11:03pm Sunday 13 October 2019

Mercy Sister’s research gives voices to women in sex trafficking

A black and white image of a woman sitting, head in hands, on a dirt floor.

The research has given a human face to sex trafficking in the Philippines.

Marietta Latonio stands aside Dr Angela Reed, who is attired in her academic regalia.

Angela Reed and her assistant Marietta Latonio at Reed’s graduation.

After managing Mercy Care refuge for nearly a decade, Dr Angela Reed completed her PhD at the School of Global, Urban and Social Studies, discovering that sex trafficking is an immensely complex global problem with no one standardised sex trafficking experience.

More importantly, she can now put a name, a face and a story to the problem, stories that she is keen to share.

Reed’s thesis, Exploiting Vulnerability: A Study of the Lives of Filipino Women Who Have Been Trafficked into Sex Work, has given a human face to sex trafficking in the Philippines and explored the complex lives of 40 trafficked women.

Findings from conducting these interviews challenge common views that sex trafficking is a one-off event or that young girls are snatched from their villages and safe communities and sold, or forced into sex work.

 “So often people discussing sex trafficking will attribute it to poverty; however there has been little research done that involves qualitative, in-depth interviews with trafficked women,” Reed said.

“Sex trafficking is complicated and whilst the cause is demand for sex services, traffickers prey on those who have countless vulnerabilities, which can include childhood abuse, social isolation, lack of education and specific local factors.”

Reed’s interest in sex trafficking was triggered by her work at Mercy Care, as she wanted to know what led to the women being trafficked into Australia and what was happening in the source countries.

 “For the majority of the women in my study, sex trafficking was part of a life journey that began with their experiences as children through to being trafficked as adolescents,” Reed said.

RMIT University

“Tragically, for many women, sex trafficking is part of a lifelong continuum of violence that begins when they are young girls, some as young as three.”

Reed argues that sex trafficking needs to be considered through multiple paradigms including the localised paradigm, which recognises the historic, socio-economic and political contexts in which trafficking occurs in that region or country. 

“Sex trafficking in the Philippines has been influenced by local factors including the presence of the US military and the subsequent development of sex tourism, whereas trafficking in countries such as Cambodia would have different local influences such as the Khmer Rouge’s reign,” she said.

“The other paradigms are globalisation, economics, migration, criminal, gender, human rights and the life course paradigm that recognises the continuum of violent abuse from childhood to adulthood.”

Reed hopes that the women’s stories presented in her thesis will challenge perceptions and demand that people see sex trafficking through a different lens.

“Once we have a better understanding of sex trafficking, we can develop better responses, allocate aid and other resources more effectively and advocate in a more focussed way,” she said.

Reed, together with her bilingual research assistant, Marietta Latonio, is working on a book detailing the stories of the women interviewed for the general public, anti-trafficking activists, and policy makers, to be released later this year.

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