It is always fascinating to see what issues arouse the public interest, stir the passions of the masses and initiate action.  Earlier this year, the Four Corners expose on live cattle exports to Indonesia dominated the public arena, so much so that it displaced asylum seekers, the carbon tax and even the Collingwood Football Club from the front pages.  Unless you were living under a rock, it would have been hard to miss the hysterical outcry from animal lovers everywhere.

Last week, Four Corners ran, what I consider, to be a far more shocking expose – on sex slavery in Australia.  ‘Sex Slavery’ detailed an international network of trafficking, slavery, torture, sexual abuse and even murder.  While less visually graphic, the report contained stories far more cruel, disturbing, sickening and shocking than the mistreatment of cattle in the Indonesian abattoirs.  And what has been the public reaction over this documentary?  Nothing.  No outraged talkback callers.  No federal government involvement.  No mass letters to editors.  No protests.  No fierce public debate.  Nothing.  The program did coincide with an investigation by The Age, however by the weekend the daily coverage of the issue had lost much its momentum.

Lin Gao of the Candy Club, linked to sex trafficking networks

De Jun ‘Kevin’ Zheng – sex trafficker, murderer and suspected arsonist

Why is it, that Australians were roused to such emotion, anger and action by the suffering of animals, but not humans?  After all, more us have daughters and sisters than own cows.

The words defenceless, innocent, unethical and inhumane were thrown around fiercely during the live export debate.  Surely young women flown to Australia, on false promises, from Taiwan, China, Thailand and other Asian countries, with limited language, travel experience, money and contacts also qualify and defenceless and innocent.  Even those who were coming to work in the sex industry were not aware of terrible conditions awaiting them.  Furthermore, the treatment outlined in ‘Sex Slavery’, including bonded labour, unprotected sex, rape, beatings, torture and virtual imprisonment is not only unethical and inhumane, but illegal.  So, where is the reaction?  While some in the cattle export business could validly argue for exports to continue while the cruel practices were addressed, because businesses and livelihoods depend on shipping cattle overseas, no one can justify the conditions and mistreatment of the women in brothels around Australia continue for any reason.

‘A Bloody Business’ showed graphic images of cows being tortured, did this assist in creating the skewed reaction to cruelty?  If ‘Sex Slavery’ broadcast video or pictures of young Asian women being treated in similar ways to the cows in Indonesia would that have stirred the public’s hearts and minds?  Would images of women lying on beds in windowless rooms, or having unwanted sex with Australian fathers, sons, brothers, and husbands, or being tied to beds or being beaten or crying alone be enough to elicit a reaction from the Australian public?

Or perhaps the problem of sex slavery is that it doesn’t feel Australian enough.  The public cannot relate to it.  Sure, Australians know all about sex with young Asian girls, but that happens in Bangkok, Phuket, Manila and Bali, not in Sydney’s North Shore or Richmond or South Melbourne.  Whereas cattle and farming are part of our history and national identity – most Australians eat beef, drink milk and have probably visited a farm at least once in their life and no self respecting politician would visit rural Australia without an Akubra hat and Blundstones.  We better understand that world.  Most Australians would want nothing to do with the seedy underground of the sex industry, which is understandable, although if I may borrow a line used in the live export debate, “You may choose to look the other way, but you may never again say that you did not know.”  Illegal sex with entrapped young Asian women does not belong in Australia, it doesn’t happen here, we are better than that.  What Four Corners showed is that is does and we are not.  Not as long as we are paying for it and not as long as we do nothing about it.

We Australians are known for our passionate defence of ourselves.  Be it that we are racist, not charitable enough or unsportsmanlike.  We stridently defend ourselves against such accusations.  We too often put ourselves on moral mantles.  What ‘Sex Slavery’ showed us, is that like the Indonesian abattoir workers, we too are capable of inhumane cruelty upon defenceless and innocent lives.