Red-letter day for woman fighting for sex workers’ rights

Brendan Nicholson
April 21, 2008

AMONG the air chief marshals, cabinet ministers, departmental secretaries, academics, analysts and enthusiasts defining future threats to Australia’s security, Elena Jeffreys stood out.

That was due, partly, to her bright green-and-gold hair and, largely, to her role as president and summit representative of the Scarlet Alliance, which represents thousands of Australian sex workers.

Ms Jeffreys was at the summit to share her expertise on a range of national and international issues, including the exploitation of women smuggled into Australia to work as sex slaves.

She said she was concerned that the Australian Federal Police and the Immigration Department had spent about $80 million in the past few years apprehending a relatively small number of foreign prostitutes in Australia.

It would cost much less for the authorities to allow the women to apply for a visa to work in Australia legally, she said.

“Our biggest concern is the lack of human rights of migrant sex workers in Australia,” Ms Jeffreys said.

That was a consequence of excessive and punitive anti-trafficking measures, she said.

“The Anglo-background sex worker in one brothel has full labour rights and mobility rights, yet the Asian brothel next door is constantly under surveillance and has the door bashed down by the Australian Federal Police because the women there don’t have access to visas and turn to third-party contracts in order to get into the country.”

These women were victims of transnational crime, she said.

“Our key objective is to stop that happening.”

Ms Jeffreys said she found the summit invigorating.


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