I can only congratulate Justice Minister Michael Keenan for not allocating funding to the Scarlet Alliance in the 2017/18 round of funding to NGOs for combating sex trafficking and slavery in Australia.

In February, March and April this year I was a co-signatory of a group of concerned womens’ human rights campaigners who wrote to the Office of the Minister for Human Services, The Hon Alan Tudge questioning the appropriateness of funding previously granted to the Scarlet Alliance for work in the fight against human trafficking, slavery and slavery like practices:

Re: Ongoing Federal Funding for the Scarlet Alliance

It is a matter of public record that the so-called Australian peak ‘sex worker’ organisation, the Scarlet Alliance, has received $960,000 (exclusive of GST) in federal government funding since 2008 – $600,000 as part of the Proceeds of Crime Act funding, and a further $360,000 from the Grants to Australian Organisations Program.

The Scarlet Alliance, as you are aware, is a member organisation of the Working Group for the National Roundtable on People Trafficking. The National Roundtable on People Trafficking was set up by the federal government in 2008 to ‘combat’ and ‘eliminate’ people trafficking in Australia, in line with the humanitarian requirements of certain international treaties and conventions to which Australia is signatory.

Data available in respect of people trafficking in Australia indicates the majority of persons are trafficked into the sex trade.

It is also a matter of public record that the Scarlet Alliance routinely denies the existence of people trafficking into the ‘sex industry’ in Australia. According to former head of the Scarlet Alliance, Elena Jeffreys, the number of ‘sex workers’ deceptively recruited into the sex trade in Australia is no more than 10 out of the approximately 20,000 persons working at any one time. The organisation’s position on sex trafficking in Australia – that it is an inconsequential issue – has remained unchanged since 2003.

• Why is an organisation that denies the existence of people trafficking into the sex trade given significant funding to ‘eradicate’ such trafficking?
• According to the Attorney General’s Department response to questions raised by former Senator Joe Bullock in Budget Estimates 2014 – ‘Funds provided to the Scarlet Alliance are permitted to be used for activities which decrease trafficking vulnerabilities’.
• What, exactly, does the Scarlet Alliance need to do to decrease trafficking vulnerabilities if, as they insist, such vulnerabilities are already negligible?

How transparent is the Scarlet Alliance – who are its members and what are its funding sources?

Their website notes 11 state based member organisations, but the number of individual members is not known – ‘Scarlet Alliance represents the sex worker community including members in Australia, but does not release membership lists to the public’.

How many of the estimated 20,000 ‘sex workers’ in Australia are members? How representative is the organisation?

How has the Scarlet Alliance accounted for the funding received to date?

The questions raised by Senator Bullock, noted above, canvassed the acquittal of funding by the Scarlet Alliance. The A-G Department response comprised nothing more than copies of a one-page audit certificate and a statement of receipts and payments for 2011 to 2014. The latter indicated the bulk of the funds were spent on salaries and administration.

Is the federal government paying salaries for a pro-prostitution group that denies the existence of trafficking into the sex trade in this country?

NGOs in receipt of government funding are normally required to rigorously account for the moneys received – number of persons assisted, number and type of programs undertaken, and outcomes achieved for the target group.

Why is the Scarlet Alliance only required to submit a brief financial statement and an audit certificate?

The Scarlet Alliance openly describes itself as ‘not a service delivery organisation’.

How can an organisation that is not in the business of service delivery attract government funding to provide services to those who have been trafficked or are at risk of same?

Is it sufficient for them to set up a ‘Migrant Program’ with no clear objectives and no verified outcomes and put their hand out?

Does allocating less than 10 per cent of their funding to an outreach program in Thailand qualify as an activity that ‘decreases trafficking vulnerabilities’? Is this not already covered by AUSAid funding?

On what grounds would the organisation potentially receive further funding for 2017-2020?

We believe the funds in question would be more effectively allocated to organisations undertaking legitimate, fully accountable anti-trafficking programs, and request that this be taken into consideration when allocating the next round of anti-trafficking funding. We further call for transparency in the government funding of a self-styled ‘peak body’ for ‘sex workers’, including a clear statement of the funding criteria, and the extent to which the Scarlet Alliance satisfies those criteria.

