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Victims of slavery report lack of recognition from agencies when seeking help – study

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An advocate group working to combat modern forms of slavery in New Zealand, says agencies are not always well educated about what slavery might look like, and a dedicated helpline is needed. (File photo).
Photo: 123RF

Helplines to support those affected by modern slavery are not fit for purpose, and a pathway to seek help needs to be created, an advocacy group says.

A New Zealand agency fighting to combat slavery in New Zealand said recent cross-Tasman research showed some people seeking help to escape being victimised by modern forms of slavery had found agencies were not well-informed nor equipped to deal with the problem.

ECPAT Child Alert New Zealand said that 12 survivors from New Zealand and Australia were surveyed by The Slave Check Foundation, and discussed their experiences of human trafficking, forced labour, debt bondage, sexual servitude or child marriage.

The study found almost 60 percent of those who answered the survey said that when they initially reached out for help to organisations like police, medical agencies or helplines, they were not recognised as being caught up in modern slavery.

Instead, a dedicated helpline for modern slavery would create a better understanding of people’s rights and help to identify dangerous situations, ECPAT Child Alert NZ said.

The organisation’s acting director Synteche Collins, who took part in the research project, said the results showed there was a need for change.

“When you’ve got so many helplines that don’t necessarily give you advice as to whether you are in that situation, you’re not sure where to turn.

“The overwhelming response from all the survivors was that they wanted a helpline, that the existing helplines, that are in Australia and New Zealand, are confusing for them.”

Collins said it was also clear the existing helplines did not provide the different support needed for all cases.

“The research shows what a difficult and challenging journey it is for survivors seeking help to escape their situation. Many are unsure if they will meet the criteria for modern slavery; whether they will be believed or whether they will be able to access the help they need.”

Feedback from a survivor from New Zealand had showed that: “There is a fear that if one does seek support – will they be believed?”, Collins said.

“Will their request for confidentiality, anonymity be respected? Will they be protected? There is always a fear of retribution – whether real or unreal.”

Those who had been caught up in slavery included children, and people who might not have ready access to information about what their rights were.

For example, another survivor from New Zealand had told the team that: “Initially, as a child, I did not understand that my situation was wrong,” Collins said. “I thought that it was a normal life condition and that I had to do whatever I was told. I am a survivor of child marriage and forced labour.”

Among other things, a helpline should help provide information to help victims with preparing to make a formal report.

ECPAT Child Alert NZ was calling on the government to provide resources for a dedicated helpline, and for a “streamlined pathway” to be created for helping those seeking help and support.

“It could make a tangible difference for victims, giving them the support they really need to get away from harmful situations,” Collins said.


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