Saturday, September 15, 2007

Don't think it doesn't happen here

I missed her on At the Movies, where actor Veronica Sywak seems to have told the same story, so my blood ran cold (really, it did) yesterday in the car when I caught her on local ABC radio talking about the Australian indie film The Jammed, currently on in Adelaide at the Palace Eastend and getting very good press, in which she stars as a more or less innocent bystander who gets caught up in the deadly world of human trafficking.

The chill came partly from the fact that I happen at the moment to be reading a novel, The Nubian Prince, about this very subject; it's chillingly narrated by the 'scout' who travels the world sniffing at the aftermaths of financial, political and geological disasters in the sorts of places that Christophen Hitchens has described as 'armpits of the world', in order to 'save the lives' of whatever exceptionally beautiful children and adults -- the more racially exotic the better -- he can find to take home to the Barcelona branch of an international operation and get groomed for the luxury end of the sex worker trade.

God knows that most of us are all too prone to think of our fellow human beings as commodities at the best of times (witness Kerri-Anne Kennerley's blisteringly intellectual analysis of Catherine Deveny's recent spray about women who take their husband's names: 'She probably can't get a man') but this open, naked trading is beyond understanding. Like most bottom-feeders, the narrator makes it worse by constantly thinking up justifications for his behaviour and trying to represent himself to himself as someone with more than the moral sense of amoeba, which of course he does not have; one would have more respect for the sort of criminal who says 'I'm a bad bastard: now stand aside or I will atomise you.'

Anyway, Sywak spoke to an audibly gobsmacked Carol Whitelock about the realities of human trafficking in Australia, and about her experiences bravely knocking on brothel doors to try to talk to sex workers and find out how much they knew about this trade and how much they were prepared to talk about it. And here, from the At the Movies transcript, is the story that nearly made me drive off the road; I knew the Cross was seedy (and indeed have known it for the decades since I read Dymphna Cusack and Florence James's Come In Spinner, in which something very similar is going on in wartime Sydney) but I will never look at it, or walk up it, the same way again.

'And when I was speaking with one girl in a suburban brothel,' says Sywak, 'I think in Burwood in Sydney, I was speaking with her about the issue of human trafficking and this was just - I have to clarify this was a legal brothel and the girls were there on their own accord and I was talking to them and they said - I casually mentioned that I was going to go up to the Cross to learn - to discover more about human trafficking and try and contact or try to come face to face with some of these girls who have been enslaved.

And this woman said to me, she stopped, she said, "Sweetheart, if you go up to the Cross and ask about human trafficking, you're going to be dead by this afternoon."'


Helen said...

And, as she said, with global warming and the concomitant increase in displaced people, human trafficking is set to get worse.

Thanks for calling Kerri-Anne on that bullshit, too. I was hoping somebody would.

Dean said...

What I would like to read is a feature in the Saturday broadsheets that included interviews with the girls involved. Of course, as your interlocutor notes, there may be problems getting access, let alone getting the girls (many of whom probably don't speak English) to talk.

I think the amoeba epithet is a bit harsh.

Which book of Houellebecq's dealt with sex tourism?

This is clearly a police issue. What they should do is set up a dedicated unit, like they did in the 80s to fight drug crime in places like Cabramatta.

In Cabramatta's case, it seems the suburb has changed. Whether this is due to police work or to creeping gentrification, I can't say. I never go out that far.

Another alternative is to include prostitutes on the 457 visa scheme. It may reduce the need for illegal activities.

Bernice said...

That's how you do it in Sydney - just ask Sally Anne Huckstep or Juanita Nielsen. The city of the Rum Corps.

tigtog said...

I heard her tell that story (the "you're going to be dead by this afternoon" bit) in an interview a few weeks ago now, meant to blog it and life interfered. Thanks for posting this. It's extraordinary, the lengths to which our culture will go to deny the truth that slavery is still happening, but that it somehow doesn't count if it's for the sex trade.

fifi said...

Tgis made me feel sick when I read it yesterday.

I had a fleeting vision of every person who protested APEC marching to the Cross and tearing the place apart.

Thank you for bringing attention to it.

su said...

It was the fact that Melbourne Film Festival would not touch it and no distributer could be found that intrigued me. Both Margaret and David praised it so very highly, championed it really, otherwise it may have just sunk without notice.

Megan said...

They screened 'The Jammed'(followed by a Q & A with Veronica Sywak and Dee McLachlan) at BIFF a couple of months ago.

McLachlan said that one criticism of the film, put to her by a human rights advocate, was that the girls should have been shown working in a legal brothel, because in reality, that's where they are.

Michael said...

I am surprised that you are so surprised. I was recently in Shenzhen, the PRC boomtown that borders Hong Kong. The sex trade there leaves Bangkok and Amsterdam in the shade. The sex workers are as likely to be from Burma, Cambodia and Mongolia as they are from the poorer parts of China. If you stay in any hotel you have to take the phone off the hook because you are continually pestered by phone calls from prostitutes.
With Australia's trade links with China growing stronger by the week is it any wonder we also inherit some of their sex trade practices?

Pavlov's Cat said...

Michael -- I don't spend a lot of time in Sydney these days and haven't been Up the Cross for years and years. Obviously it was always raffish at best and sordid at worst, but I never got the impression that one would be killed for speaking artlessly out of turn. Clearly this is no longer true.

Just went and looked at your wonderful photos and was reminded how much I love the place (Sydney not Beijing).

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