It was in March 2009, on International Women’s Day, that Stephanie Lorenzo first visited a safe house for survivors of human trafficking in Cambodia.
“I was in a room with 40-50 women who had been through some horrendous experiences, women who were much younger than me,” she tells SBS.
“…It was really surreal. I had never experienced anything like that in my life.”
Lorenzo was 22-years-old at the time—fresh out of university— and had organised the visit after reading a book by anti-trafficking advocate, Somaly Mam.
She rallied a group of friends for a charity bike ride around Cambodia and together, they raised over $80,000 for Mam’s Foundation.
While there, Lorenzo — who had spent months organising the trip from afar in Australia— finally found herself face-to-face with the women whose harrowing stories she’d only read about.
“It was really surreal. I had never experienced anything like that in my life.”
As she listened to the experiences of girls who had been rescued from sex slavery but now had access to safe housing, rehabilitation and vocational training, Lorenzo knew $80,000 wasn’t going to be enough for the cause.
“That was when I decided to come back to Australia to create Project Futures as an outlet for people to use their time, skills and talents to give back,” says Lorenzo.
Since its creation in 2009, her non-profit organisation raised over $4.5 million dollars, working with impact partners to provide housing, education and psychological support for people who have survived human trafficking.
According to the Global Slavery Index, there are currently 45.8 million people who are enslaved worldwide, exploited in not just the sex trade, but industries such as hospitality, construction and domestic household work.
Lorenzo tells SBS she is dedicated to supporting survivors but has also boldly set her sights to putting an end to the slave trade altogether.
“Human trafficking is a man-made issue. It’s not a disease that you get that we don’t have a cure for. It can be stopped.”
"We need to realise, particularly in Australia, that we are very lucky."
The UK act works to strengthen anti-slavery laws and requires large companies to prepare a statement declaring that human trafficking is not taking place in any of its supply chains—something Lorenzo says she would welcome in Australia.
“I’d be very happy to make Project Futures redundant,” says Lorenzo. “I don’t want to have to work in a charity if businesses actually did the right thing.
“Sometimes charity seems like an offshoot of business practice. Companies say, ‘Oh let’s create a charity to make sure we’re repenting for all the business sins that we’re committing’ but why can’t business just be great in the first place?”
While Lorenzo thinks the co-operation of large companies is vital in preventing human trafficking, there’s still a lot that individuals can do.
“I’d be very happy to make Project Futures redundant. I don’t want to have to work in a charity if businesses actually did the right thing."
“I would say that every single bit matters. I love the quote from Desmond Tutu that says, ‘Do your little bit of good where you are; it's those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world’.
“I think that those little bits of action, coupled with consistency are key—because we’re not going to solve these problems overnight. It’s easier to do nothing than something…We need to realise, particularly in Australia, that we are very lucky.
“And I think that people realise that we need more than just money, cars, success and Facebook likes to feel like we have a purpose in our lives.”