slavery map

While third world countries do have enormous issues with sex slavery, we don’t have to look very far to find exploitation. Saunas, massage parlours, nail bars and restaurants are popular destinations for trafficked women, and are a perfect way for organised crime to blend seamlessly into society.

In the world of slavery there is no such thing as ‘good’ and ‘bad’ neighbourhoods.

Recently I began reading a book by Charles Powell and Dillon Burrows, named ‘Not In My Town.’  Prior to this, I would have considered myself pretty knowledgeable on the issue of human trafficking, and while I knew it was a global issue, I found myself shocked by just how rampant it is in ‘western’ culture.

Speaking with the authors, a Korean-American women named Chong Kim shared how she was trafficked within America as a teenager, and sold to hundreds of men from all over the world. Her story is one full of corruption, which left me deeply shocked yet intrigued at how human trafficking is able to exist right beneath our noses. In her interview, Kim explains how the sale of young girls such as herself was carried out in broad daylight all over America.“We were transported in the warehouse truck…and they would take us to these motels that they owned. They would hire illegal immigrants to work at the front desk to say ‘no vacancy.’ That was their job. To make sure tourists didn’t stop by… traffickers would stand outside the hotel, the motels, and the doorknobs were inside out.” – Not in My town p116.

This got me to thinking about my own neighbourhood. Could sex slavery be existing right here?  If 100,000 American children are trafficked into prostitution every year, how many are being trafficked in Australia?

In a 2011 article, Dr Caroline Norma talked about trafficking in Australia, including the high number of Asian women being brought into Victorian brothels who could barely speak English, and who seemed to disappear from the venues within a few weeks – only to be replaced by ‘new’ ethnic women.

“Customer review’ websites set up for buyers of women in prostitution reveal just how popular Asian women are in the Victorian sex industry. One forum dedicated to reviews of women in legal brothels contains hundreds of comments about Asian ‘working ladies’ or ‘WLs’. Users complain that these women speak ‘barely intelligible English’. One contributor notes that ‘Korean WLs never look happy’, and another encourages readers to check out the ‘Korean chicks’ at one particular brothel because they are ‘very young’, and ‘work for a matter of months before disappearing.”

While researching I stumbled across a website named ‘Slavery Map’, which records instances of human trafficking all over the world, including Australia. In horror, I found that I could zoom in on the exact houses in which women and children had been held against their will. The reports were sickening, and included a man from the Gold Coast who lured several Thai women into the country under false pretences; pimping them out in order to pay for the recovery of his business which had been destroyed in a fire.

Another reported incident in the Gold Coast documented:

“The mother and father of a 13 year old girl prostituted their daughter to up to 200 men, using a website to advertise her to potential clients. The website contained explicit photographs of both the girl on her own as well as with her mother, as she was offered individually or together with her mother.”

And then I read of an incident that happened right in my own city of Brisbane.

slaverymap“The victim was asked by a school friend to move into her apartment with her boyfriend (the trafficker) after the victim had a fight with her family. When the victim moved in the couple forced the teenager into prostitution so they could pay their rent. She was told that if she didn’t do this she would be on the streets. Using a credit card the man put 2 advertisements in a Brisbane paper and then drove the girl to appointments of people who responded. In the span of the week she had 5 sexual encounters, one with a 25 yr old woman and the others with men aged between 40 and 60. She earned $4500 for the couple but received only a free room in the apartment and buckets of chicken nuggets.”

After reading these reports, I began wondering how many women, how many children are currently being abused in my own city. I thought back to a particular massage business near my home, which was operating out of an old Queenslander home. One of the things that first caught my eye, was that the business seemed to operate quite later than most, and had a flashing sign outside that alerted people to their ‘extended hours.’

I am not sure why, but I had the distinct feeling that their staff would be young Asian women – it was a gut feeling I just couldn’t shake. I decided I had to find out for myself if this was a legitimate business, or if there were perhaps ‘other services’ being offered.

Making my way up to the front door, one of the first things I noticed was that all of the front windows were covered with wrapping paper so as to stop anyone from seeing inside. Knocking on the front door, I was greeted by a small Asian woman who carefully opened the door a fraction, and advised that she did not have any appointments available. After asking for a brochure, I thanked her and made my way out.

While it is difficult to make any assumptions from this brief conversation, I believe it is a perfect opportunity for me to begin looking more closely at businesses within my community. It is so important that we begin to open our eyes and see things afresh.  I plan to follow up with this business and begin going for massages there, to see if I can learn more about the staff.

Why not make a decision to start looking into businesses in your own community also? There are several key indicators that can help you to uncover trafficking. The Polaris Project note that the following can be indicative of trafficking victims:

Common Work and Living Conditions: The Individual(s) in Question

  • Is not free to leave or come and go as he/she wishes
  • Is under 18 and is providing commercial sex acts
  • Is in the commercial sex industry and has a pimp / manager
  • Is unpaid, paid very little, or paid only through tips
  • Works excessively long and/or unusual hours
  • Is not allowed breaks or suffers under unusual restrictions at work
  • Owes a large debt and is unable to pay it off
  • Was recruited through false promises concerning the nature and conditions of his/her work
  • High security measures exist in the work and/or living locations (e.g. opaque windows, boarded up windows, bars on windows, barbed wire, security cameras, etc.)

Poor Mental Health or Abnormal Behavior

  • Is fearful, anxious, depressed, submissive, tense, or nervous/paranoid
  • Exhibits unusually fearful or anxious behavior after bringing up law enforcement
  • Avoids eye contact

Poor Physical Health

  • Lacks health care
  • Appears malnourished
  • Shows signs of physical and/or sexual abuse, physical restraint, confinement, or torture

Lack of Control

  • Has few or no personal possessions
  • Is not in control of his/her own money, no financial records, or bank account
  • Is not in control of his/her own identification documents (ID or passport)
  • Is not allowed or able to speak for themselves (a third party may insist on being present and/or translating)


  • Claims of just visiting and inability to clarify where he/she is staying/address
  • Lack of knowledge of whereabouts and/or do not know what city he/she is in
  • Loss of sense of time
  • Has numerous inconsistencies in his/her story

If you note any of these and have any suspicions, please contact your local police, or a local anti-trafficking organisation.

Jas Swilks – 2014

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