Ending human trafficking down to every human, says frontline advocate

Published:28 July 2020

CQUniversity Laws student Stephanie Jones has a frontline role fighting human trafficking with anti-slavery organisation A21 in Thailand.

Australians may feel like they live in a ‘safe haven’ from human trafficking, but anti-slavery advocate and CQUniversity law student Stephanie Jones says stopping the global scourge relies on awareness and action here, too.

For more than four years Stephanie has worked on the frontlines of human trafficking prevention, with global anti-slavery organisation A21 in Bangkok, Thailand.

The passionate Queenslander oversees Thailand’s REACH (Prevention, Awareness and Education) department for A21, driving programs to identify, protect and rehabilitate trafficking survivors, and to educate young people how to avoid exploitation.

“I think most Aussies would assume human trafficking is an important issue that happens ‘somewhere else’, but even in Australia there are examples of people trapped and exploited by traffickers and criminal syndicates,” Stephanie explained.

“Yes, it seems much more widespread and publicly confronting in a place like Thailand, but the truth is that exploitation happens in every nation and what is happening in Thailand and globally is impacted by the choices that people in Australia are making every day.”

Stephanie said forced child labour in industries like fishing, cocoa, manufacture/ garment and farming is common practice. However, consumers can help to address these issues through improved  awareness and by making ethically based choices.

“Many people are usually unaware of unethical supply chains, but once they do become aware, we’ve seen community anger towards major companies in the past, actually force them to get ethical, because enough people say ‘we’re not going to buy it’,” she explained.

Stephanie said A21’s work assists survivors of human trafficking, educates young people to prevent human trafficking and exploitation, and works closely with at-risk communities.

“Human trafficking 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,” she said.

“But everyone can take steps to educate themselves, and then take small steps, like changing how you shop or supporting awareness events like A21’s Global Freedom Summit in October can make a big difference.”

For World Day Against Trafficking in Persons on Thursday 30 July, the United Nations has urged communities to celebrate frontline workers who respond to human trafficking situations, especially as they’ve faced tougher conditions due to the global COVID-19 pandemic.

Stephanie wants to use the day to connect fellow Australians with the realities of her work.

“It’s so confronting to see Australians in Thailand who are buying into human trafficking, often unknowingly, when they come and solicit sex workers here, and they justify it as ‘well, they need the money!’ In fact, this is often the mindset when it comes to all forms of exploitation, ‘we want it cheap, they need the money, what’s the problem?’”.

“It’s just so ignorant, and so dangerous – so 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.”

Stephanie has been studying CQUniversity’s Bachelor of Laws via distance education, and is working towards a career in policy and legislation around human trafficking.

“Studying law gives you an extra level of understanding - it’s making a big impact on me;  I don’t have to rely on anyone else to explain complex legislation to me,” she said.

“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 see such a big gap between policy-makers and frontline, so I really want to help close that gap.”

Originally from Toogoolawah, Stephanie grew up in Brisbane with her brothers and mum, and attended Mitchelton High School. It was her family commitment to sponsoring World Vision children that helped spark her passion for social justice.

“Human trafficking is such a horrifying, overwhelming situation – but the human traffickers are in the minority, and there is a far greater number of good, kind, and compassionate people in the world than bad," she said.

“If good people can change the way they interact with the issue, and make efforts to stay informed, there is hope for ending human trafficking across the globe.”

Read more from Stephanie here: