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QUT Academics Presenting at the 2015 APSA Conference

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Dr Erin O’Brien and Dr Helen Berents from QUT’s School of Justice have been in Canberra this week presenting their research at the Australian Political Studies Association Annual Conference. 

“Abolitionist activism at Australia’s human trafficking inquiries” by Dr Erin O’Brien

Abstract: Battles over policy responses to sex work have raged in Australia for many decades, often centred on a fundamental dispute between some who argue it is a form of violence against women, and others who seek workers’ rights and recognition of sex work as a legitimate form of labour. In recent decades, with the liberalisation of sex work legislation across several states of Australia, policy-making at the federal level has become a key site for this dispute. In particular, advocates of an abolitionist approach to sex work have been active in Parliamentary Inquiries into human trafficking, arguing that legalised sex work fuels human trafficking. This paper explores abolitionist activism in Australia centering on two key Parliamentary inquiries held in 2003-2004, and in 2012. Throughout these inquiries, the issue of sex trafficking remained prominent, with neo-abolitionists pressing for the adoption of the ‘Swedish Model’ (criminalising buyers of sex, while decriminalising sellers). Sex worker activists strongly opposed this approach, while government representatives showed differing levels of support for, and resistance to, neoabolitionist arguments. Through a detailed analysis of the submissions, hearings, and reports of these inquiries, this paper will detail the abolitionist arguments presented at the inquiries, and consider the extent to which these arguments found resonance with policy-makers. The interplay between abolitionist activists, sex worker activists, and the state will also be examined to demonstrate how key issues and points of contention have changed and developed over ten years of federal government efforts to address human trafficking.

“Seen but not heard?: representing ‘girlhood’ in global events” by Dr Helen Berents

Abstract: The presence of young women and girls in world events often has a powerful impact on our understanding of such events. Whether portrayed as heroes, victims, or simply misguided the girls in these stories are implicitly and explicitly compared to a normative, universalized, ‘appropriate’ girlhood that they are embodying, being denied, or rejecting. Drawing on feminist security studies this paper traces these three different readings of girls in conflicts around the globe. It examines the campaign and ‘celebrity’ of Pakistani education activist Malala Yousafzai after her recovery from being shot by the Taliban in 2012, the #bringbackourgirls campaign in response to the 2014 kidnap of almost 300 Nigerian school girls by Boko Haram, and the phenomenon of young women from Europe travelling to join Islamic State in 2014/15 who are portrayed as ‘jihadi brides’. It is argued that in all three cases a perceived ‘essential’ idea of ‘girlhood’ motivates the discourse, the notion of agency of these girls is centrally contested in different ways, and the girls become a lens to view a dangerous ‘Other’ and reinforce the belief in the need for western intervention. Through these explorations this paper demonstrates the need for critical engagement with the portrayal of youth and gender in media coverage of global events.

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