A report published today by the University of NSW says sex workers, especially in Lautoka, the centre of Fiji’s sugar industry, north of Nadi, have been rounded up by the military and subjected to sleep deprivation, humiliation and forced physical labour.
Karen McMillan, a researcher with the International HIV Research Group at UNSW, said the sex workers were held in outdoor pens at an army base, woken every three hours and made to do duck-walks and squat in the mud.
Some were forced to wear a traffic cone on their head, stand on one leg, and yell repeatedly: “I will never sell myself again.”
UNSW said Fiji was estimated to rival Thailand in the number of sex workers per head of the population.
A decree issued by the regime two years ago broadened the offences related to sex work, including criminalising the clients and making it an offence to live with a prostitute.
Heather Worth, an associate professor and co-author of the report with Ms McMillan, said that since the military decree, “sex work has become increasingly isolated because of the fear of arrest”.
Most of the 25 sex workers interviewed for the report had “very little knowledge of what the document called the Crimes Decree contained in relation to sex work”, the report says.
By February this year, the managers of seven massage parlours, chiefly in Suva, had been charged with conducting illegal activities.
And in that month, nine Chinese nationals were arrested and deported for visa violations following raids on Suva night clubs and other premises.
While the police approach to sex workers – which includes verbal warnings – has not changed significantly, the military regime has cracked down, especially in Lautoka, and Labasa on Vanua Levu island.
The military approach, the researchers say, is “consistently characterised by round-up, parading and summary punishment”.
Once sex workers are picked up at recognised hotspots in Lautoka, the report says: “They are driven through the town on the backs of open vehicles, suggesting there is a strategy of public outing and shaming.”
They are then made to roll on muddy ground, “a process which seems to be designed to show the sex workers they are dirty and need to be cleansed”.
Rowan Callick From:The Australian
December 12, 201112:00AM
Karen McMillan and Heather Worth