GEORGE TOWN (Nov 21): Some 200 locations have been identified as establishments used for the sex trade in Penang, Penang Stop Human Trafficking Campaign acting director James Lochhead said today.
Lochhead said a one-year research done by case worker Todd Morrison with Jaringan Utara Migrasi Pulau Pinang (JUMP) revealed that there were four major categories of users.
"To say there are about 200 establishments including reflexology centres, then there is a very high possibility of human trafficking. Perhaps about 10 and 20 might be involved in trafficking.
"As for the types of users, they comprise residents, businessmen, tourists and migrants. Therefore we must be clear what role different people play in this sordid world of human trafficking. It will assist us in devising appropriate strategies and messages to prompt better awareness.
Lochhead said the authorities should also change the approach as women who are picked up during raids at sex trade joints are often criminalised rather than their customers, pimps and owners of the premises.
"According to Morrison's findings, about 29,000 foreign women, suspected of prostitution were arrested in the raids between 2008 and 2010. However, within that same period of time, the government only rescued 189 victims of sex trafficking that was a mere 0.7%.
"We are not saying that all foreign sex workers are trafficked but that the figure is low particularly when compared to Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam)'s report," he said.
The report based on interviews conducted with foreign women detained in prisons or detention camps revealed that between 20% and 50% of them "exhibited" signs of having been trafficked, he said.
"In other words, we are very bad at identifying victims of trafficking. Why? Because as Suhakam says Malaysia considers and treats victims of human trafficking as illegal immigrants so that in the first instance they are treated as unwanted aliens and deported as an undocumented migrant before they are identified as a victim.