CQUniversity Laws student Stephanie Jones has spent the past four years working on the frontline of human trafficking prevention, with global anti-slavery organisation A21 in Bangkok, Thailand.
To mark World Day Against Trafficking in Persons on Thursday 30 July, Stephanie shares her experience, and calls on all students to take action against exploitation around the world.
Imagine only being three years old, and trafficked to a neighbouring country in southeast Asia because your family are too poor to keep you.
Once there, you are sold again.
Over the course of five years, you are forced to spend days and nights on the streets just outside the casino, begging for money as part of a child trafficking ring.
If you or the other children don’t make enough money you’re beaten and denied food and water. Sleeping on the streets and working excessive hours, you are forced to sniff glue by your traffickers to stay awake. You become dependent on the glue. Extreme malnourishment, physical and developmental delays, are becoming your ‘normal’. Late one evening, while begging on the border of two countries, you are identified by the local police.
That’s where our team come in. We help find you an amazing foster care family. Arrange private drug rehabilitation, medical treatment, occupational therapy, and counselling. You attended school for the very first time and you love it. You can play soccer and make new friends. You’ve decided you want to be a police officer when you grow up so you can help other children just like you.
By reaching those who may be vulnerable to trafficking with prevention information, educating students and teachers on what human trafficking looks like, and empowering people like yourselves through awareness campaigns to be conscious of your choices and to report suspicious scenarios like the story above – we are stopping slavery before it starts.
Finding passion for people
Growing up in Brisbane, Australia, even when I have faced difficulties, I’ve always felt safe and supported.
My mum, brothers and I always sponsored children with global aid agency World Vision (WV). This helped me realise from a young age how volatile the world can be for so many people and the importance of being generous with whatever you have.
In High School I had the opportunity to attend a WV youth leadership conference designed to inspire youth into action. It worked! I started volunteering with WV, I changed my study focus to the humanities, I started sponsoring WV children (still do) and eventually ended up working with WV after I graduated high school.
Volunteering was a great way to realise the extent of global poverty issues and to meet passionate, like-minded people (who became life-long friends). It was also the best way to see solutions and see how I could contribute. Volunteering with WV and many other organisations over the years equipped me for the work I do now.
If you want to take action for a better world, volunteering is a great place to start. Find what you’re passionate about and make time, you won’t regret it.
On the frontline
In 2016 I moved to Thailand to oversee Thailand’s REACH (Prevention, Awareness and Education) department for the global not-for-profit A21.
I help to develop and implement prevention programs, research projects and awareness campaigns across the region; educate young people on how to avoid exploitation; train professionals to identify human trafficking; and help drive programs to identify and protect trafficking survivors.
My job connects me with thousands of at risk and disadvantaged children across the region, where we are able to run programs to equip the next generation with the skills to empower and protect themselves.
Because of the work I do, it can be particularly frustrating when I see Australians in South East Asia who are buying into human trafficking. Although it can be unknowingly, when people come and solicit sex workers here, they can become part of the problem, supporting exploitation – and often they justify it as ‘well, they need the money!’
This mindset is a problem across all forms of exploitation – ‘we want it cheap, they need the money, what’s the problem?’.
That attitude is just so ignorant, and so dangerous. This is why education about all the realities of human trafficking needs to start with us, and with our younger generations.
People need to come to the realisation that it’s not just a ‘rest of the world’ problem. You can read more about the global trafficking situation in Australia and around the world here.
Since 2018, I’ve been studying CQUniversity’s Bachelor of Laws via distance education, working towards a career in policy and legislation around human trafficking.
I love what I do, so my main goal is to continue working in human rights and incorporate legal advocacy in some way. I’m already volunteering doing some legal research into anti-trafficking. Working on the ground you often see such a big gap between policy-makers and the frontline, so I really want to help close that gap.
A21’s work around the world is focused on assisting survivors of human trafficking, and on educating everyone about human trafficking and exploitation, and ways in which we can be part of the solution in preventing it.
It is a $150 billion industry globally, and the United Nations’ definition of human trafficking is more than 200 words of complex legal jargon – so it’s not surprising that people feel overwhelmed by that.
But everyone can take steps to educate themselves, and then small steps like changing how you shop or supporting awareness events like A21’s Global Freedom Summit in on 17 October can make a big difference.
Support the cause
Human trafficking is such a horrifying, overwhelming situation – but the human traffickers are in the minority; there is a far greater number of good, kind and compassionate people in the world.
If the good people can actively make efforts to stay informed and be more deliberate in combatting exploitation and change how they interact with the issue, then there is hope for ending it globally, too.
This World Day Against Trafficking in Persons on Thursday 30 July, I hope everyone can make just one or two changes to their lives, to protect and empower people at risk of human trafficking.