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Chasing shadows: Unmasking human trafficking in Australia

  • 19 May 2023
It may shock readers to know that forms of modern slavery not only exist in Australia but permeate various thriving industries. This year, the documentary Revealed: Trafficked explores the extent of the problem, featuring investigative journalist Nick McKenzie and South Korean journalist Jiyoon Kim. In a year-long investigation, they expose the world of human trafficking in Australia and the stories of trafficked women who are coerced into the sex industry, stripped of their passports, and denied any form of remuneration.

Nick McKenzie is a highly acclaimed Australian investigative journalist known for his work with The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald, Australian Financial Review and programs like ABC's Four Corners and 60 Minutes. Nick has received numerous awards including 14 Walkley awards, and has been named Australian Journalist of the Year three times. In this discussion, Eureka Street editor David Halliday and Nick McKenzie explore the drivers of human trafficking and sex slavery, examining the intertwined roles that law enforcement, the sex industry, and the migration sector play in one of the most pressing social justice issues of our time.

DH: How did human trafficking come on your radar?

NM: It's been on my radar for well over a decade. Back in 2009 there was a murder investigation involving the death of a young Melbourne man, Abraham Papo, outside a South Melbourne brothel. I got a tip-off to have a closer look and to raise questions about why this guy was killed, which led me into the world of human trafficking. And the fact that there was such an entrenched human trafficking scene in Australia was news to me back then. All these years have passed and, sure enough, the same players are still on the scene.

More recently, I did a lot of the reporting into the Crown Casino scandal in 2019. One of the key facilitators of questionable financial transactions at Crown involving Chinese high rollers was also a brothel owner tied to trafficking allegations dating back to the time of Papo’s death.

The same organized crime figures involved in human trafficking kept popping up on my radar in relation to other scandals. So we made the decision to revisit the question of how entrenched human trafficking is in Australia. Is it happening? If so, how widespread is it? And then, why is it happening? And what does it say about the failure of state and federal governments and agencies to crack down