Too much emphasis has been placed on human trafficking for sexual exploitation in Australia, while other forms including forced labour, servitude and forced marriage have been left unanswered, according to the Salvation Army.
Jenny Stanger, supervisor of the Salvation Army’s safe house for trafficked women in Sydney, has been working to end human trafficking for 15 years. She has been an advocate for trafficked persons in the US where the organisation she co-founded opened America’s first refuge for trafficking victims. Now in Australia, the Salvation Army’s 10-bed safe house for women has been open since 2008, and has been at capacity ever since.
Yet Jenny says work to combat human trafficking in Australia is still in its infancy.
“The focus of Australia’s whole response to human trafficking, up until last 2 years, has been on sex trafficking. We need a broader range of offences that better address the range of slavery-like practices victims experience.”
Since opening its doors, the safe house has received over 130 referrals, 36 of whom experienced sexual servitude or serious exploitation in sex work. Out of this number, 34 women identified that they migrated for the purpose of sex work whilst 2 were deceived and forced into sex work.
According the Australian Federal Police’s annual report for 2010-2011, almost 70 percent of investigations relating to trafficking were related to sexual exploitation.
In a submission to a parliamentary inquiry into slavery and human trafficking this year, the Salvation Army advocated for additional offences that address forced labour in industries such as agriculture, construction, hospitality, domestic work, retail, manufacturing and natural resources.
“Investigators and prosecutors need more tools in their toolbox to be effective. Trafficking and slavery are at the extreme end of exploitation and difficult to prove. The US has a diverse range of offences that can be utilised and their prosecution rate is quite successful,” says Jenny.
Trafficking and slavery crimes already exist in Australia, but they are difficult to prove. Only 13 people have been convicted of trafficking and slavery crimes in Australia in the past 10 years.
Jenny says new laws now before Parliament to create offences of forced labour, servitude, forced marriage and Australia’s first law on trafficking for organ removal will “level the playing field” and broaden the scope to find more victims of human trafficking.
“You find what you’re looking for,” she says. “Why are all the victims on government support programs women from the sex industry? Because it’s the only place where government and NGOs have been looking.”
It’s also the easiest place to look, says Jenny. She points to the number of groups who are already knocking on the doors of brothels around Australia: Department of Immigration–who do regular visa checks in many of the brothels, occupational health and safety workers, sex worker support groups, local council workers and even NGOs like The Salvation Army and Project Respect.
Jenny says it’s time to think beyond the commercial sex industry and start caring about other forms of slavery and trafficking.
“Who’s caring about the construction workers; the farm workers; the domestic workers? What about people working in hospitality, cleaners, nail salons, bakeries? When you think about it, if you start looking around there’s unregulated, informal labour taking place all around us. We know that there is exploitation here and it is in this environment that slavery can happen.”
Read the story of one of recent residents of the Salvation Army’s safe house.
Sandra was a domestic worker for a family in the Pacific Islands. She lived in her own home, and while life as a single woman was hard she had freedom.
Her employers were moving to Australia and promised Sandra permanent residency if she continued to work for them as their housekeeper here. They told her she would be paid for her work.
But when Sandra arrived in Australia, she didn’t get what she was promised. Her passport was taken away from her, she was monitored and given set times to eat and rest. She worked seven days a week for almost three years, sometimes up to 20 hours a day as a domestic servant. She was never paid for this work.
When Sandra was at her breaking point, she asked a visitor to her employer’s house to help her. The Department of Immigration received an anonymous phone call about Sandra, and they arrived at the employer’s home to investigate.
The employer tried to lock Sandra in a shed to hide her, and when she refused to go in, tried to push her over the back fence, telling her to ‘run, run!’.
Sandra was taken from the house by the Department of Immigration, who retrieved her passport and referred her to The Salvation Army’s Safe House. She arrived there in 2009.
Sandra fully cooperated with the Australian Federal Police in their investigation who were unable to criminally prosecute her employers. With the help of Salvos Legal, Sandra sued her employer in a civil action and reached a settlement with them. Sandra has been granted a permanent visa to remain in Australia.
Jenny Stanger from the Salvation Army says the criminal justice process “failed entirely in this case”.
“These are difficult cases to prove and you need witnesses, whose cooperation can be difficult to negotiate.” But Jenny says, with the new laws for forced labour or servitude, a criminal action for situations like Sandra’s will have a better chance of being prosecuted in the future.
To find out more, head to Salvation Army Justice Unit.
Featured image credit: Salvation Army USA.More