“To succumb to the enormity of the problem is to fail the one”SHE Rescue Home

It was 1865, the year that President Lincoln’s 13th Amendment finally abolished slavery. Fast forward 148 years however and there are more slaves than ever before – 27 million women, children and men worldwide. In 1862, Victor Hugo pinpointed the issue of slavery brilliantly when he said, “Slavery still exists but now it applies only to women and its name is prostitution.”

The depth and magnitude of human trafficking can often leave us feeling overwhelmed, but there are women and men around the world rising up to turn this negativity into positive change. One such woman, is Tanya Mathias.

Tanya and I - Photo by Martin Glastonbury
Tanya and I – Photo by Martin Glastonbury

Empassioned to bring awareness of human trafficking, Tanya has started a group named JAM (Justice and Mercy) with the purpose of hosting fundraisers around Brisbane to raise awareness and money for Anti-Human Trafficking organisations. Talking before the event Tanya explained why she feels such a need to stand against human trafficking, and how she hopes to bring about a movement of change through the grassroots organisation.

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“When I learned about the reality of human trafficking, I felt both grieved and angry…I felt an increasing responsibility to learn more about what is going on,” said Tanya.“It was from there that we developed “JAM”, a grassroots movement which I envision will raise awareness through creative mediums and informal dinners…we want to get people together to create a dialogue about what is going on. Our mantra is to raise AWARENESS of the issues, to promote ADVOCACY for the individual/organisation, and to propel ACTION to change.

 “We are interested in partnering with several local (Brisbane) & global communities to promote their work, and to support those who journey alongside the women and children who’ve been trafficked/tricked/forced into sex slavery.”

The first of these events was Not Forgotten, a night of music, tasty treats and film to raise awareness of an issue that can often seem too overwhelming to contemplate. The event also helped to raise funds for the NFP organisation SHE Rescue, who provide rehabilitation, counseling and care for girls rescued from the sex trade.

Hosted at the Southbank Ukrainian Hall, the event showcased local fair-trading companies such as Oxfam and was supported by local businesses, many of whom donated gifts for lucky door prizes. As local men and women began to filter through the doors they were met by the acoustic sounds of Jamie Palmer echoing through the hall, while mingling with each other over an array of sumptuous fruit platters and delicious cakes.

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Not Forgotten also hosted a screening of the film ‘Nefarious’. Set in the style of a doco-drama, the film takes viewers on an emotional journey into the world of sex-slavery. Following the film makers across South East Asia, Amsterdam and Las Vegas we see firsthand accounts of the women sold, tricked and lured into the sex trade. Through interviews with rescued women and re-enactments of kidnappings we gradually learn how human trafficking has grown to become the largest organised crime network in the world.

Speaking with the film directors, a former pimp explains how women are purchased like objects and then broken, beaten and brainwashed into submission.

“Just like a model show… You take your seat, lights go off, the girls take their clothes off and move around…Nobody cares about these girls. Just like you go to the markets and buy yourself some underwear, they go in and buy themself a girl,” he says casually.

“You do whatever it takes to shut her up… Since it’s [run by the] mafia they know where you live, who your parents are…your brothers, sisters… They don’t leave nothing to chance.

“They are stone cold.”

Often, poverty and a history of sexual abuse play a central role in the trafficking of children and women, with countries such as Moldova, Cambodia and Thailand being hotspots for sex trafficking. The act of sex trafficking is so ingrained into their culture that 80-90% of parents are selling their daughters, and likewise the children of these countries groom themselves from an early age in preparation for the day they will be traded. It is common for families in SE Asia to sell their daughters from as young as 6 or 7 years old, using the money to combat their poverty.

The statistics in Nefarious are alarming. With 2.8 million slaves in Thailand (800,000 of which are children) and over 19,000 in Cambodia, the sex trafficking industry has become the largest growing industry of organised crime worldwide. Likewise, in Amsterdam, the city’s Mayor has admitted that prostitution and trafficking have expanded so greatly that they can “no longer control organised crime”.

While Nefarious is at times hard to watch, I believe it is also an extremely important piece of film in today’s world. Throughout the screening I was very much aware of how moved everyone around me was. Quite regularly the quiet hall was interrupted by gasping and shocked whispers, yet everyone agreed that this was a monstrosity we could no longer be silent about. When Cambodian girls can be abused by men for as little as $3 (less than the cost of beer or a plate of grapes in the same venue) it is clear that we must rise up.

The Not Forgotten event was very timely also, with the FBI confirming only a few days later that they had uncovered one of the largest child prostitution rings across America. Freeing over 100 girls aged 13-16 from their captors, FBI Criminal Investigation Assistant Director Ronald Hosko explained that their goal was to bring the subject of child trafficking out into the open.

“Our goal is that child trafficking is openly discussed.”

“We are trying to take this crime out of the shadows and put a spotlight on it … to put them [the children] out of the cycle.”

This too, is the mission of those working within JAM. A heart calling to bring the horrors of the world out of the darkness and into the light; to empower and inspire others to stand up for those who cannot save themselves.

“As Edmund Burke famously said: ‘All that is necessary for evil to succeed is for good men and women to do nothing,’” said Tanya. “This really resonates with me…because I believe that we all have a responsibility to do something; to either make people aware of the issue, to give, or to serve with our time.

“The enemy to creating positive change in our communities is apathy and hopelessness. Each one of us can change one person’s life. And all of the effort, time and money is worth it to powerfully change a person’s destiny.”

uploaded (17)Speaking with musician Jamie Palmer after the event, I asked how he first became aware of human trafficking, and how his passion for social justice has influenced his music.

“I often write about what I see happening, and what’s happening within me. In my songs I like to try and incorporate themes of hope and a bit of a deeper spiritual meaning – but not in an obvious way – just about how we live in this world and how to experience life in a loving and caring way… I guess social justice runs from that. My music tries to bring a connection to experiencing all that we can be as human beings.”

Jamie also explained how he, as a man, feels the burden of helping to stop sex trafficking around the world.

“Sex trafficking really comes down to us guys not being in touch with our true selves, trying to fix the pain and awfulness that we feel inside by grasping for these sexual experiences with women that don’t mean anything to us at the end of the day.

“We need to say to ourselves, enough is enough. We need to ask ourselves, ‘is there an area in my life that contributes directly or indirectly to trafficking? How can I help?’ Whether it’s giving your time, giving your energy or giving financially…we can all do something.”

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uploaded (5)She Rescue volunteer Colin Thomas was another who was also touched deeply by the film, and he spoke passionately to the crowd. Urging us not to be overwhelmed by what is going on in the world, he instead encouraged us to turn that negativity into positive change.

“There needs to be such a movement of mercy,” he said.

“Turn the negative energy around and say to yourself ‘What can I do to help?’”

Not Forgotten was the first of many events to come for JAM, and special thanks goes to The Lawstore Group P/L for generously covering the cost of the hall and sponsors Jadela Jewels, Orb Hair Salon, Oxfam, Chris and Cass for providing the door prizes.

For more information on She Rescue and JAM please visit:

She Rescue – http://www.sherescuehome.org

JAM – https://www.facebook.com/#!/JAMJusticeandMercy

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