7 October 2013
“I worked seven days a week from seven in the morning until ten at night, I had no breaks …They used to threaten me and swear at me...” – Janice
Janice came to Australia to work as a housekeeper for a wealthy family she had been employed by in her home country.
The family organised Janice’s visa, paid for her plane ticket and promised to help her get permanent residency. They also told her that she would be paid and she could eventually bring her children to Australia.
“I trusted them,” says Janice. “After two weeks they took my passport. They said they needed it to apply for my residency.”
Janice did all the housework, gardening and took care of the family’s dogs. During this time, her “employers” became increasingly abusive and neglectful.
Years of fear
“I had severe headaches and bloody noses but was not taken to a doctor,” she says. “I had a broken tooth that was never seen by a dentist. Sometimes I think I might have died in that house.”
For three years, frightened, isolated and fearing for her own family’s safety, Janice’s received no wages. “They held not only my passport, but the power and control of my life,” she says.
This year, The Salvation Army celebrates the fifth anniversary of its trafficking safe house service. In late 2011, the service was presented with one of 11 inaugural Anti-Slavery Australia Freedom Awards at Parliament House in Canberra.
Service supervisor, Jenny Stanger, explains that in Australia, people are “trafficked for the purpose of forced labour, slavery and sexual servitude”.
In February, the Australian Parliament criminalised forced marriage, forced labour, servitude and people-trafficking for the purpose of organ removal.
“Debt bondage, which involves people being forced to pay off debts their employers say they owe, is already an offence,” Jenny says.
According to Jenny, Janice’s is a situation that could happen to any vulnerable person or group. Agriculture, construction, hospitality, mining, maritime services, manufacturing, health care, restaurants, domestic services, sex services, and forced and slave-like marriages are just some of the contexts where serious
exploitation has been uncovered, she says.
Freedom and hope
In Janice’s case, she finally broke free. “That was the day I met The Salvation Army. My whole life has changed in ways I never imagined,” she says.
Janice stayed at The Salvation Army’s safe house where she received comprehensive assistance and support.
She is now a “Freedom Advocate”, one of a number of former clients the service has supported and trained to now act as advocates for others.
The project has been developed in partnership with the Project Futures organisation and Freedom Advocates work to raise public awareness, lobby governments, educate and offer a voice for those who are abused. “We felt we had to offer an opportunity to clients who wanted to make a difference to others,” Jenny says.
Janice explains why she believes it is important to support others, and says: “I hope that by being a Freedom Advocate, I can help other people find the freedom that I have today.”