Survivors fight back against trafficking

·3-min read

When Tsvetelina Thompson confronted her trafficker in a Dutch court after a 10-year legal fight, she felt a brief moment of victory. But to this day, she still fears for her life.

The Bulgarian survivor, 36, was trafficked into bonded prostitution in her native country at the age of 16. She was then taken to Greece before ending up in Amsterdam's infamous red-light district, from where she managed to escape her indentured life.

"For years I lived in fear ... even now if I go back to Bulgaria for a visit I always look over my shoulder because (the trafficker's) people are still there," she told AAP from Florida, where she runs Twentyfour-Seven, an organisation dedicated to empowering trafficked women.

This week, Mrs Thompson will address a modern slavery summit bringing together Australian law enforcement officials, policymakers and technologists.

Her advocacy group developed a QR code that can be easily scanned through a smartphone to provide critical information in several languages to trafficked women who want to contact law enforcement agencies.

It also allows businesses such as hotels, where many underage girls are effectively trapped through constant sex work, to report incidents of trafficking to relevant authorities.

The code has the ability to capture the exact location of where a report of human trafficking is made and provides a way for victims to ask for help without them needing to self-identify as a victim.

Australia is not immune from the scourge of modern slavery in its many guises.

There is no national data reporting the number of identified victims, but the most recent Global Slavery Index estimates that on any given day in 2016 there were 15,000 people living in conditions of modern slavery across Australia.

This is a concerning number to NSW Detective Chief Inspector Darren Jameson, who is also speaking at the summit.

He identified four major types of modern slavery - forced marriage, forced labour, sexual slavery and human trafficking - that authorities are focused on tackling.

Det Chief Insp Jameson noted 1900 reports relating to modern slavery were received by the Australian Federal Police between 2020 and 2021. Forced marriage reports made up 35 per cent of the total.

"It's our highest contributor at the moment in the modern slavery network ... and we're starting to see the expansion of other forms of modern slavery," he told AAP.

"These people subjected to modern slavery are normally the most vulnerable and disadvantaged so their susceptibility to the crime is very, very high".

NSW is the first state in Australia to introduce standalone modern slavery legislation to complement national laws.

Its regime, which came into effect this year, requires government agencies, local councils and corporations to make sure the goods and services they procure are not the product of modern slavery.

It also created the country's first Anti-Slavery Commissioner, an independent office with oversight over government agencies.

In March, the federal government ordered a statutory review of its 2018 Modern Slavery Act to improve compliance.

Det Chief Insp Jameson lauded the landmark NSW laws and steps by the federal government as necessary legal boosts in the fight against modern slavery.

However, he also advocated for a holistic approach to tackling an illegal enterprise that was worth billions of dollars to criminal cartels.

"I don't think the battle is about just cutting the head off," he said.

"The battle is at a community level, raising the awareness and then disrupting (cartels') criminal activities ... to the point where it can no longer be viable for them."

For Mrs Thompson, the transnational nature of sexual slavery has become more sophisticated, with victims now able to be lured via social media. In order to prevent more victims being trafficked, communities must be vigilant - starting with parents.

"Traffickers right now are targeting kids online ... when you don't talk about it, it's swept under the rug," she said.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting