Today’s slavery. Slavery in Australia. These should be anachronisms. But they’re not. Slavery, incredibly, remains a reality in Australia today. Human trafficking is a massive international crime, creating profit equal to the international trade in weapons. Globally, 21 million people are estimated to be currently living in slavery. People are trafficked for all sorts of purposes: sexual exploitation, labour exploitation, domestic servitude, marriage. 80 per cent of the victims trafficked across international borders are female and 70 per cent of those women are trafficked for sexual exploitation. It is estimated that there are about 1,000 women and children in Australia trafficked into debt-bonded prostitution at any one time and that this constitutes the major purpose of human trafficking in Australia. (See ACSSA research into Trafficking in women for sexual exploitation)
In 2011, the United Nations Special Rapporteur in Trafficking in Persons visited Australia to investigate the situation here and the responses to human trafficking by governments and services. Whilst the Rapporteur, Joy Ezeilo, commended Australia for its “strong leadership regionally and domestically” she also observed that “the scale of the problem appears to be underestimated and underreported” and that “a victim-centered approach is still lacking” in Australia. She reenforced that “a human rights based approach to trafficking requires the needs of all victims to be placed at the core of any response” and that “vulnerability to trafficking is exacerbated by lack of equal opportunity and gender inequalities”.
Human trafficking constitutes a massive international trade in violence against women, men and children. A human rights abuse that should be unimaginable in the 21st century.
There are many organisations working locally to end slavery, to support victims and to advocate for change to prevent human trafficking. Two of those who take to heart that human rights based response articulated above are:
Freedom Advocates is a program run by the Salvation Army and is part of their response to victims of human trafficking which also includes a Safe House and case management. However, the innovative part of their program is what they call ‘Freedom Advocates‘. These are women and men who have been victims of human trafficking who then use their experience to advocate for the abolition of slavery. As they say: “it is not easy to trust anyone after our experience, so it is good to have other people who share the same experiences. Our goal is to reach out to other survivors internationally, and we invite you to join us in unity and strength.” This is advocacy with an appreciation for the power and value of experience, for the needs of the victims, for the value of learning from those who have been there, survived and emerged, at its heart.
Project Respect works with women in the sex industry, including those trafficked to Australia, providing practical help and support whilst advocating “to help prevent the exploitation and enslavement of women, by the industry”. Project Respect provides non-judgmental outreach and support to women to facilitate them to rebuild their lives outside the industry and, similarly to Freedom Advocates, promotes advocacy and activism based on the expertise of women in the sex industry, in order to tackle the discrimination and structural inequalities which support prostitution and trafficking.
You, too, can speak out to voice your support for the abolition of slavery.
The ILO is running a campaign called “End Slavery Now“. Download the poster and send in your photo of support. 21 million in slavery – perhaps, more than ever in history. It’s time it was abolished for good.
- The Gillard Government has recently released its fourth annual report on Commonwealth responses to human trafficking
- The United Nations Special Rapporteur in Trafficking in Persons report subsequent to her fact-finding mission to Australia in 2011
- Nicholas D Kristof’s piece in the New York Times, ‘The 21st century slave trade‘, April 22, 2007