbed “compensated dating” is gaining steam, a Sin Chew Daily report said.

The paper said there were numerous postings from such girls, who gave personal details, terms and conditions and the services provided, including sex.

Susanne doesn’t consider what she does sex work. “It is a way to make ends meet and date some people. Why not get paid to do it if we can?”

The “call girl” services are independent and appear to be individual girls offering their time for pay.

According to Susanne, there are forums online where girls who participate in the services get together and discuss their experiences.

“If a guy doesn’t treat us well, we list him and all the other girls know that he is not to be trusted,” she said. “We also talk about how to protect ourselves.”

That includes the girls’ choice of condoms, what hotels are best to choose in different cities and how to avoid being caught by police or being forced offline by Facebook authorities.

She said the key to the work is not posting any naked pictures on her account.

“We have learned that the men will contact us to ask questions and then we send photos to them to allow them to choose. Then it happens,” she said.

However, other young Malaysians are frustrated that the “compensated dating” has resulted in their accounts being messaged repeatedly by strange men asking for sex, their cost and other harassment.

“It is really sad that this is happening,” said Kuala Lumpur social worker and recent university graduate Anita Fooh, who told Bikyamasr.com that “sex work is sex work whether they like it or not, the problem is they feel as if they have no choice and are in such debt that it is debilitating them so they turn to a quick and easy way to make money.”

Fooh called on the government and social services providers to develop action-plans to assist young girls in debt so they don’t turn to sex to make money.

“It is extremely dangerous to see young women selling their bodies for money in today’s world and when the government promises to help people on their debts.”

This is what Lara and others hope will help end the ongoing sex trade in Malaysia in the near future.

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