“People ask me if I’m scared to get involved in this kind of work but my sense of outrage that people would do these kinds of things to other human beings is far stronger than any sense of fear.”
Flinders University student Alexandra Baxter is sitting in the library at Flinders University, but her mind is in some of the darkest, most frightening places on Earth as she talks about the scourge of human trafficking.
It’s an unexpected turn in conversation from what she had been discussing just a few minutes earlier, which is how her 29-page report on cyber crime has been published on the South Australian Victim Support Services website.
That in itself is a significant achievement for someone in the final year of a Bachelor of Justice and Society, but when Ms Baxter begins talking about her plans for a career saving the victims of human traffickers, her intensity moves to a whole new level.
“People know about people smuggling and boat people but they don’t know about human trafficking, and if they did, I think they would be as outraged as I am,” she said.
“A few years ago I took a topic in International Criminal Justice by Associate Professor Marinella Marmo and that’s where my interest in human trafficking came from.
“That interest has grown massively as my moral conscience has grown.”
Ms Baxter says one of the greatest ways of challenging the traffickers is through education.
She says one of the key targets for that education is the general public, who she says, because of their lack of knowledge about the issue, are inadvertently complicit in supporting the traffickers.
“It’s important to create education around the risks for women because many women in poorer parts of the world are easily lured in by traffickers,” she said.
“But it’s also just as important to create education for the general public, because if other people understood what was happening then I believe they would have the same sense of outrage that I have and want to do something about it.
“This lack of understanding among the general public means that people often ask why the victims don’t cry out for help, or seek assistance, and they think that because they haven’t, then somehow it’s their own fault.
“It’s a blame culture that happens within the general public because they don’t understand the kind of fear and coercion the victims of people trafficking face.
“It’s very easy for those of us who have grown up in safe, secure environments to imagine that the rest of the world is like home and that we all more or less face the same kind of challenges in life, but this isn’t true.
“Traffickers prey on the weak and the poor, offering them jobs and money in other countries, then they take their passports and visas from them them when they arrive, and often make them work in the sex trade for years to ‘pay off’ their debts.
“The blame culture among the general public also makes it harder for victims of trafficking to seek help, and creates challenges for them when they try to reintegrate into society, which is really unfair.
“I think this is something that needs to be addressed and I already spend a lot of my time educating people about it.”
Ms Baxter says she plans on undertaking Honours in Human Trafficking at Flinders University next year, and that in the longer term she wants to work in the US.
“I’ve thought about working in Australia with the Federal Police, or with the United Nations, but I’m now looking towards the United States,” she said.
“Human trafficking is happening in Australia, although not on the same scale as many other parts of the world, and I’d like to work where that I can have the most impact.”
Returning to the topic of her cyber report crime for VSS, Ms Baxter said her time working there gave her invaluable experience of a real workplace.
“My work at VSS was as part of an integrated learning topic for my degree and meant I spent 100 hours working there,” she said.
“I really enjoyed working at VSS because it doesn’t matter what the crime or incident is that people come to them with, they will help, or they will refer people on to get help elsewhere.
“They asked me if I could do a report on cyber crime because there is very little research available on this subject.
“The final report, which is titled Improving Responses to Cyber Victimisation in South Australia, was more than the topic required but I didn’t want to jeopardise the report by being burdened by a word count.
“Seeing it published on their website has been really exciting and very rewarding.”