Day 12. Project Respect & Freedom Advocates: Ending slavery

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, The Salvation Army

Freedom Advocates, The Salvation Army

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

Project Respect

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.

Learn more:

  • 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
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Day 11: A culture of belief

Attrition in sexual assault cases is a major cause for concern. Research shows that sexual violence, and violence against women, is vastly under-reported. Yet, of those crimes that are reported, successful prosecution rates remain very low. And this is despite substantial legal, procedural and policy reforms designed to make the system more accessible to victims of sexual violence and better resourced to effectively respond to crimes of sexual violence (for more on this see ALRC research on attrition in sexual offence cases).

What’s going on here? Why are these reforms not seeing the intended results? Recent research conducted by Professor Liz Kelly and brought to attention in Australia by the Australian Centre for the Study of Sexual Assault highlights a key factor that continues to hijack chances for, not only successful prosecution in sexual violence offences, but equally for an experience of the legal system that is not newly traumatising for victims. Sexual violence is a gendered crime – a crime committed overwhelmingly by men. Sexual violence is also a crime accompanied by a ‘culture of skepticism’, as Professor Kelly calls it. Dating from at least the 17th century, with the influential judgments of Matthew Hale, the judicial response to allegations of rape has been preoccupied mostly with protecting the reputations of men and insuring them against the possibility of false accusation.

As such, rape has been considered to be a crime that is tarred by an intractable question of he-said vs. she-said. A fear of the supposed power of women to ruin a man’s reputation, an assumption that false allegations must be rife and an expectation that rape must be an impossible crime to prove. Women, who judicially have primarily been seen as solely the property of a man (be it father or husband), have long been considered doubtful as witnesses. The word of a woman has not been seen to be credible testimony. All of which adds up to a powerful ‘culture of skepticism’ heavily loaded against women, and in favour of men.

What’s interesting in Professor Liz Kelly’s research is the prevalence of assumptions of false accusations is rampant amongst both the police and prosecutors and yet their own statistics show very low rates of false accusations. So, why does the belief persist, even in the face of all the evidence to the contrary? Why, in the 21st century, do we still find it so hard to believe the word of a woman?

What her evidence shows is how readily stereotypes speak louder than real witnesses. How assumptions and expectations predetermine how a victim will be heard and how their case will be responded to. That the weight of this ‘culture of skepticism’, this fear for the reputations of men (and not for the livelihoods of victims) taints our ability, as a society, to hear the testimony of victims. Everything they say, everything they did or do, everything about them, will be held up to the stereotypes, the prejudgments, the assumptions to see whether it conforms or not. And so what we find, is that whilst the law has evolved in terms of sexual violence, the reception of victims has not. They continue to be subjected to biased, prejudicial stereotypes – to a system more invested in providing perpetrators with immunity from false accusations, than victims with restitution and societies with protection from criminals – that make it almost impossible to provide victims with the right to a fair-trial and far too easy for perpetrators to get off.

Professor Liz Kelly argues on the basis of her research that what is needed is a replacement of the ‘culture of skepticism’ with a ‘culture of belief’. I couldn’t agree more. As a society, as individuals, when abuse or assault is disclosed to us the only humane response is one of belief and support. Victims who are believed and supported will find themselves able to come forward to police. Victims who receive a fair and just response from those they disclose to will be able to pursue the crime, and the offender, through the justice system. And, if the police and the legal system, operate from a position of belief, from a culture of belief, whilst standing  by their usual principles of ‘innocent until proven guilty’ and ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ there is no need to fear false accusations. For too long, the gendered construction of sexual violence has been a cloak of impunity for perpetrators to hide behind. It’s time we abandoned these outdated and prejudicial stereotypes and invested instead in a ‘culture of belief’ and true justice for all.

Learn more:

  • “The (In)credible words of a woman: false allegations in rape cases”, Professor Liz Kelly, ACSSA webinar, 21 September 2012
  • “Sexual violence offenders:Prevention and intervention approaches”, ACSSA, Issue no.5, June 2006
  • “Attrition in sexual assault cases”, ALRC
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Day 10: In her shoes

Whilst the prevalence of violence against women traverses cultural, linguistic, racial, religious and socio-economic boundaries affecting 1 in 3 women no matter where they are in the world or with which culture they identify, a range of factors converge such that culturally and linguistically diverse women are often especially vulnerable to violence. The barriers CALD women experience include: racism and discrimination; a lack of proficiency or confidence in English combined with a limited provision of materials in languages other than English; family and community pressures; social isolation; a limited awareness of rights and where and how to seek help; uncertain residency and prohibitions to travel; lack of income and social support; fear of having their communities vilified and/or pathologised; and a limited provision, in the first place, of services willing or able to be of assistance.

