NEWS CENTRE

Melbourne sister advocating for trafficked women

Melbourne Sister of Mercy, Angela Reed, who was first alerted to the plight of trafficked women while working at a women’s refuge in Melbourne, will help take the ‘voices’ of trafficked women to the Asia Pacific NGO Forum -Beijing+15 this week (October 22-24) in Manila.

Angela, who has been a member of the Mercy Congregation for 16 years, will present her research report at the international forum and provide an opportunity for two trafficked women, who participated in the research, to tell their stories.

Angela will present findings of the research which she carried out in the red light district of Cebu, a large city in the Philippines. Her research was assisted by another nun, Tonette Go, a Good Shepherd Sister who runs a Welcome House in Cebu for girls and women working in the red light district. Tonette also runs a micro-finance scheme for the women who want to leave prostitution and earn a fair wage. They earn a just wage by making beaded conference nametags which are sold by Good Shepherd Trading Circle shops in Australia.

One of the key findings of Angela’s research report, "An Exploration of Human Trafficking for Sexual Exploitation in Cebu, Philippines", was that women who have been trafficked into prostitution are experts in their field and should be considered a vital source of information and wisdom when developing programmes to prevent the trafficking of humans, or when developing rehabilitation programmes for survivors of human trafficking.

At the NGO Forum in Manila, the women will have a chance to tell their stories. Many of the stories are heartbreaking tales of girls forced to leave home very young to earn money for their families.

Although the research was carried out in the Philippines, it is now being used by anti-trafficking groups in Australia to inform lobbying campaigns and policy development.

Angela hopes NGOs and other groups worldwide will learn from the women who speak at the forum. “We often have experts speak at these international gatherings, but we seldom hear from the people who are the subjects of our discussions.”

“The stories behind each person’s trafficking experience are very complex, but one of the themes that emerged in my research was poverty. It is the same reason many women are trafficked into Australia, it is a major cause of their vulnerability,” Angela said.

Angela, a trained primary school teacher and counsellor, worked for many years as manager of Mercy Care, a safe house in Melbourne for women and children who have experienced domestic violence.

“I believe that some of the women who sought accommodation at Mercy Care had been trafficked. I vividly remember one woman who came to us for refuge had entered Australia on a spousal visa. But when she arrive the man locked her in a bungalow in his backyard and forced her to have sex with him and his friends,” Angela said.

“I don’t know if he made money from that trade, but her life was miserable. He had her visa and she had no chance of escaping without a lot of support.”

“Other women came to us after being referred from a hospital. Another woman came to us after escaping through a toilet window at a cinema. Her ‘husband’ had allowed her out with him to the movies. Poverty is behind so much of what happens to these women.”

Angela is also the Victorian Convener of ACRATH – Australian Catholic Religious Against Trafficking in Humans – an organisation of women from religious orders who have joined forces and resources to try and combat trafficking. They work nationally and are forging links with Asian partners.

The Asia Pacific Beijing+15 forum in Manila is a wonderful collaboration between women religious, volunteers and lay people in the Asia Pacific region. Angela hopes that the voices of the trafficked women will lead to a greater understanding of the issues and causes of this growing global injustice.

Angela, who recently completed her Masters, hopes to begin her PhD on trafficking next year.

Source: Good Shepherd Centre for Justice & Fair Trade