Can it really be happening?
There are too many instances of injustice, especially in a country such as Australia. But one of the hardest I find to come to terms with as being in our very midst is that of human trafficking. How can it happen, in the first place? But how can it possibly be happening in our very midst, here is Australia?
Trafficking in women and girls to Australia for prostitution gained national prominence in 2003. Developments since then have included the Australian Government's announcement of a $20 million package to address trafficking, and a commitment to ratify the UN Protocol on trafficking. In June 2004, for the first time, Australia was listed in the United States’ State Department Trafficking in Persons Report.
There are currently a number of trafficking cases being heard in Australian courts. Now, the Government is considering a change to the sexual servitude legislation currently used to prosecute traffickers.
While these initiatives are to be commended, and progress has been made, there is still much work to be done, say those who are working in this field. Until now, resources have not been sufficient to encourage coordination between groups and individuals working against trafficking. A network linking up these activists will ensure that Australia has a cohesive and powerful voice speaking out against trafficking in women and girls for prostitution in Australia.
The key elements of trafficking are the movement of a person; that this movement is brokered by another person through abduction, deception or coercion; and that the movement is for the purpose of exploitation - that is, the exploitation through the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation.
Taking the biggest group of women trafficked into Australia, Thai women, as an example, it is known the group includes both those who are totally deceived about the fact that they will do prostitution in Australia (the minority) and those who know they will but are deceived about the conditions of that prostitution (the majority). The former group think that they will be employed in a sector outside the sex industry, for example, a restaurant or in the travel industry. The latter group of women may be given the impression that they will be working in a karaoke bar, will be able to pick and chose with whom they have sex and will only have a small number of prostitution clients. This group includes both women who have been prostitutes in Thailand and/or abroad, and women who have not. Both groups of women are likely to be told that they will have a debt to the traffickers, but will be deceived about the size of the debt and/or how quickly they will be able to pay it off.
Project Respect (an Australian non-government organisation that challenges exploitation of and violence against women in the sex industry)estimates that there are typically up to 1000 women in Australia under contract at any one time. This refers to women still paying off a 'debt' and does not include women who have finished their 'debt' but remain in Australia.
However, the number of women trafficked for prostitution to Australia is difficult to estimate for four main reasons. Firstly, trafficking is illegal and therefore may occur undetected. Secondly, victims of trafficking may be unwilling to speak about being trafficked either because they fear retribution from traffickers, are traumatised by the experience, or, and this was common in the past, they had bad experiences of Department of Immigration and multicultural Affairs or the Australian Federal Police and so didn't think anything good would come from talking. Thirdly, there has until recently been a lack of cooperation with agencies that may know of trafficked women, and who could calculate the number of trafficked women in Australia. Finally, until recently, there was no clear mandate for any one government organisation to actually go out counting.
This information is only a small part of that given on the excellent websites of the Trafficking in Persons Clearinghouse and Project Respect, which also provide links to other sites. It is worth taking the time to visit these sites. You might be impelled to join one of the actions being coordinated.
While the above focusses on Australia, it is a worldwide problem. Several other initiates have come across my desk recently …
In South Africa … Mercy House helps out
The Southern African Catholic Bishops' Conference, in association with the Leadership Conference for Consecrated Life (Southern Africa), has recently established a special department to deal with the problem of trafficking in people, particularly women and children. As yet, the South African Government has no laws regulating this crime. The officials of this International Organisation for Migration rescue women from trafficking situations, but cannot offer them a secure place of safety in the period of waiting for their repatriation.
Mercy House in Capital Park, Pretoria, has been established by the Sisters of Mercy to provide shelter for women and their children made homeless through all manner of violence, abuse and discrimination. These women are given the assistance they need as they attempt to re-insert themselves into society. To date, 36 women rescued from trafficking have been housed safely at Mercy House for the period required to organise their official documentation.
In Ireland … Why did she die?
