Aussie woman reveals harrowing life kept as a 'slave'

Modern slavery is said to be increasing in Australia, with numbers doubling since 2018.

An Australian woman has bravely revealed the "catastrophic" impact being a 'modern slave' has had on her life — something thousands of people around the country still face in 2023.

Sarah, whose name has been changed for privacy reasons, grew up in what she believes was a cult "influenced by an extreme religious group".

She did however manage to flee at 21, but the damaging teachings during her upbringing continued to have "huge ramifications" on her in adult life, and ultimately saw her fall into a relationship where she was trapped and controlled.

A photo of an Australian woman shared her harrowing experience with modern slavery.
An Australian woman shared her harrowing experience with modern slavery. Source: The Sunday Project

"I entered a string of relationships that were problematic. I had to do whatever the man told me to do, I didn’t know anything about consent," she told The Sunday Project.

"I didn’t know that I could say no to things, and in my case there was quite a lot of financial stress that resulted from that situation."

The moment she found herself a 'modern slave'

While being a nurse and dancer, she found herself with $20,000 in debt that she felt would "bury [her] for the rest of her life". At that point a coworker at a strip club suggested she work for a man who would "set her up" and "keep her safe". Reflecting back on it, Sarah said she was "too desperate and blind" to notice the red flags.

"It changed quite gradually, the guilt trips started, there were belligerent phone calls telling me ‘you don’t care about me, you girls are all selfish’, all of these kind of psychological things," she told the program.

"He made us feel like we owed him for giving us this work. He said that we'd have to buy that out for all the work that he'd invested and the loss to him if we left."

When "plucking up the courage" to ask the price of her freedom, Sarah was told is would cost her $25,000.

"I felt like I was owned by someone. I didn't have any choice about my own life anymore... I couldn't voice any feelings and if I did, there would be consequences," she told The Project.

Thankfully, after chatting to a lawyer who mentioned words like trafficking and debt bondage when describing her situation, Sarah's eyes were opened to the "different ways" slavery could happen to people, starting a months-long journey to extricate herself.

What is modern slavery?

There are believed to be some 41,000 modern slaves in Australia, a figure which has doubled since 2018, according to human rights group Walk Free.

Modern slavery includes exploitative practices such as forced labour, forced marriage, human trafficking and debt bondage.

In 2019, the country developed a Modern Slavery Act, however the act has been criticised for several oversights, such as not including penalties for companies that fail to comply or having an independent authority.

In May of this year, the government took on one of the complaints and committed funding for a national anti-slavery commissioner — who is advised by people like Sarah on a survivors council.

If you or someone you know may be at risk of modern slavery, call the Australian Federal Police on 131 237 or report through their online form.

with AAP

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