On top of the barriers that come from being a part of ‘not the mainstream’ culture or language group, CALD women often have to overcome stereotypes, discrimination, racism and misplaced cultural sensitivity which can make it very hard, not just to come forward, but for their voices to be heard or understood when they do. Along with this comes fraught issues for women who choose to speak out against violence in their own communities: when they do, they are seen to be bringing their own community into disrepute and, too often, the response from the mainstream is to blame their culture (rather than holding the perpetrator accountable), while exempting our own culture (clearly far from true, as statistics only too readily affirm, not to mention far from helpful). The fear of their testimony providing further reinforcement to an already unjust and discriminatory stereotype of their culture creates a very significant, and distressing, barrier for CALD women.

One initiative run recently seeking to bring the experiences of CALD women into the mainstream, to provide a dialogue around the rights and needs of CALD women, in their own words is the In Her Shoes campaign, run by the Australian Immigrant and Refugee Women’s Alliance (AIRWA) – now Network of Immigrant & Refugee Women Australia (NIRWA). For International Women’s Day they produced a series of videos with Australian CALD women talking about a range of experiences and setting right, in their own words, the misrepresentations and misunderstandings that too often precede, and prevent us hearing, their own words. To see the full set of videos click here or here.

Undoubtedly much, much more needs to be done by Australian governments, services, communities and society to better support CALD women, broadly speaking, and when it comes to the experience of violence. This was an issue of particular interest for the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women during her recent study tour of Australia. You can read her report and recommendations here.

Learn more:

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Day 9: Disability & Violence

December 3 is the International Day of People with Disability. Not only is violence against women the leading contributor to death, disease and disability in women aged 15-44 but, “it is now widely acknowledged that compared to non-disabled girls and women, women and girls with disabilities are at greater risk of severe forms of violence; they experience violence at significantly higher rates, more frequently, for longer, in more ways, and by more perpetrators”. The links between violence and disability go both ways, a correlation that in any just society should be completely and irrevocably avoidable.

Not only are women with disabilities at greater risk of violence but the access to support services, resources and pathways to safety for women with disabilities at risk of or experiencing violence, for the most part, simply aren’t there. The disadvantage and discrimination experienced by women with disabilities in this situation is manifold, going beyond the standard barriers and prejudice of both sexism and able-ism, to include factors such as “the reinforced demand for compliant behaviours, their perceived lack of credibility, their social isolation and lack of access to learning environments, their dependence upon others, their lack of access to police, support services, lawyers or advocates; the lack of public scrutiny of institutions; and the entrenched sub-culture of violence and abuse prevalent in institutions”.

There remains an enormous amount of work to be done in this area, firstly to provide women with disabilities with the resources and services to support them when they become victims of violence but, equally importantly, preventative work to challenge discriminatory beliefs and create a safe and equal culture for women with disabilities, a culture that will prohibit such abuses in the first place. Despite the significant setbacks that lack of knowledge, lack of understanding and lack of awareness continue to impose in this area, some great work is being done to shift our culturally-imposed ineptitude and challenge the silence and ignorance surrounding this issue.


  •  Exceptional ongoing advocacy, research and lobbying by Women With Disabilities Australia as have Women With Disabilities Victoria
  • The Australian Domestic and Family Violence Clearinghouse have links to a range of Australian and international research, resources and projects
  • There is currently a Senate Inquiry into the Involuntary or Coerced Sterilisation of People with Disabilities in Australia
  • Last year, then Minister for the Status of Women, Kate Ellis announced funding for two new projects to support women with disabilities experiencing violence

Learn more:

  • Read the devastatingly comprehensive submission to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse from Women With Disabilities Australia
  • Read ’16 days campaign: International Day of People with a Disability’, Something in Common
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Day 8: Standing firm for change

Aboriginal women are 45 times more likely to experience family violence than a white woman. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are more than twice as likely to be a victim of family violence. One in three Aboriginal people has a relative who is a victim, or is witness to an act of interpersonal violence, on a daily basis.

The number of Aboriginal women currently experiencing family violence and reporting it to police: 5%.

In response to this knowledge nearly 400 Aboriginal men took part in the gathering and issued the Inteyerrkwe Statement:

Inteyerrkwe Statement July 2008

We the Aboriginal males from Central Australia and our visitor brothers from around Australia gathered at Inteyerrkwe in July 2008 to develop strategies to ensure our future roles as husbands, grandfathers, fathers, uncles ,nephews, brothers, grandsons, and sons in caring for our children in a safe family environment that will lead to a happier, longer life that reflects opportunities experienced by the wider community.

“We acknowledge and say sorry for the hurt, pain and suffering caused by Aboriginal males to our wives, to our children, to our mothers, to our grandmothers, to our granddaughters, to our aunties, to our nieces and to our sisters. We also acknowledge that we need the love and support of our Aboriginal women to help us move forward.”

