In Australia, bid to help trafficking victims
At country's only dedicated safe house, women learn to rebuild their lives after being tricked into sex slavery.
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Trafficking victims usually fall into a life of crushing servitude, especially those put to work in Australia's legal sex trade. "Posie" arrived in Sydney expecting to earn enough money as a cook to pay for medicine for a sister back home in Asia. Instead, she was taken to an apartment in Sydney with six women and told she had to have sex with 500 men to pay off a debt of $40,000 (US$35,725).Skip to next paragraph
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"The owner said he would shame my family by putting up pictures of me naked in my home town and that he would tell everyone about what I did," she says. "He said he would have my family hurt if I didn't do what he said [and] that I would be found and ... killed if I ran away. He told me that the police would not help me."
When she wasn't working in the brothel, "Posie" was locked in the apartment. Only after eight months, when her debt was paid, was she allowed to walk free.
Traffickers and their associates are seldom brought to justice. The government has established a specialist task force to investigate traffickers and has insisted the battle is being won. Trafficking can bring penalties of up to 25 years' imprisonment.
Encouraging victims to give evidence is a hurdle. "[If] a girl runs away, [gangs] can exert pressure on her family," says "Dale," who runs a legal brothel. "Children have been kidnapped ... in Thailand, and the girl is told they will be sold if she doesn't go back to work."
Jennifer Burn, director of the Anti-Slavery Project at the University of Technology Sydney, says the traffickers are skilled manipulators. "Not everybody is forced. They may be tricked," she says. "I've had clients who've answered an advertisement in a city newspaper and it's exactly the kind of advertisement that young people in Australia might answer. It will say something like, 'Do you want to make a lot of money in Australia, lovely country, fabulous climate, and nice people?'
"They see the opportunity to go to a country like Australia and make a fortune and have a new life.... Others are desperate financially and are looking for a way out,and those people are particularly vulnerable."
In the case of "Posie," lawyers helped her apply for a visa to stay permanently in Australia. "[The] immigration minister gave me a chance to start a new life in Australia. I am happy. I am studying, but it will take some time reach my goal to be a normal person and to have a life that I had dreamed of. Next year, I want to go home and visit my family, but I will never tell them what happened to me," she says.
It is women like her who are given a refuge by the Salvation Army in its privately funded safe house. The center is still in its infancy, but Stangar says the early signs are encouraging.
"One of the wonderful things ... is how people are mentoring each other and how some of the residents who've been there longer are providing support to the newer folks," she says. "What's interesting is that it can happen across languages and cultures, so it's very important for us that we create a strong sense of community amongst our residents.... It's really important we keep everyone busy and interested in moving forward to achieve their goals."