*Trigger warning: this article talks about violence against women and children.
Taking part in Polished Man 2019? Some of your fundraising efforts will support Hagar Australia, a non-profit working to rebuild the lives of women and children affected by human trafficking, modern slavery and sexual violence.
Sophea grew up in the back of a market. One day, her father took her to the market and handed her to a friend of his. “My father just looked at me, allowing her to take me, without saying a word,” Sophea reflects.
She was four years old.
Sophea was driven 300 kilometres away, and required to work day-in, day-out, and was routinely abused. Sophea was now a slave. For years, she was moved between homes. Everyone was violent towards her – even the children. She tried to run away, many times, only to be caught and punished.
Then, one day, Sophea took one of the children’s bicycles and pedalled as fast as she could, for as long as she could. Eventually, she was stopped by some people who said she was too young to be riding alone in the dark. They took her to the village chief, who referred her to Hagar, an international non-profit that works on rescuing and rehabilitating those affected by and trapped in slavery and slave-like conditions.
“When I first came to Hagar, I was so happy,” says Sophea. “Happy to escape a life of violence and running away. Happy that I had found a safe place. I found parents who loved me and gave me a chance to go to school. I finally got what I always wanted.”
While the thirteenth amendment might have prohibited slavery in the United States in 1865, despite what most people think that’s not where the story ends. In fact, there are more people in slavery today than at any other time in human history.
“I think people are surprised to hear that,” says Jo Pride, CEO of Hagar Australia, a Polished Man recipient for 2019. Hagar’s aim is simple: to restore the lives of women and children in Afghanistan, Cambodia and Vietnam who have lived through human trafficking, modern slavery and sexual violence.
“We’re talking more than 40 million people trapped in slavery in the modern world today,” says Jo, CEO. “We don’t want to get these women and children just back to where they were before the abuse occurred, we want them to thrive, to become leaders in their communities.”
Of course, finding Hagar was just the beginning of Sophea’s long journey to healing. Now a young woman, she has graduated from university with a Bachelor of Social Work, and works for an organisation that empowers Cambodian girls through education. “Through the years, my passion to help girls like me has become stronger,” she says.
In 2017, Sophea boarded a plane for the very first time. It was bound for Australia, where she was due to give evidence to a Parliamentary Inquiry into whether Australia should introduce a Modern Slavery Act. Supported by Pride, and their Patron, Rachel Griffiths, Sophea spoke of the horrors of being sold into slavery.
On the 1st of January 2019, thanks to the help of Sophea and many other advocates and organisations, Australia’s Modern Slavery Act was introduced. At a top-level, it requires high-profile Australian businesses to look into and report on their supply chains, and seeks to prevent products that have been made by slave labour making it onto Australian shores.
But while this is great news for tackling Australia’s involvement – known or unknown – in modern slavery, there’s still plenty the average Australian can do to help combat this particularly global injustice.
“The first thing is to find organisations that are doing good, reputable work with survivors and give to them,” says Pride. “The second thing is to be a responsible tourist – which means not visiting or volunteering in orphanages. We have children in our care now who’ve been severely abused in orphanage situations.
“The final thing is to be a responsible and ethical consumer – tell your favourite brands that you care about slavery, that you don't want to purchase products that have been made using slavery at any stage in the supply chain, and encourage Australian companies to get this stuff out of their supply chain.”
Sign up to Polished Man 2019 today to help organisations like Hagar Australia support survivors of human trafficking, modern slavery and sexual violence. You can also help make slavery-free purchasing choices with the Ethical Fashion Guide.
When joining the Bank Australia fundraising team this October we’ll chip in $10 once you raise your first funds, and an extra $10 when you raise $100.
If you are worried about unhealthy, abusive or violent behaviour in any of your relationships, or or someone you know, contact 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit www.1800RESPECT.org.au for online chat counselling, information and referrals. This service is free, confidential and available 24 hours, 365 days.
In an emergency, call the police on 000.