Modern slavery victim Sandra says she was ‘controlled ‘and ‘scared’ of her employers
A group of Australian religious leaders is launching the Australian Freedom Network today in Canberra to develop practical solutions to free people living enslaved in Australia.
Today is the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery, and as a former victim of modern day slavery, Sandra was chosen to present her story at the launch.
“I am so pleased to be here as living proof that slavery happens in Australia,” she told AM.
Sandra’s story is about a poor woman with two sons who was offered the opportunity of a lifetime to work as a housekeeper in Australia.
“They told me that they will help with my permanent residency and they’ll pay me for doing their housework,” she said.
Sandra trusted her employers to do the right thing but as soon as she arrived in Western Sydney it all began to go bad.
“After three weeks they took my passport,” Sandra said.
“I started doing all their work, all the housework like washing, cleaning, cleaning the swimming pool, looking after the dogs, cooking, gardening. I did some gardening. And massaging the lady too.”
Sandra was the modern equivalent of a slave to the family for three years, she was trapped, a prisoner that was never allowed to leave the house by herself.
“Sometimes I asked for some money but she was just saying, ‘oh, I have no money’ and the husband didn’t give me money and stuff,” she said.
“I used to go out shopping with her, just push the trolley, come back home, tidy up all the things. But not by myself.
“They did control me and a lot of things. I was scared.
“They were always swearing, threatening me. And the boys were always fighting with me.”
Neighbours tip off authorities
Sandra was eventually rescued after, she thinks, a neighbour tipped off the authorities. Her story is sadly not an isolated one.
“A vulnerable person in a developing country is offered a good job or a good opportunity or a relationship. They go willingly.”Freedom Partnership to End Modern Slavery, Jenny Stanger
The national manager of the Freedom Partnership to End Modern Slavery, Jenny Stanger said she thinks the real number of slaves is much higher than what is estimated.
“Well the Global Slavery Index last year estimated that about 3,000 people are currently enslaved in Australia.”
Ms Stranger said the problem spreads across a range of industries including agriculture, construction, hospitality and domestic help.
“A vulnerable person in a developing country is offered a good job or a good opportunity or a relationship. They go willingly,” she said.
“And when they get to that destination what they find is that it’s a bait and switch and that what they were promised isn’t what actually is delivered.”
The Australian Freedom Network, led by the Salvation Army, is modelled on the Global Freedom Network started by Pope Francis last year.
“We just thought it would be a great idea to bring together a very, very broad group of faith-based organisations to amplify and really start to build a faith movement against slavery in Australia,” Ms Stanger said.
Sandra’s message is that if she can make it, so too can others whose lives have been blighted by slavery.
“I am also living proof that people who have experienced slavery can achieve many things, contribute to our community and lead a happy life.”