NFPs Strain to Support Trafficking Victims
13 August 2015 at 11:03 am
The Not for Profit sector is being left to pick up the slack on supporting victims of human trafficking in Australia, writes freelance journalist Annelise Ball.
The US State Department’s 2015 Trafficking in Persons Report has awarded Australia a Tier 1 rating for its annual performance in the prosecution, protection and prevention of trafficking in persons.
In a global report assessing each country’s efforts to combat human trafficking, the Australian Government has been deemed “fully compliant” with the minimum standards set by the US Government’s Trafficking Victims Protection Act.
Yet community and legal services working directly with victims of trafficking have different views on the adequacy of the Government’s performance.
With the Commonwealth Government victim support service tied directly to a victim’s participation in the criminal justice process, identified victims who do not wish to assist police, or are deemed to be unsuitable witnesses for a prosecution, are referred to already under-resourced and over-stretched community and Not for Profit services.
Forced to pick up the slack without appropriate resourcing, services says they often cannot provide the complex support required by a victim to recover from their trafficking-specific experiences of trauma, exploitation and abuse.
Melbourne-based women’s support service, Project Respect, believes the official support program, although well-regarded, still requires people to prove they are a “good enough witness”, rather than a victim of trafficking needing support.
“Financial support, health services, housing, every need you can think of; we have great difficulty in helping women with no access to the official program,” Operations Manager, Rachel Reilly, said.
Despite fostering good relationships with other service providers, Reilly said, “This doesn’t always mean we can get trafficking survivors in ahead of others or receive things for free. It’s a problem across the board.”
Victims of trafficking receive no specific support to recover from their often dire experiences of sexual exploitation, debt bondage and forced labour.
“There are few services equipped to address issues of torture and trauma directly related to trafficking,” Reilly said.
“Clients often receive a hodge-podge response that can be inadequate, and good practitioners can be hard to find.”
Without meaningful financial and housing support, Project Respect has also found victims of sex trafficking often have few options but to return to the sex industry in order to support themselves.
‘Sarah’ is a victim of trafficking supported by the Commonwealth Government support program. But she said she did not receive adequate help to leave the sex industry, even while assisting the Australian Federal Police and Commonwealth Department of Public Prosecutions with a successful conviction.
“We still had to work in the brothel, because we couldn’t survive on $400 a fortnight from Centrelink, we couldn’t pay rent, buy food and support our kids at home,” Sarah said.
“We needed a house and a job, but we never got them. We couldn’t stop.”
Director of Anti-Slavery Australia, Associate Professor Jennifer Burn, believes the wider community and Not for Profit sector is now more aware of sex and labour trafficking due to improved awareness-raising efforts, and therefore the potential for more victims to be identified has increased.
She said since securing a place on the official program involves participating in the criminal justice process, which many victims are too frightened to contemplate, further pressure may be placed on the community and Not for Profit sectors in the future.
“Despite some improved protections such as the Vulnerable Witness amendment to the Crimes Legislation Amendment Act 2013, many victims still feel it’s much too hazardous to contemplate engaging in the judicial process” Burn said.
“Many are concerned about having their identity divulged, and having perpetrators finding out they’ve assisted police, so it’s not unusual for people to decline engaging with the criminal justice process.
“The research also shows that victims feel they have to put their lives on hold to be a good witness, and they don’t want to do that.It can be a huge ask for a person to participate in the criminal justice process when they’re so uncertain about their safety.”
Despite the Tier 1 Rating, Burn said Australia has plenty of room to improve in providing meaningful support to all victims of trafficking, regardless of whether or not they make a “good enough witness”.
“The Government thinks they are 10 out of 10 when it comes to helping victims of trafficking – but I give them a three.”