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The hidden toll of slavery and trafficking in SA

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Slavery and human trafficking of mainly migrant women and workers exists in South Australia but is largely hidden from society and authorities, according to a Flinders University academic.

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Associate Professor Marinella Marmo has written a pilot study gathering evidence of practices she said remained largely unknown and unreported due to victims’s circumstance making them unwilling to reveal their abuse.

“It is everywhere, yet it is invisible,” she said today.

“It’s happening around us and these are the stories, this is the data.

“There was a woman who was forced to work for her husband’s family on their farm and serve the family; she had to do the cleaning, cooking.

“In another case of domestic servitude there was a woman who was forced to sleep outside the house.

“The case of labour exploitation – a female worker in the horticultural industry paying an accommodation racket – had a layer of sexual servitude injected as she was requested to perform sexual favours to get more hours.

“Each story is unique and needs to be considered an important story, however all of these stories together help us look at the prevalence of age and gender and nationality because we want to see what is emerging from all of these cases.”

A paper published by the Australian Institute of Criminology estimated the number of human trafficking and slavery victims in Australia to be between 1300 and 1900.

For Marmo’s study she interviewed service providers – businesses that work with migrants or unions – to recount stories of women who had been “reduced like an object, a commodity” across slavery, human trafficking, forced marriage and labour exploitation contexts.

She said service providers suggested victims come from a mix of backgrounds – gender, age, social class and ethnicity – and involve complex situations; however, Marmo told InDaily her data reveals a different trend in one sector.

“On a national level, some victims are ‘nationals”, which are Australian national or permanent residents, but in South Australia you really don’t see that as prevalent as with national data,” she said.

“The vast majority of those people who are trafficked come from Asian countries.

“[But] there are also cases of people coming from Europe entering these conditions of extreme exploitation.”

Marmo will present the report on Thursday in full at the Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery in South Australia Forum, held at Flinders University, to an audience including the Federal Department of Home Affairs, Australian Federal Police, Anti-Slavery Australia and more.

Impetus for the research came from being informally told stories about slavery and trafficking, but having no quantitative data to check it against.

“I was already working in the field and already talking to service providers, and I wasn’t surprised because they were sharing their observations in the field, but it remained as an anecdotal account,” she said.

“To have everything put together on paper, that is overwhelming.”

Marmo said the information could assist state and federal authorities, who might be unaware of the prevalence of exploitation as some victims were reluctant to involve police.

“They are caught up in a difficult web, with many being bound to visa conditions, yet often their sponsor is also the culprit,” she said.

“The most tragic stories are of domestic servitude in bridal or similar type of visas.

“If their clients want to enter the national support program they have to talk to the Federal Police [but] it’s a problem because a lot of these people don’t want to.”

She said she hopes the one-day conference will “identify what we can do together to improve the situation”.

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