The Freedom Hub Survivor School opened in 2014.
It’s a place where survivors of slavery are trained, encouraged and prepared for the workforce.
Survivors come from a range of different cultural backgrounds and are recovering from different types of slavery.
“Most of the survivors have post traumatic stress disorder, they don’t understand Australian language or culture sometimes, so we actually tailor classes to be very practical and very interactive and slow,” said Sally Irwin, the founder of the school. “We really work at their pace, and we’ll have small classes of one, two or three survivors at once.”
Last year she opened a the Freedom Hub Cafe. One hundred per cent of its profits from the cafe go towards the school.
There are about 52 volunteers who teach at the school and a philanthropist pays the rent.
Ms Irwin said it had allowed dozens of people to take part in the program.
“We mainly have people referred to us that have come through forced labour, they may be in a restaurant or in a cafe or in a nail bar or something, where they’ve not been paid and forced to work long hours,” she said.
“We get a lot of young women that have been forced and sold into marriage…14, 15, years of age, and forced to be a domestic slave or sex slave in their own home. We have definitely had some men come in who have been in the building industry, not paid, and of course every country has sex trafficking as well.”
Twenty-four-year-old Hershey Hilado is a volunteer.
She’s helps teach social skills, how to dress for job interviews, and do make up.
“A lot of these women can bounce back, but they think that they’re no longer good enough for society, and I don’t want them to feel that way.” she said.
She knows that feeling all too well.
She was forced into prostitution at the age of 14 by her mother in the Philippines.
But no customers wanted her so at 16, her mother sold her into a forced marriage.
“You wouldn’t expect that your parent, the person that you would expect to protect you from all of these things, would be the one actually doing that to you,” she said. “It’s the feeling of being helpless. I wish that no one to go through it, because its very dark, and I did attempt alot of suicides back then, because I had no where to go, I had no family.”
On Hershey’s wedding night – while her husband was sleeping – she escaped.
“I had to run like three kilometres from the house, with nothing when everyone was asleep. But before all of all of this happened I was raped.”
Forced marriage is a crime in Australia, but not yet recognised in many other countries including the Philippines.
Brides are often young, fearful, manipulated, and sometimes feel shame, making it difficult to know exactly how many people are being exploited.
Jennifer Burn, a laywer who represents Australian survivors and heads the NGO Anti Slavery Australia, said investigations into forced marriages have spiked.
“Forced Marriage referrals have dominated the total percentage of referals to the AFP, so last year 44 per cent of all referals were in the area of forced marriage. This is something that really we hadn’t anticipated would be such a big problem in Australia.” Ms Burn said.
Mr Burn said slavery – more broadly – was a national problem.
State, federal and non-government agencies offer help, but she wants to see an Anti Slavery Commissioner to help coordinate responses.
“At the moment there seems to be some fragmentation in response between the commonwealth and the states, and between the identification of particular forms of harm,” Ms Burn said.
Slavery survivor Hershey Hilado has come a long way since her life in the Philippines.
After her escape, she was homeless for two years, eventually remarried and moved to Australia, and even started her own business.
Now inspired to help others do, what she did.
“These women don’t need pity, they need support,” she said. “They don’t need anyone to look down on them [and say], ‘Oh you poor thing’. We don’t need that, what we need is real support, love and care from other people.
MORE STORIES OF SURVIVAL PROVIDED BY THE FREEDOM HUB
Modern Day Slavery includes many methods of enslaving people within Australia borders.
Human trafficking, debt bondage, sexual slavery, servitile marriage, forced labour, domestic labour, we have even had a case of organ harvesting.
Below are two examples. These are blended stories to protect our clients identity.
Freedom Found From Forced Labour
I grew up in Africa and lost both my parents at a very young age due to the war in my country. My grandparents raised me and my 4 siblings. My grandparents are very old and can no longer work, so when I had a agent come and tell me I could work in Australia in the beauty industry and earn ten times the amount I earn at home I was very happy and I immediately signed up. When I landed in Australia, the agent was there waiting for me. They took me to my new house where I had to share a bedroom with 6 other people sleeping on the floor. I had grown up sharing a small space with my family, so I didn’t think that anything was wrong with my new bedroom. They took my passport for the visa to be organised and the next day I was introduced to my new boss.
My first day at work I worked 14hours without any break for food. I was told that I could only go to the bathroom twice a day and that I would have 5 mins at 11am and 3pm to eat whatever food I brought from home. For the first week I didn’t eat barely anything as I had no money. The other women shared some of their food for me.
After my first week I was paid $80. I had worked 7 days and everyday 7am – 9pm. Even though it was hard work I got more money than I had ever had.
I was at this job for 16months. As the months went I started to get sick. My back was very painful and every time I ate I was in pain. Then it got worse.
One day I was to sick to go to work and my boss kicked me in the stomach because I complained I was in to much pain.
4 days went by and I couldn’t move. I had so much pain. My boss would come in and hit me to try and get me to get up, but I couldn’t.
On the fourth day my friends in my room were worried as they knew if I didn’t go to work my boss would hit me again. When I went to work I was very sick and couldn’t stand, I collapsed. That’s when one of my customers called someone and I ended up in hospital.
In hospital I found out I was lucky to be alive. The police asked questions about the bruises on my body and I didn’t want to explain in case my boss found out. I was scared I would be arrested as my visa hadn’t been organised. That day the police went to my work and rescued all the other women.
Now I am learning English and studying office skills at the Freedom Hub along with other life skill courses. One day I want to work in a office, as I love organising and working on the computer. I’m hoping to get my first proper job in August and start saving money to go home to my family.
Note: this is three survivor stories blended together to protect their identities.
Freedom Found From Sexual Slavery
I come from Nigeria where I studied business and saved to further my studies in Australia so one day I could run a restaurant of my own. Arriving in Sydney I was picked up by my recruitment agency and they took my passport so they could “sort out my visa”.
They took me to a “hotel” and I was forced to live in a room, servicing up to 20 men a day. My keepers explained that if I told the police or tried to escape I would be arrested and never be able to return home again.
I did not understand why this was happening to me. I did not want this job.
I didn’t sleep much, I didn’t eat much. I eventually was forced to take drugs to keep my energy up and then had to sell them. I was moved to 6 other “hotels” over 2 years. One day the police came and shut down the “hotel”. I was taken away and taken to a safe house.
Since that day I celebrate my freedom everyday. Although I have lost two years of my life and still suffer nightmares , I have learnt strength, endurance and the importance of freedom.
I attend lessons 4 times a week at the Freedom Hub, learning new life skills and work skills to prepare me for working in Australia. One day I would still like to run my own restaurant and the Freedom Hub has given me the opportunity to learn new skills.
Soon, when I am working, I will be able to send finances back home to my family to be able to support them. One day I hope to go and see them again.
Note: this is three survivor stories blended together to protect their identities.