Bernadette McMenamin Child Sex Trafficking Interview

Bernadette McMenamin Child Sex Trafficking Interview

Bernadette McMenamin Child Sex Trafficking Interview

In a study by Monash Univeristy of 18,000 Australians, 93% said they were significantly concerned about child sex trafficking. Although, one in eight of those surveyed were not aware of children being trafficked for sex.

Alarmingly, 68.8% did not know what to do if they became aware of a child being sexually exploited overseas which proves that the Australian Federal Government needs to take action in educating Australians about sex offenders and how to recognise them and what to do. 73% believe our Government should do more to fight the crime that enslaves 1.8 million children in the world in the global sex trade each year.

Australians have been identified as the largest group of sex tourists prosecuted in Thailand, which proves we need to do something to fix this. Child Wise and The Body Shop has launched an event to encourage the Australian community to sign a national petition to 'Stop Sex Trafficking of Children and Young People'.

Child Wise is Australia's leading international child protection charity. At Child Wise they know that the biggest threat to children's futures is abuse. It destroys lives. This is why they are dedicated to protecting children from abuse and exploitation in Australia, Asia and the Pacific.

Child Wise's programs seek to prevent child abuse by providing greater awareness and understanding; as well as providing the tools and strategies for individuals, organisations and communities to address these issues. The programs are child-focused, and informed by a fundamental belief that children have a right to physical and psychological safety, and that we as individuals, communities and governments have the capacity to protect children.

Through counselling, advocacy, community education, research and training, and the National Child Abuse Help Line, Child Wise works to eradicate abuse and enhance the well being of children.

Their commitment to research into emerging abuse trends and new risks to children ensures that the programs remain proactive, effective and responsive.

Interview with Bernadette McMenamin

Bernadette McMenamin AO is the Chief Executive Officer of Child Wise™ Limited, a child protection charity with a local and global mission based in Melbourne, Australia.

Bernadette has a Masters in International Social Work and is highly regarded in Australia and overseas as a successful advocate and innovator in the prevention of child sexual abuse. She has devoted over 25 years of her life to the issue.

In 1992, Bernadette became a founding member of ECPAT International in Thailand - a global network of organisations working against child sexual exploitation. The network now exists in over 70 countries. In 1993 Bernadette returned to Australia and established ECPAT in Australia (now known as Child Wise Limited). As the National Director of Child Wise, Bernadette has been responsible for developing innovative child abuse prevention programs, managing extensive and multifaceted education and training programs and advocacy campaigns against global child sexual abuse and exploitation. She has also been responsible for many "firsts"; including successful advocacy campaigns which have led to significant political, legal and social changes. Of particular note is the enactment of the Child Sex Tourism Law in 1994 to make sex with children overseas a prosecutable offence in Australia.

Bernadette has been recognised for her contribution to the protection of children from sexual exploitation. In 2004 she won the Victorian finalist for Australian of the Year and was awarded the Order of Australia (AO) in June of that year. In 2005, Bernadette won the Entrepreneur of the Year Award in the Social Entrepreneur category for the Southern Region of Australia and in 2006 was a Victorian finalist in the Telstra Business Women's Award (Hudson Community and Government Award).

What surprised you most about the study on sex trafficking, by Monash University?

Bernadette McMenamin: It was conducted by Monash University because Child Wise commissioned Monash University, to do this. Nothing really surprised me, I guess. I think the only thing that surprised me was the amount of people who were really concerned about this problem.

I was shocked that one in eight Australians are unaware of children being trafficked for sex.

Bernadette McMenamin: Yes. Surveys have shown that people really don't care much about anything outside their own individualist lifestyle. For me it confirmed a lot of things, I believe.

If the government can bring 150 people together, to decide on a climate change policy, surely 18,000 people plus the petition we have going at the moment, should dictate Australian governments approach to stop child sex trafficking.

What should Australians do if they become aware of a child being sexually exploited overseas?

Bernadette McMenamin: If it is in Australia and they're 100% sure they can go to either the police or the Department of Human Services, or contact Child Wise through or call us on our help line: 1800 99 10 99, we are trained counselors.

