Human trafficking, forced marriage, debt bondage – these are the faces of modern-day slavery. They’re also issues being tackled by UTS’s legal research and policy centre, Anti-Slavery Australia. Final-year medical science/law student Rachael Kim-Ainsworth reveals what it’s like to work with the centre and how the experience has turned a “romantic idea of helping people” into a vocation.
Being part of Anti-Slavery Australia has, in essence, allowed me to achieve my dream of helping people. In my indecision as a high schooler I was not sure if I wanted to pursue law or science and found the opportunity, offered by UTS, to have a foot in the door of both career paths to be irresistible.
Having said that, I will never forget the moment I first told some of my friends and family about my new internship with Anti-Slavery Australia. As soon as the words left my mouth I could see their faces scrunch a little in confusion and then incredulity.
Even more astounding than their reactions were their comments suggesting that slavery was a historical artifact - that of African-American slaves and slaves in chains. I was so shocked that I only managed to mumble something about human trafficking and debt bondage in the world today before promptly excusing myself.
Unfortunately, this wasn’t to be the only time people responded to my internship in this way. But, thankfully, I have become better at responding to disbelief and calling out ignorance when I hear it.
In Australia, those who are victims of human trafficking and slavery are often deceived with promises of a better life, of greater opportunities for work, and a more fruitful means of providing for their families.
In reality, victims may be forced to pay their traffickers tens of thousands of dollars as a debt for being brought to Australia. They are often forced to work long hours in sub-standard working conditions, with minimal rest and little or no pay.
To be honest, before I started working with Anti-Slavery Australia (a university centre that focuses on the abolition of slavery, trafficking and extreme labour exploitation based in UTS’s Faculty of Law), my own eyes weren’t fully open to the global issues of human trafficking and slavery. Despite being aware of its occurrence around the world, I was fairly ignorant of its existence in Australia. But not anymore.
Through my combined degree of medical science and law, I was offered the chance to select, as an elective, a subject called The Law of Slavery and Human Trafficking. The subject is taught by Anti-Slavery Australia Director Professor Jennifer Burn.
Under Jennifer’s tutelage my understanding of the definitions, issues, and laws relating to human trafficking and slavery broadened, and a passion to somehow make a change began to brew inside me. As soon as Jennifer mentioned, in class, that there were opportunities available to undertake a practical legal training placement with Anti-Slavery Australia, I jumped at the chance. And life has not quite been the same since.
Currently, I work as an intern at Anti-Slavery Australia three days a week during regular business hours. Once I complete my 80-day placement, I plan to continue working there as a volunteer. Why? Being an intern at Anti-Slavery Australia means I have interacted with clients; conducted research into matters like forced marriage; worked on applications for citizenship, protection visas, and referred stay visas; and helped draft parliamentary submissions about Anti-Slavery Australia’s stance on the current laws of human trafficking in Australia.
For a small centre with five permanent members, the amount of work done by Anti-Slavery Australia is phenomenal.
The centre stays with their clients, more or less, for life – from the time they’re first identified as a trafficked person, or a victim of slavery or slavery-like practices or forced marriage, through their relevant visa applications (such as the referred stay visa or a protection visa), their compensation claims, and whichever other matters they need assistance with.
I always had this romantic idea of helping people by developing groundbreaking medications, but I had never truly considered helping people by ensuring their rights as a human being were protected. Through Anti-Slavery Australia I have found my calling; this is the kind of legal work I hope to practice.
I will admit it hasn’t been easy to work in a centre that focuses on assisting victims of trafficking, slavery and forced marriage. There have been many moments when my heart has sunk into my stomach. I will also admit to having gone home after a day in the office feeling upset because a former client had re-connected with Anti-Slavery Australia, seeking help to escape circumstances that continued to be unjust, unfair and heartbreaking. It can take so long for a client to achieve freedom.
But all this heartache simply fuels my desire to ensure that all people, not just our clients, are treated with respect. Respect is fundamental to ensuring dignity and rights are maintained; and it’s key to being a good citizen of the world.
I am very thankful that I have been able to be involved with Anti-Slavery Australia. My experiences have been profound, and will stay with me forever. They’re also experiences I hope to share by encouraging others to volunteer with, donate to or undertake Anti-Slavery Australia’s eLearning program.
Slavery is not an issue of the past, nor is it a matter that we can sweep under the rug. By acknowledging and accepting its existence, it is something we can work together to prevent and resolve.