Christine Teo works as a Senior Advisor in the Department of Health and Human Services in Victoria, Australia. Outside of work, she runs Generation 414, a social enterprise that reaches, rescues and restores women and children whose lives have been negatively impacted by the sex industry through the online sale of their handmade products. Each product a consumer buys is handmade by a survivor and helps to secure their freedom and restoration. Christine hopes to serve a notoriously difficult-to-reach demographic of commercially sexually exploited women by providing skills training and educational support while delivering long-term sustainable income through her social enterprise. She wants to alleviate poverty while simultaneously creating a global awareness around the issue of human trafficking and invites the public to join her and make a stand against this social injustice. She seeks to make a positive change in the world.
This is Christine's change-making story as shared with Affluent Society from Australia:
Human slavery is alive today
Experts have calculated that roughly 13 million people were captured and sold as slaves between the 15th and 19th centuries; today, an estimated 45.8 million people – more than three times the figure during the transatlantic slave trade – are living in some form of modern slavery, according to the Global Slavery Index and the Walk Free Foundation. Women and girls comprise 71% of all modern slavery victims. Children make up 25% and account for 10 million of all the slaves worldwide. Women and girls make up 98% of victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation and about 2 million children are exploited every year in the global commercial sex trade. Studies have also shown that the average age of a trafficked child is only 12 years old.
While I was in Thailand a few years back my travelling partner and I would normally ride by the beach and there would be sex workers in the evening lining the beach waiting for “business” or to be picked up. It made me very upset watching how my own gender had to be doing what they were doing to make a living. On one occasion, we saw an older man (retiree aged) with a child that looked about 5 years old in the waters doing the most inappropriate and disgusting things to the child while his friend was on the beach with a video camera filming it all down. At dinner that night, I saw a sex tourist with an underaged sex slave in the restaurant where I was at. I sat there thinking, what’s going to happen to the her on the next table after this meal? What is going to be done to her at night? And the night after and the night after until someone steps in and offers her an alternative life?
On another occasion, I was in another area in a known trafficking hot spot in Malaysia and in the middle of the night I heard a loud scream outside my hotel door which woke me up. I quickly went to and a look through the door’s peek hole and saw a young girl being dragged down the hotel’s corridor by two men screaming “Tolong! Tolong!” (Help! Help!). My heart was palpitating. I wanted to rush out and help but I know I risk being dragged away by the men myself. It absolutely broke my heart to be on the other side of the door doing absolutely nothing. I could not call the police for that was an area known for corruption.
When the girl and men were out of view and the screams subsided, I returned to my bed and laid there thinking; this is just one floor in one hotel in one red light district. What is happening across on the other floors, in other hotels, buildings, across the world? I burst into tears and cried myself to sleep. Experiences and information like this keep me up at night. No child or person should ever have to live this way. It makes me sad to say that there are more slaves in the world today than ever before in human history.
Covid-19 breeds more human exploitation and trafficking
Currently, the COVID-19 pandemic has put the world under enormous strain, affecting the lives of everyone. The unprecedented measures adopted to flatten the infection curve include enforced quarantine, curfews and lockdowns, travel restrictions, and limitations on economic activities and public life. With the pandemic expected to drive at least 70 million people into extreme poverty, according to a recent World Bank estimate, desperate workers will be more likely to accept risky job offers or high-interest loans to survive, only to end up trapped in exploitative situations. Companies, anxious to ramp up production after months of lost income, may be more willing to hire the cheapest labour available, including from unethical recruiters, and to skip labour inspections and other oversight measures—thereby enabling human traffickers to thrive.
According UN Women, as lockdowns have been enforced worldwide, there have been reports of increased online grooming and exploitation of children online through gaming sites and social media platforms by sexual predators as children have had to stay home from school. The demand for online sexual abuse material and pornography has also risen. In lockdown, children are spending hours online and have been without interaction with children their age for months. A want of human connection, which new friends online can offer, can lead to vulnerability. Human traffickers and online sexual predators take advantage of this vulnerability and the innocence of the children to lure them in. I worry about the impact the COVID-19 pandemic will have on our current generation and our children.
Change the world, one woman and child at a time
As bleak and gloomy the stories above are, there is light that shines amid this darkness. When I was working in America, I was consulting for an organisation in Atlanta, Out of Darkness, whose goal is to break the cycle of sex trafficking one woman at a time through their Princess Night outreach programme. Every Friday, trained Princess Night volunteers would go into “red light” areas in Atlanta to hand out roses and handwritten cards of encouragement. It was a way to build relationships and trust with the women the organisation was trying to reach. We let the ladies know that they are loved and beautiful, and ask if there was anything we could pray with them about, which was a chance to make sure they had our 24/7 hotline number that they could call any time to be rescued.
One lady called the hotline to ask to be rescued. When we went to pick her up with our rescue van, all she had with her were the clothes on her back and a box. She showed the rescue workers what was in the box. It was full of all the cards she had collected from our volunteers over the years that she been on the street.Many a time, she told us, she wanted to end her life. But then a card and a rose would be given to her, and there, on the card, would be those handwritten words of encouragement that would keep her alive for another week. This went on for a few years, until finally she plucked up the courage and made a decision to change her life and called the hotline. The box of cards was her most prized possession that changed the trajectory of her life forever. To her, it meant that someone, somewhere, cared about her, and that meant everything to her.