Jim Jefferies, for me, has always been a tad “hit and miss”. Like the somewhat infamous Scottish comedian, Frankie Boyle, he’s perhaps best when he fixates on something specific, using his admittedly sharp wit to expose some injustice or hypocrisy for what it really is. When he loses himself in attempting to be as brazenly obscene as possible, his act suffers, and I, for one, am left wondering why people are really laughing.
I recently had the opportunity to watch his US-focused stage act, “Freedumb”. Whilst it again seemed a touch “hit and miss” to me, Jefferies, however, seems to have made a bad move. A serious lapse in both judgement and ethics. In addition to his usual repertoire, he at one point makes a peculiar argument in support of blanket legalisation of prostitution, ultimately making the staggering claim that human trafficking in Australia has been “all but eliminated” due to the implementation of such measures. This is not true.
Jefferies appears to believe there is “no down side to legalised prostitution”. This is a fairly common argument, one that lays emphasis on the consent and safety of those involved. If such activities are appropriately regulated by the authorities, so goes the logic, a viable and indeed profitable service is provided, with the open and transparent process providing ample protection against both abusive “clients” and criminal traffickers.
What Jefferies seems to have missed, however, is that human trafficking is very much in evidence in Australia and elsewhere, constituting an undeniably global phenomenon that is widespread, multifaceted and notoriously difficult to tackle. Attempts to legalise the “sex industry”, rather than curtailing the problem, have in fact been shown to exacerbate the situation, with trafficking groups responding accordingly to the prospect of heightened demand, ample profits and reduced risk.
Germany stands as a prime example. Having employed for some time the kind legislation that Jefferies appears to endorse, the nation now constitutes a major trafficking hub within Europe, where victims from the former USSR, Africa and elsewhere endure a tenuous and traumatic existence within an open and legal sex trade.
What’s more, compelling research has been available for some time that strongly indicates that a huge amount of “sex workers”, trafficked or otherwise, wish to escape their plight, viewing it as a predicament, not a career, where coercion, abuse and indeed rape are hardly uncommon. Attempts to thus separate and endorse a supposedly legitimate “sex industry” from the horrors of violence and modern slavery are, at best, misinformed. At worst, they are unpardonably short-sighted and harmful.
It’s important to be clear on a few definitions, however. I recently had a conversation with a former colleague on the issue of trafficking from the former USSR, specifically. She surprised me by asking me if I’d considered if any of the victims “wanted to be trafficked”. It was evident a mistake had been made, something common enough in the media, where human trafficking is conflated with people smuggling. The two activities bear certain similarities, given their illegal and clandestine nature. One is, however, markedly more insidious.
Indeed, nobody “wants” to be trafficked. Victims, if not overtly coerced, often respond to duplicitous offers of work overseas in a bid to escape poverty and other hardships, ultimately falling prey to those they expected to either provide the fictitious “employment” or at least smuggle them across national borders.
Whilst people smugglers, by definition, smuggle other individuals, their relationship to those they are transporting tends to end upon completion of their journey. Trafficking, whilst at times involving illegal transportation, always employs coercion, either via physical force and/or duplicity, something which doesn’t end as long as the victim proves financially viable.
And Australia is certainly not free of such a blight. As mentioned, Jefferies appears to believe that human trafficking is a non-event for such a country, apparently due to the overcoming of supposedly conservative legal and social stigmas regarding an otherwise acceptable practice. This can be quickly disproved with minimal effort.
The evidence at hand is quite clear that Australia is a point of destination for trafficking victims from myriad locales. Indeed, the Asia-Pacific region, by far, contains the highest number of suspected trafficking victims in the world. Trafficking flows into Australia are also known to have their point of origin here, with Thailand, the Philippines and the Korean peninsula being focal points for such activity.
It would also appear that the sizeable proportion of such people are destined for entrapment within the “sex industry”, a fate hardly desirable, in any context. Whereas forced labour is an issue (and the Australian government has long taken a dim view of people smuggling, often adopting distinctly unethical methods to combat it) the Australian “sex industry”, specifically, has been shown to undeniably intersect with trafficking flows. A very real, very traumatic and distinctly unacceptable situation. It is certainly not something that, to again quote Jefferies, has been “all but eliminated”.
As such, I’d say that Jefferies should perhaps stick to what he knows. Some people no doubt find him hilarious. Perhaps with sound reason. But if he wants to continue to combine humour with politics, he may want to be a touch more careful. Lives are literally at stake here.
Daniel Read is a UK-based journalist specialising in human rights and international affairs. He originally studied journalism at Kingston University, London, prior to obtaining post-graduate degrees in both human rights and global politics. He blogs at uncommonsense.me and tweets at @DanielTRead.