Advocacy Success with St Vincent’s Healthcare Australia

Advocact St Vincent's

ACRATH milestone advocacy success only possible with support from St Vincent’s Healthcare Australia staff and Sisters. We have had a win. With the help of the Sisters of Charity and many SVHA staff, a 17-year advocacy battle has resulted in the Federal Government’s Budget decision to offer victims and survivors of human trafficking the opportunity to access support without involvement with law enforcement.

This is a momentous achievement. Before the May 2023 Budget night announcement, a trafficking victim’s ability to access the Victim Support Program was contingent on their capacity to assist police in a criminal investigation or prosecution. ACRATH began advocating for this to change in 2006 in a submission to the United Nations.’

The Sisters of Charity, along with several other congregations, endorsed the Australian NGO Shadow Report On Trafficked Women In Australia, which was submitted to the 34 th Session of CEDAW in New York in 2006.  They had the courage, vision and integrity to back this UN report, which was co-written by
Professor Jennifer Burn, now Head of Anti-Slavery Australia. It said:

 “Currently a trafficking victim’s ability to access the Victim Support Program is
contingent on their capacity to assist police in a criminal investigation or prosecution.
Trafficking victims, who are not involved in the law enforcement and criminal justice
process, have been left to find care and support from members of community and
religious organizations. We believe that the Program should be extended to all
victims of trafficking. Victims of trafficking have many and complex needs. We
recommend that the Government consider widening the Victim Support Program to
guarantee that all victims of trafficking receive access to comprehensive health care
services, residential and vocational support, and legal and migration advice”.

ACRATH executive officer Christine Carolan said the Sisters threw their support behind ACRATH from the early days. Since the early 2000s some key players in this battle have been ACRATH National Committee member Sr Clare Nolan rsc, Sr Colleen Jackson rsc , Sr Suzette Clarke rsc, Sr Liz Dodd rsc, Sr Althea Groves rsc and the late Sr Joan McKenna rsc, all tireless advocates for trafficked people.  Christine said:

“This long-term advocacy is only possible with support from so many people.
Support comes in many ways – volunteering to join advocacy trips to Canberra,
prayers by so many in communities and donations that keep ACRATH operating
from year to year.

Many SVHA staff are Give4Good donors and make a huge difference to ACRATH’s
capacity to engage in issues for the long term. This advocacy battle of 17 years is a
good example of how long it can take to bring about change.

For almost two decades we have tenaciously raised this issue with Ministers, MPs
and departmental officers. And about 5 years ago we joined an NGO network to
work intensively to achieve this. This change will make such a difference to so many
people, especially those who have been trafficked but who don’t want to speak about
their circumstances with the police.”

Christine said advocacy over the years has been informed by the victims and survivors in ACRATH’s Companionship program who told ACRATH that they needed to access support without involving police – they were frightened of the police; they were anxious for their own or their family’s safety and they were worried about their immigration status. 

ACRATH also raised these concerns in awareness raising programs and workshops with some SVHA healthcare workers who affirmed the need for an additional pathway to support.

“The program, announced in the Budget means a victim/survivor will be able to ask
for support with accommodation, healthcare, counselling, legal matters and other
issues because they have been trafficked and need a hand. We have never believed
that someone who has experienced trafficking should only be able to access this
support if they will help with a prosecution.,” Christine said.

ACRATH is a SVHA Give4Good recipient.