October 21, 2013
Women trafficked into Australia to work as sex slaves are being given a chance to start a new life thanks to a groundbreaking program giving them access to state-funded compensation.
Anti-Slavery Australia, a non-government organisation, and law firm Clayton Utz have won more than $1 million for 22 women forced to work in brothels in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Canberra. The average payout was $50,000.
David Hillard, a partner at Clayton Utz who runs the firm’s pro bono practice, worked with young women from Thailand, Malaysia and the Philippines who were the victims of ”horrific acts of slavery”.
He said most came from poor backgrounds, had little or no English and were forced to have sex with as many as 1500 men to pay off ”debts” of up to $60,000.
”There are probably hundreds of women brought into Australia each year for sex slavery,” he said.
”What we’ve done has not been rocket science. But it was novel in that I think we took a particular set of circumstances and were able to recognise that you could get victims’ compensation.”
Mr Hillard said the compensation ”means, at a practical level, that they’re suddenly lifted from a hand-to-mouth existence”.
Some of the women used the compensation to start up small businesses, find secure accommodation, enrol in education courses, or return home for the first time to see their parents.
Anti-Slavery Australia, part of the University of Technology, Sydney, and Clayton Utz are working on another 20 cases involving women who were forced to work in a brothel in North Sydney.
But they will be eligible for less generous recognition payments.
The state government has announced a radical overhaul of its compensation scheme for victims of violent crime in May after a review by accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers found it was financially unsustainable.
Under the new scheme, funded by proceeds of crime, the maximum payout has been cut from $50,000 to $15,000 and is only available in cases involving a death. For sexual assault victims that survive, the limit is $10,000, although other payments may be available to cover immediate expenses such as emergency medical treatment.
Jennifer Burn, an associate professor at UTS and the director of Anti-Slavery Australia, said the cuts to the NSW scheme underscored the need for a national compensation scheme for trafficked people.
”We’ve got eight different schemes [for victims of crime] operating around Australia and every single one of those schemes has different time limits, different thresholds,” she said.
”Looking at this nationally is really important.”
Ms Burn said the NSW scheme also needed to be broadened to cover slavery and forced labour ”in other kinds of work environments”, such as people trafficked into Australia on a skilled visa to work in kitchens.
The NSW scheme, under which decisions are made by the newly created Commissioner of Victims Rights based on written evidence, generally only provides a remedy in cases of sexual assault and sexual servitude.
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