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November 01, 2012

Convening Across Disciplines to Combat Human Trafficking

November 2012

Sister Doreen (center) is among a handful of advocates who have worked nearly single-handedly to combat human trafficking in the Solomon Islands.

“Human trafficking is real and it happens in the Solomon Islands,” says Sister Doreen of the Christian Care Centre, with unwavering passion. “The government must stop turning a blind eye and accept the fact that the problem is here.”

Sister Doreen is among a handful of advocates who up until now have worked nearly single-handedly to combat human trafficking in the Solomon Islands. Over the years, dozens of women, girls and boys who have been trafficked have told her their stories. Highlighting the extent of the problem, she shares one of them—that of a young woman who had been held for years as a sex slave on a foreign fishing boat. The experience not only robbed the young woman of her youth, but left her mentally ill. Even after the woman’s escape, the impact of this horrific crime remained.

“Sometimes, because of what she went through, she will just burst out crying, telling us that she wants to go back to the shore—even though she is no longer at sea,” says Sister Doreen. “She has been traumatised because she was kept like a slave.”

Since 2010, with support from the U.S. Department of State’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, ABA ROLI has worked with more than 150 stakeholders from across the Solomon Islands to coordinate anti-human trafficking activities. A hallmark of this program is a multidisciplinary approach, which includes representatives from the fields of medicine, law and advocacy, as well as those serving with the police force and the ports authority.

ABA ROLI has hosted a series of conferences with the aim of devising collaborative methods to combat this crime. As there is currently no legislation specifically addressing human trafficking, discussions have centered on using provisions from the constitution and the penal code and on employing targeted interviewing techniques and other best practices. Simultaneously, ABA ROLI is working with the stakeholders to draft anti-human trafficking legislation.

According to Florence Taro of the Royal Solomon Islands Police, the authorities are sometimes aware of human trafficking cases, yet they face major difficulties in gathering evidence to charge perpetrators.

“Victims sometimes fear that they themselves may be prosecuted,” Taro says, citing a past case that was dropped due to insufficient evidence. She also shared that victims are sometimes attacked for talking to the police, adding, ”This leads to the issue of safety and of the risk to victims when they reveal their stories.”

According to advocates, there are many contributing factors that perpetuate silence about human trafficking. These include cultural attitudes toward such abuse that inhibit discussion about the crimes, especially by victimized women and girls. These advocates hope that programs like ABA ROLI’s, along with associated public outreach activities, will begin to effect change in how the people and government of the Solomon Islands perceive and combat human trafficking.

To learn more about our work in the Solomon Islands, contact the ABA Rule of Law Initiative at [email protected].