The tragic death of a Malawian woman, Paiche Unyolo, in a small Kilkenny village, in Ireland, prompted transition year students in St Leo’s College, Carlow, to ask: Had she been trafficked? How could her life end in such a horrible way? They wanted to find out more about trafficking, and so researched the issue in more depth. This culminated in a project which won the Global Citizen Award in the Young Social Innovators (YSI) Programme, a programme initiated to create innovative responses to social needs in Ireland. The vision of Y.S.I. is that every young person has the ability to create change in how people live, think and care for others in the community and to shape the future fabric of society. Details of the project are available at Stop the Trafficking
In the US … Freedom walk passes half-way
Meanwhile, former Sudanese slave Simon Deng and volunteers, have passed the half-way mark of their 300-mile walk from New York to Washington DC. The Sudan Freedom Walk began at the UN and has been gaining momentum, as people of diverse ages and backgrounds have joined along the way. The purpose of the walk is to shed light on the genocide and modern-day slavery in Sudan, and to call for U.S. government action to stop the violence against and enslavement of black African Sudanese.
More than 1.5 million people were killed in Sudan between 1955 and 1973, and an additional two million were killed from 1983 to 2005 in what has become the largest civil war in the history of Africa. Since 2003, the ongoing genocide in Western Sudan (Darfur) has resulted in the slaughter of more than 300,000 in just the past three years. Over 10,000 humans continue die as a result of this crisis each week. The Sudan Freedom Walk, crossing five states and visiting 19 cities, will end on April 5, with a rally in Washington, DC, in front of the Capitol. Further details: the Sudan Freedom Walk
Maybe something of this could become a part of our Lenten reflection, prayer and possible action.
1 Cranmer seminar, St Andrew’s Cathedral, organised by Moore Theological College and the Prayer Book Society (information: John Bunyan, firstname.lastname@example.org )
2 First anniversary of the death of Pope John Paul II
3 People in dialogue: Living in a multicultural society public lecture series: How to be an adult – stopping the blame game, Sr Patty Fawkner, sgs; Room 10, Blackfriars Building ACU National Canberra Campus, Watson; 7-8pm
5 Australian Catholic University (ACU National) academics, Associate Professor Anne Hunt (Trinity: Nexus of the Mysteries of Christian Faith) and Professor Neil Ormerod (The Trinity: Retrieving the Western Tradition) will speak about their new books on Trinitarian theology, staff room, ACU Ballarat campus; 4pm
Spirituality in the Pub: Christians should be writing, not just reading, the signs of the times, Sr Veronica Brady ibvm and Anne Kellas, Hobart; 5.30 meals begin for 7.30pm talk/forum (enquiries: Rev. Peter Weeks 03 6228 1068)
St Thomas More’s Forum: Family Under Threat and What is Being a Parent All About?, Bill Muehlenberg, National Vice President, and Paul Monagle, ACT President, Australian Family Association, St Thomas More’s School Hall, 30 White Crescent, Campbell, ACT.
Pause for Peace, an interfaith prayer meeting, Australian Centre for Christianity and Culture visitor’s pavilion, Barton, ACT; 12.20–12.55 pm.
6 Australian Catholic University (ACU National) academics, Associate Professor Anne Hunt (Trinity: Nexus of the Mysteries of Christian Faith) and Professor Neil Ormerod (The Trinity: Retrieving the Western Tradition) will speak about their new books on Trinitarian theology, 5th floor, 115 Victoria Parade, Fitzroy; 5pm
8 First anniversary of the funeral of Pope John Paul II
10 People in dialogue: Living in a multicultural society public lecture series: Inspiring Leaders, Deborah May, Fulbright scholar, consultant and executive coach; Room 10, Blackfriars Building ACU National Canberra Campus, Watson; 7-8pm
16 Easter Sunday
19 First anniversary of the election of Pope Benedict XVI
24 People in dialogue: Living in a multicultural society public lecture series: Politically Speaking – Catherine McGrath, ABC chief political correspondent; Room 10, Blackfriars Building ACU National Canberra Campus, Watson; 7-8pm
First anniversary of the Mass of Inauguration of Pope Benedict XVI
25 Anzac Day