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Fighting for the women slipping through the cracks

15 November 2021 at 5:53 pm
Maggie Coggan
Roxan Fabiano is the executive officer of HerSpace, a charity providing mental health and wellbeing support for women survivors of exploitation. She’s this week’s Changemaker. 

Maggie Coggan | 15 November 2021 at 5:53 pm


Fighting for the women slipping through the cracks
15 November 2021 at 5:53 pm

Roxan Fabiano is the executive officer of HerSpace, a charity providing mental health and wellbeing support for women survivors of exploitation. She’s this week’s Changemaker. 

HerSpace was originally founded to raise funds for survivors of sexual exploitation in India. This was before they realised how bad the problem was on home shores.

The Global Slavery Index 2018 estimated that on any given day in 2016, there were 15,000 living in conditions of modern slavery in Australia. 

Four out five people impacted by exploitation go undetected, with the largest percentage of these people being women and children. 

Left to deal with life-altering impacts of trauma caused by forced marriage, sexual exploitation and human trafficking, women are often isolated and unable to afford or access support.

HerSpace is filling a gap in the specialised therapeutic support for these women, providing trauma-informed wellbeing and mental health recovery services to survivors. 

The services are client-led and individually tailored to the unique needs of each woman, with the specialist staff using a range of therapies including talk therapy, cognitive behavioural therapy, art therapy, dance and movement therapy, body-based, mindfulness and systemic approaches.

With the issue of exploitation in Australia well-hidden, a lot of Fabiano’s time is spent educating the public on the issue and advocating for specialised care for these women survivors. 

In this week’s Changemaker, she discusses how HerSpace came to be, where she draws leadership inspiration from, and overcoming the challenges of running a charity. 

How did the idea for HerSpace come about? 

HerSpace was initially established to raise money for women who were being sexually exploited in India. It then became apparent to the team at the time that exploitation was actually happening to girls and women in Australia. 

The organisation shifted its focus to creating a safe, non-judgmental healing space for girls and women in Australia. Today, HerSpace is a wellbeing and mental health recovery service for women over the age of 16 that have survived exploitation in Australia. By exploitation I mean sexual exploitation, human trafficking, slavery and what we call slavery-like-practices which are things like debt bondage (when a person is forced to work to pay off a debt) and forced marriage. 

It’s the first service of its kind trying to fill the gap in available mental health support for survivors of exploitation in Australia. There’s a great need for a national specialised mental health program for exploitation survivors, so we’re hoping to actually pioneer this in Australia.

Was it difficult to kickstart the organisation when it is such an unexplored issue in Australia? 

Yes, absolutely. A lot of my time goes into raising awareness and educating people that these issues actually happen in Australia. So people usually respond to me that they’re surprised because they believe it to be an international issue, but it’s very much something that occurs in Australia. There are thousands of people that are exploited in Australia, so we need to begin the conversation here to educate people about the issues so that we can begin to move towards solutions. 

And where do you draw inspiration from as a leader?

I guess every time I get to speak with women that join HerSpace, I feel a sense of inspiration and purpose. My inspiration comes from seeing these unique, very courageous women with colourful personalities and dreams and so many gifts and talents, begin to flourish and to heal. Every conversation reminds me that I’m living my calling. I feel content that I’ve been fortunate enough to align my daily work with my personal convictions and use my particular talents and insights to be of service to others.

How do you manage the challenges of your job? 

The survivors we serve at HerSpace have had such devastating experiences. There is a movie I’m reminded of called Not Without my Daughter, where a woman and her child are taken by the woman’s husband overseas on false pretences, and kept there by the husband in difficult conditions against their will. The mother has various opportunities to escape or leave, but she refuses to go without her daughter, so she waits until the opportune time. And every time I think about giving up and moving on because of the inherent challenges in the job and the devastation of the issues that we deal with, the courage and persistence of the women we serve really comes to mind. And those words [from the movie] actually resonate with me. You know, I can’t give up and move on. No, not without my daughter, not without my sister, not without my mother. The survivors we serve are all those things to us in this nation. They have a right to freedom, love and opportunity. 

I also keep the goal in mind. It’s really easy to lose sight of the original intent or purpose when different challenges arise in the organisation. You can get tempted to begin to focus on the challenge and you become so engrossed in the minutia and absorbed in the difficulty of the circumstance, that you slowly find yourself drifting off track from that original intent. But if you keep an eye on the goal every day, you’re less likely to stay trapped in the grip of a particular challenge or issue. And connected to that is putting people first. So for me this means making sure that I continue to validate and encourage others and inspire the best in them and remain positive. Focusing on that is the key, because a positive and uplifted team is much more likely to successfully chart a course through any challenge with you.

What are some of your favourite things about the work that you do?

I enjoy the fact that my job allows me to use a very broad variety of skills and to exercise my creativity. There’s very little repetition. I also love seeing the organisation grow effectively, efficiently and sustainably. That gives me a lot of satisfaction. But most of all, I love championing the cause of human freedom and flourishing. I love being able to invest in people’s lives to see hearts begin to heal, to see hopes and dreams begin to form in people’s lives. I’m inspired to communicate the message far and wide that all human beings are of great worth and that they have the right to freedom, hope and a happy and fulfilled future.

How do you like to take a break and unwind from work? 

I’ll very often spend my time just getting out into nature, going for a walk and putting on some of my favourite music and just admiring nature to unwind and get me through until the next bit of work comes across my desk. 


This article previously stated that Fabiano was the founder of HerSpace, rather than the executive officer. The article was corrected on 16 November. 

Maggie Coggan  |  Journalist  |  @MaggieCoggan

Maggie Coggan is a journalist at Pro Bono News covering the social sector.

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