In August 2017 the Attorney- General’s Department responded to the questions raised and stated:

In the last decade, the Australian Government has committed more that $5.3 million to support specialist non-government organisations (NGOs) to undertake a range of programs and activities to combat human trafficking and slavery in Australia. As you point out in your correspondence, this has included project funding to the Scarlet Alliance. Scarlet Alliance has accounted for the funds received in accordance with the terms of its funding. The Minister for Justice, The hon Michael Keenan MP committed a total of $500,00 in 2017/18 to further support community-based projects to prevent and address human trafficking and slavery in Australia. Six NGOs, including Scarlet Alliance, were invited to apply for funding…..

The Minister for Justice has now announced that grants will be made to the Salvation Army, Anti-Slavery Australia, the Australian Catholic Religious Against Trafficking in Humans, and the Muslim Women’s Centre for Human Rights.

I applaud Minister Michael Keenan’s decision to exclude the Scarlet Alliance from receipt of funding for these very important initiatives to combat sex trafficking, the most prevalent form of human trafficking worldwide, and slavery in Australia.

In Tasmania last year, Labor and the Greens opposed cuts to State Government funding for the Scarlet Alliance’s alleged work in enhancing [i]sex workers[/i] health. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-05-19/sex-workers-appeal-to-save-sexual-health-awareness-project/7427362

In June 2016 Rosalie Woodruff stated in Parliament (from Hansard):

We were disappointed the Minister for Women would not intervene when Scarlet Alliance was defunded. When the Health minister said Scarlet Alliance did not represent value for money and that he was targeting the most vulnerable he made a terrible error. Sex workers in Tasmania and all around the world are mostly female. A program to keep health workers healthy could only have a positive influence on the community. Undiagnosed or untreated illnesses a sex worker might have, because of the intimacy of their line of work, could be shared so many times. How any minister for Health could say there is no value for money in a $61,000 program that enhances the health of sex workers beggars belief. The Greens will continue to voice our opposition and spread the message of what this Health minister has done. We will continue to urge the Minister for Women to help us on this journey because this is a woman’s problem. We want to go back to the progressive government we had which saw the value of $61,000 going to Scarlet Alliance to enhance the health of its workers. It is so simple and it is really not controversial.

These statements from Rosalie Woodruff are at odds with the evidence being exposed internationally by investigative journalist Julie Bindle in The Great Sex Trade Swindle: How Aids Campaigners Joined the Fight to Pimp Prostitution:

The HIV/AIDS movement is widely understood as one that focuses on civil rights and health care for vulnerable groups. The popular perception is that the AIDS movement is made up of human rights campaigners, medical experts and scientists, searching for the best prevention methods and, eventually, a cure. What is far less widely known is that the AIDS movement, and the vast amounts of money attached to it, has done more to shape policy, practice and legislation on the global sex trade than any other movement in history.

Huge amounts of money have been poured into ‘safe sex’ programs aimed at punters. In other words, considerable effort has gone into assisting men to continue paying for sex. Indeed, without the support of the HIV/AIDS harm reduction approach, the pro-decriminalization lobby, including the likes of Amnesty International (AI), would not have gained anywhere near as much ground.

The arguments of AIDS activists and experts for blanket decriminalization of the sex trade is simple but horrendously flawed. It is widely claimed that if all criminal penalties were removed from the sex trade, including for pimping, brothel owning and sex buying, then HIV rates would plummet. I will explore and dissect these claims for decriminalization, and closely examine the relationship between the HIV world and the pro-prostitution lobby. I argue the harm reduction approach is damaging to women in the sex trade and, conversely, allows far more abuse to occur.

In the early days of the AIDS crisis in the mid-1980s, money was provided to two distinct groups in the Global North: men who have sex with men, and women involved in street-based prostitution. Understandably, gay men were at the helm of the charities and health service interventions, with some establishing organizations that attempted to deal holistically with the most at-risk groups. As a consequence, many projects devoted to HIV prevention and treatment were managed by gay men, including those with a client base consisting of women in the sex trade.

