Sex slaves may be working in NZ, officials sayhttp://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10565125&pnum=0
4:00AM Saturday Apr 04, 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."
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.