If they're overseas in a hotel and they are really suspicious that children are being traded, but they're not absolutely sure the best thing they can do is contact Child Wise through the website.

We're not saying to people you must know this for sure. We are not investigators. What we are saying is that if you are suspicious or have concerns, come and talk to us and we will spend time looking at the information. We might already know the place or the person that they are talking of because we have been doing this for 20 years. We have a large database. It just might solve that piece of the jigsaw because often police don't act, they are very reactive, and that is why we are doing this campaign, to get them off their butts and be proactive. Also, we want to make Australians more aware of this problem and more aware of what to look for and how to respond.

The majority of people in this survey, about 70% wouldn't know what to do. They said they wouldn't know what to do if they came across the situation.

So the best thing to do is to contact Child Wise?

Bernadette McMenamin: If you're overseas, just jump on the Child Wise website and we will be in touch with them, within 24 hours. It does happen all the time.

Can you share with us information about Srey Neth's (pronounced 'Night') story?

Bernadette McMenamin: Poor Srey Neth, she is in her 20's now, but she looks like she is 13. It is unbelievable what these men were thinking when they were raping her, because she was obviously a commodity to them. She looks so young now, as I said; she was basically sold into prostitution by her family, for $300, by her mother. $300 for her virginity. She was rescued by a program, with the money from the Body Shop campaign that we are supporting that rescues called the Transitional Living Centre.

The Transitional Living Centre not only looks after the girls, they also give them education and vocational training and support them for a long period of time. A lot of these shelters normally only keep children for a couple of weeks and then they are back out on the streets. Srey Neth is one of the few survivors. We have done a study in Cambodia of 200 sex workers, most of them were sold as young as Srey Neth and most of them have stayed in prostitution.

Srey Neth is HIV Aids, she has contracted HIV Aids. Fortunately she is on medication and is doing okay. She is excited to be here for the launch of the campaign Stop Sex Trafficking of Children and Young People. It was joyful, for such an awful, awful topic because we felt liberated and we are getting lots of support.

How can Australians support the 'Stop Sex Trafficking of Children and Young People' campaign?

Bernadette McMenamin: Everyone needs to go into their local Body Shop, sign the petition to support and stop this awful, awful human violation of children, it is modern day sex slavery.

Our government does not care enough about it. I have been through four or five governments and they just won't listen. We need people power on this.

Australians can also buy the Soft Hands Kind Heart hand cream in the Body Shop, it is a beautiful hand cream, it is only around $10. All the proceeds go to the support of five programs, some of them are prevention such as keeping children in schools, some are recovery and transitional centers, the other is a boy's trauma counseling centre because people forget boys. Boys are not trafficked in the same way as girls but they are definitely sexually exploited by foreign pedophiles.

What are your hopes for this campaign? Do you hope that the government will take notice?

Bernadette McMenamin: Absolutely. I mean they have 150 people deciding on climate change policy, 18,000 people - that alone should motivate this government to do something. With the petition we are hoping for 100,000's of signatures, it is not only to change the government and make them do something to change this awful problem but it is to raise awareness amongst the people and give individuals something they can tangibly do. A lot of people feel that there is nothing they can do because the program is so big, but there is.

By buying the Soft Hands Kind Heart hand cream or signing the petition you are helping save a child. Body Shop has been great with this partnership. I met Graham from the Body Shop, 20 years ago, at a conference and I said "we should partner, we have so much in common, in regards to human rights" he agreed and 20 years later here we are.

We started the Soft Hands Kind Heart hand cream campaign last year, we have escalated it this year with the results of the survey and then we will have it running for at least another year. I have been doing this for 20 years and the government is still not listening to us. The government is making gestures, they are having talks but we want to get to the villages and to the people, the children. That is the only way we are going to change things. Giving money to governments overseas is not helping; it ends up in their pockets or buying big UN Agencies.

You'd think that the government would say 'yes, we totally agree' and they say that on paper but they won't put any money into it.