Because of stigma associated with AIDS brought about by anti-gay bigotry and misinformation peddled by governments and religious organizations, many projects dealing with this issue were involved in awareness raising and lobbying. Those who were HIV positive were frequently referred to as “authors of their own misfortune.”The then chief constable of Greater Manchester Police, James Anderton, for example, referred to them as “swirling about in a human cesspit of their own making.”

Unfortunately, gay male libertarian views dominated the discourse, likely conflating ‘safety’ with ‘moralism’ due to sensitivities toward any analysis of ‘sex and sexuality.’ Rather than critiquing the sex trade as an unsafe lifestyle for those involved, the message delivered to the general public as well as service users was so-called harm reduction and minimization. The condom was held up as the savior, and opportunities to examine the dangers of the sex trade were overlooked.

Exiting prostitution

Andrew Hunter, a gay man born in 1968 in Queensland, Australia, left home at 17 to live in the Gunnery Squats, Sydney, home to alternative ‘queer’-identified folk, including a number of those considered social outcasts. Hunter became involved in street-based prostitution in Sydney, and at 19 moved to Melbourne, prostituting from the infamous St Kilda district.

Hunter, who died in 2013, became the president of the Global Network of Sex Work Projects (NSWP), program and policy manager for the Asia Pacific Network of Sex Workers (APNSW), and a member of the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AID (UNAIDS) Advisory Group on HIV and sex work. During his activism, Hunter campaigned to decriminalize the sex trade and for prostitution to be viewed as labor. He openly supported organizations such as UN Women, sending a message of support for its stance on ‘sex work as work’ just months before he died. While with the Prostitute’s Collective of Victoria (PCV), Hunter initiated the first male street-based outreach service in St Kilda and a needle-syringe program.

Commenting on his time prostituting in St Kilda, Hunter said that “fortunately I was saved by the outreach workers of the PCV rather than the Ladies of the Order of St Mary’s giving out sandwiches.” Founded in 1978 by Cheryl Overs, a ‘sex workers’ rights’ activist, the PCV did anything but ‘save’ those involved in the sex trade. Exiting prostitution was never one of its aims.
As leader of the PCV, Overs represented the sex trade on the Ministry of Planning Working Group on Prostitution that advised the Victorian government leading up to decriminalization of indoor prostitution, including pimps, brothel owners and all other third party profiteers. The organization was soon at the cutting edge of the AIDS debate. In 1988, the PCV hosted the Prostitution and the AIDS Debate Conference in Melbourne, which led to the formation of the national federation of ‘sex workers’ rights’ organizations across Australia: Scarlet Alliance.

In 1989, Overs began to campaign in Europe, beginning her career on the other side of the world as an advisor to the Global Program on AIDS at the World Health Organization, contributing to International AIDS conferences and publications such as Harvard AIDS Institute’s AIDS in the World and helping establish the International Council of AIDS Service Organizations (ICASO). By this time, the worlds of prostitution and AIDS were as one, both in terms of ideology and at policy level.

At the 1992 Opportunities for Solidarity Conference of HIV/AIDS NGOs in Paris, Overs and Paulo Henrique Longo founded the NSWP. In 2004, NSWP condemned the anti-prostitution and trafficking resolution as “counterproductive to effective HIV/AIDS prevention programs worldwide.” Their view was shared by hundreds of individuals and organizations who signed a letter to the US President opposing the resolution in 2005. [b]NSWP vice president Alejandra Gil, who also served as co-chair of the UNAIDS Advisory Group on HIV and Sex Work and Global Working Group on HIV and Sex Work Policy, was arrested for sex trafficking in 2015 and subsequently jailed for 15 years.[/b]

Founded in 1985, Red Thread became one of the loudest voices in favor of normalizing ‘sex work’ as a legitimate form of employment. Much of its publicity came from the media attention surrounding the two ‘Whores Congresses’ they held. Their advocacy is similar to that of the English Collective of Prostitutes and the Sex Workers’ Open University in the U.K. In its early years the organization was 100 percent government-funded (despite claiming the label ‘NGO’), and much of this government funding was spent on the opening of The Red School, where new prostitutes were taught how best to service their male clients.

