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Children of the Sex Trade (ATOM Study Guide)

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This is a documentary about slavery of a particularly vicious and insidious type. This form of slavery transcends national and international boundaries, flourishes in economically straitened communities, flouts Australian and international laws, and turns the most vulnerable of human beings into traumatised victims.

This is, of course, sex slavery, and yes – the victims are children. Reliable sources such as UNICEF and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies report 60,00–100,000 children 'trafficked' for sexual exploitation in the Philippines and, according to the United States State Department, this slavery victimises 2 million children worldwide.

When a family is gripped by poverty and desperate for survival, they become vulnerable to the exploitation of child trafficking. Often they are deceived into believing their child will be offered work elsewhere. Sometimes they're simply too powerless to prevent it. Children are taken away from their home and their family and put into work that is often physically damaging and always emotionally devastating: labour exploitation, sexual exploitation, forced marriage, criminal activities, adoption, armed conflict and begging.

Trafficking is defined by the US State Department as any activity where one person holds another person in compelled service. Globally, human trafficking is one of the most lucrative and fastest-growing transnational crimes. According to recent data from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, it is estimated that criminals exploiting trafficked victims for both sexual and economic benefits make a profit of US$32 billion per year.

Children of the Sex Trade, screening on ABC, tells the story of two young sisters in the Philippines – Michelle (sixteen) and Marisol (nineteen) – who play their part in combating this atrocity, helping former Australian police and Special Forces officers rescue underage girls from sex bars.

The girls, both abused by foreign men as children, has also worked in Subic Bay's sex bars. They now work at PREDA, a human rights foundation set up in 1974 by Fr Shay Cullen, an Irish Catholic priest. They help three former Australian Federal Police officers, who have volunteered with PREDA, to investigate the Australian man who allegedly sexually abused Michelle when she was fourteen. They are joined by John Curtis, a former Special Forces Commando and the founder of The Grey Man, an organisation that rescued children from brothels in Asia. John leads the sting operation to rescue young girls from two Subic Bay sex bars catering exclusively to foreign men.

Director and producer Luigi Acquisto has had a strong interest in the issue of trafficking and child rights for many years. This has been reflected in two previous documentaries: Trafficked (2006) and its sequel Trafficked – The Reckoning (2011).

While Australians are renowned for their love of travel, sadly there are some Australians who travel overseas to sexually exploit children. To protect children overseas, the Australian Government has created offences for this behaviour under the Commonwealth Criminal Code Act 1995. Children of the Sex Trade asks questions about how sex slavery operates for Australians at home and abroad, and the extent of the international ramifications. This documentary is a confronting and challenging text in which various organisations and officers of the law attempt to break the rings of child sex offenders in the Philippines; along the way, we will be informed of how Australians are involved in this trafficking.

A growing number of countries worldwide have legislation that prosecutes tourists in their homeland should they engage in illicit sexual conduct in a foreign country with children. Australia was one of the first countries to introduce laws that provide jail terms for its citizens and residents who engage in sexual activity with children in foreign countries. The laws are contained in the Crimes (Child Sex Tourism) Amendment Act 1994 that came into force on 5 July 1994. The law also makes it an offence to encourage, benefit or profit from any activity that promotes sexual activity with children. The maximum penalty is twenty years' imprisonment and/or a fine of up to $5 million for companies or corporations.

Across South-East Asia, Australians have been identified as travelling sex offenders in at least twenty-five countries and as the largest group of sex tourists prosecuted in Thailand (31 per cent of the total). As such, the Australian Government has recently strengthened laws to combat child sexual exploitation. The new laws ensure that Australians who travel overseas to sexually abuse children will not escape the tough penalties they would have received if the offences were committed at home.

Of course, these laws – stringent as they are – rely upon witnesses and evidence provided to ground legal action, and it is here that the problems arise; so often, the victims of these heinous crimes are intimidated into silence, or even killed so they will not reveal the culprits – the rings of criminals who run the sex bars or clubs where foreign men can find children to exploit.

Children of the Sex Trade shows how sex slavery destroys young lives, how many men who abuse children in foreign countries operate with impunity, and how trafficking and slavery are global problems; but it is also the powerful and dramatic story of how a 'few good men', and brave young girls, risk their lives to help rescue children. It is a film about change and justice.

Curriculum Relevance:

Children of the Sex Trade is an invaluable supplementary resource for the senior secondary school curriculum in subjects such as Legal Studies, English, Media and Religious Studies.

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