In communities across Australia, powerful initiatives and programs are being developed and implemented to end the violence against women, including:

  • Domestic Violence—it’s not our game’ initiative
    Conceived in 2007 in Normanton, involves local football teams who “agree to act as role models and agree to exclude from games any player involved in domestic violence”. Since inception, “Domestic violence incidents dropped by 55%, breaches of domestic violence orders dropped by 64% and domestic violence is no longer accepted in the community.”
  • The Spirited Men’s Program
    Aims to “pioneer a new way that Nunga men can not only deal with anger and violence but find positive ways of being able to stand their ground as Aboriginal men, to feel and be respected for who they are.”
  • Standing Firm Against Family Violence
    Is a campaign on behalf of the Aboriginal Family Violence Prevention & Legal Service Victoria. Amongst a range of services they provide they have developed 101 ways to Stand Firm Against Family Violence and have recently held a national conference: Standing Firm for Change: A Journey to Justice. They also run Sisters Day Out, wellbeing workshops for young Koori women.

Learn more:

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Day 7: Equal pay

December 1, 2012, is the day that the landmark Fair Work Australia decision to award community workers Equal Pay for Equal Work takes effect. From today, pay increases that will lift salaries for workers in this sector by between 23 and 45 per cent begin to be carried out.

This was a case argued on gender. Community workers are some of the lowest paid workers in Australia and they are, overwhelmingly, women. Fair Work Australia, in its landmark decision – “the first ever successful pay equity claim in the national system” – agreed that gender constituted one of the reasons this work is both underpaid and undervalued. This decision is undeniably a significant improvement in ensuring equal pay for women.

This sector is underpaid precisely because the work has been undervalued as ‘women’s work’ – as ‘natural’ and therefore not requiring remuneration, respect or regard. Valuing ‘women’s work’ is about valuing women. Valuing women, respecting women and the contributions they make is vital to ending violence against women. Without respect and value, human rights are unlikely to be observed and true equity will remain out of reach.

That caring isn’t about being a doormat, or about being invisible or without needs of your own. That caring isn’t just a woman’s role and it is not to be taken for granted. Caring is a vital and necessary contribution to society and none of us would be here today without someone taking responsibility for caring for us at times in our lives. This decision challenges a culture that continues to take so much work performed by women – or traditionally seen as women’s work no matter the gender of the person who performs it – for granted and refuses to create the necessary changes that would allow for this work to be fairly remunerated and regarded.

All this might seem remote from violence against women, but it’s highly relevant. Research clearly shows that true gender equity is fundamental for the prevention of violence against women (VicHealth have done great research on this point) and establishes correlation between sexist attitudes, values and beliefs and violence against women. A culture that does not value women’s work is a culture that undermines gender equity and countenances violence against women. Valuing women’s work goes hand in hand with valuing women and granting them their full human rights to live free from the threat, and reality, of violence.

Learn more:

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Day 6: The EVAs

I’ve said it time and time again, and it is said repeatedly by everyone from the UN, to Australian governments to feminist organisations: the key to ending violence against women lies in cultural change. It is cultural change that will allow us to feel horror at the appalling rates of violence, it is cultural change that will allow us to perceive the problematic behaviours and attitudes creating those statistics and it is cultural change that will teach all of us how to respond effectively and automatically to these problematic behaviours – in other words to carry out our responsibility for preventing violence against women. In 1889, Louisa Lawson wrote on the matter of violence against women: “Will it be believed a hundred years hence that such a state of things existed?” Devastatingly, well over a hundred years later, the question points only too despairingly to how much work remains to be done in challenging a state of affairs she would recognise only too well.

A coalition of services working on the issue of violence against women have established the EVAs (Eliminating Violence Against Women Media Awards) as one response to recognising, encouraging and reinforcing signs of cultural change in the media. It goes without saying that the media play an exceptionally powerful role in either discouraging or encouraging cultural change. Accurate and insightful reporting, accompanied by an awareness of the power structures inherent to any reporting on this issue and the consequences at stake, is a powerful ally to have in the fight against violence against women.

Which is why the EVAs are such an important initiative. Educating the media on the part they have to play in preventing violence against women, on the part they will play (mindful or not, handled deliberately and skilfully or not), on the opportunities that will present themselves, over and over again, to support cultural change, to support the powerless in their struggle against the powerful, to advocate for what is right and necessary, is a vital step to achieving the cultural change we still so desperately need on this issue.

Learn more:

  • To see the 2012 EVAs winners, click here
  • To read the EVAs guidelines to reporting on Violence Against Women, click here
  • To read more about the EVAs and who supports them, click here
  • To read Clem Bastow’s GOLD EVA winning piece, click here


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