The Red Umbrella Fund is composed of a global network of ‘sex worker’ projects. It ‘strengthens and ensures the sustainability of the “sex worker’s rights” movement by catalyzing new funding for sex-worker led organizations and their national and regional networks. The Red Umbrella Fund has been financially supported by six major foundations: AJWS, Comic Relief, Levi Strauss Foundation, the MAC AIDS Fund, Mama Cash and OSF. It has, since its inception in 2012, given 63 grants to sex worker advocacy organizations in 42 countries. The Fund only provides grants to organizations ‘led for and by sex workers’ and will not consider grant applications from abolitionist organizations, whatever the circumstances.

AIDS NGOs are also adept at raising extraordinary amounts of money through ad hoc charity events, regular charity drives and direct deposit from private donors. Curiously, misogyny has been found by AIDS NGOs to be a very useful means to excite donations. In Australia, for example, the Bobby Goldsmith Foundation (BGF) is a key AIDS charity providing AIDS advocacy and research. The patron of BGF is Justice Michael Kirby, who is without doubt Australia’s most prominent human rights advocate. Justice Kirby is also the patron of Touching Base, an organization that argues disabled men have a human right to use prostituted women.

Racist cake

The BGF hosts an annual ‘Bake-Off’, in which donated cakes are sold to the highest bidder. It is a very prestigious event on the calendar of VIPs from the sex trade and AIDS community. I am reliably informed, by a friend from Australia, that not a single year has passed in which its cakes have not reduced women to objects of violence and humiliation. In 2008, the most notorious of these cakes depicted a graphic representation of Paris Hilton, who at the time was serving a prison sentence for drug possession, being anally raped by ‘a black tattooed lesbian [prisoner wearing] a strap-on dildo, [while] a horrified miniature dog looked in through prison bars.’ This vile, sexist and racist cake, which sold for $7,000, won first prize and remains the most expensive cake the BGF has ever sold; and not one single complaint was made.

The key players in prostitution politics are the same key players in AIDS politics. This evidences the fact that the same skill set and impoverished understanding of so-called harm minimization as the cure for male violence against women and girls is required for those involved in the policy direction of both AIDS and sex trade administration. For example, Tim Barnett MP, the man who single–handedly decriminalized prostitution in New Zealand through his private member’s bill, is a gay man with extensive links to pro-prostitution organizations in the U.K. After his retirement from politics he took up very important roles in AIDS organizations in South Africa, where he worked closely with Dr. Nothemba (Nono) Simelela. Simelela, South Africa’s most respected AIDS policy adviser, is a fascinating person worthy of a more thorough investigation.

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is the world’s biggest government-affiliated funder of NGOs, with $22.3 billion allocated to be distributed to various organizations. Historically, USAID limited funds to NGOs that officially and outwardly opposed both prostitution and sex trafficking with the requirement that all recipients of donations sign an anti-prostitution pledge before the release of funds.

In 2005, USAID was taken to court by the Open Society Initiative (OSI) (vehemently pro-sex work) on the basis that asking NGOs to sign an anti-prostitution pledge to receive funding was tantamount to a denial of free speech under the First Amendment: OSI won the case. While the validity and usefulness of the pledge has been disputed by those on both sides of the prostitution debate, the OSI’s successful challenge shows just how much money and time they have and are willing to throw behind pro-prostitution advocacy.

It can only be hoped that Julie Bindel’s revelations will be a wake up call to all politicians and political parties about the need to review any funding to the Scarlet Alliance and alternatively fund the much needed Exit Programs that are so urgently required by women across the country.

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*Isla MacGregor is radical feminist, abolitionist and social justice advocate in Tasmania and was instrumental in establishing the Tasmanian Coalition for Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse in 2003. Isla considers that the links between international organised crime groups, sex trafficking, the sex trade and the violence to women inherent in the prostitution market must be remedied by laws that criminalise the purchase of sex while decriminalising all those who are bought for sex. Isla considers that pornography and the commodifiication of women is a major driver in the escalating global crisis of violence against women.