Morley family to leave behind Bendigo and fight human trafficking in Thailand

The last thing on the minds of most expecting parents is moving house.

But that is exactly the situation Bendigo couple Christopher and Jessica Morley have chosen.

That’s just the beginning.

The family of six (soon to be seven) is not merely shifting from one Bendigo home to another.

They’re bound for Chiang Rai, a north Thailand city close to the Burmese and Laotian borders, where they will join the fight against human trafficking. 

Asked what was behind their decision, Christopher said the family’s Christian faith compelled them to help those in need.

“We take the Bible seriously and in the Bible it says, 'If you love God, you'll serve humanity’,” he said.

It was particularly young women sold into forced sex work who the pair were driven to save.  

In January this year, they took a month-long trip to the southeast Asian country to investigate how they could help prevent more young women from falling prey to traffickers. 

Jessica described seeing girls “paraded down the street at 11 o’clock at night” in the red-light district of Pattaya as a catalyst for their intervention. The city is considered an epicentre of the illegal trade.  

“It’s just gut-wrenching,” she said.

“In that moment, you want to grab the child and run.”

But it is a longer-term solution they will be seeking when they arrive in their new home. The Morleys have sold their worldly possessions to fund one year of teaching English to vulnerable Thais. 

A better education would mean fewer people relied on the sex trade to make ends meet, they hoped.  

The initiative comes at a time when human trafficking is believed to be the fastest-growing criminal industry in the world.

More than $US150 million per year is generated from the illegal trade in human beings, with victims forced into sex work, domestic servitude or bonded labour.  

The practice is forbidden under the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, but that does not stop abductions from occurring, or poverty-stricken families volunteering their children into indentured employment. 

Christopher explained many of the women who wound up in Thai brothels were from small villages and did not speak the national language, let alone English. With only their native dialects to communicate, they were easily duped into prostitution.

They got into taxis under the illusion that waitressing work awaited. Instead they were taken to brothels already owing a fare to their driver.

The vicious cycle of insurmountable debt that followed is what trapped many girls in a grim lifestyle Christopher said too often ended in disease, violence and death.  

Others were more aware of the fate that awaited them. 

“They almost sacrifice themselves into this as a way of helping their family get an income back home,” he said.

“They feel its the only option they have.”

ROAD TO RECOVERY

On a previous visit to Thailand, the Morleys met June*, a trafficking victim who escaped her captors to work for an anti-slavery organisation. 

The transformation they saw was remarkable.  

“[June’s] got her identity back, she knows what she wants from her life, got her own hopes and dreams,” Christopher said.  

But the woman was not entirely free from the binds of her former career.

She received angry phone calls from her mother, who was upset her new line of work did not pay so well. 

“To see her try and calm her mother down, knowing she doesn't want to go back to that life, it's just heartbreaking,” he said.

But work was critical to rehabilitation.

Women rescued from brothels were given vocational training in fields like jewellery making, hairdressing or hospitality, paths that led away from – not back towards – their abusive pasts.

FAMILY MISSION 

Because of the dark subject matter at the heart of their mission, explaining the mission to their four young children was “a juggling act” for the Morleys.   

“They understand the concept of slavery, so we talk to them about how there are children who are currently slaves that we are going to help,” Christopher said.

But the change in location would not cause too much disruption to their brood; the children were home schooled in Australia, a process they would continue during their time abroad. 

It was schoolbooks that would account for most of their luggage when they depart for Chiang Rai next month.  

They were also looking forward to reuniting with the children of other anti-slavery workers they met during their trip in January. 

What will change, however, is the family’s headcount. 

Jessica is due to give birth to a family’s second son in the new year. 

She was relaxed about the experience of childbirth overseas, saying Chiang Rai was a big city with adequate medical facilities. 

The move did mean a temporary farewell to loved ones in Australia, people with whom they spent time over the last few weeks. 

WALKING IN SILENCE

Before they depart, the family are inviting Bendigonians to join with them in a silent walk through Bendigo, an effort to raise awareness of the continuing grip slavery has upon the lives of many around the world. 

Participants in the October 14 Walk For Freedom will march in single file, wearing black t-shirts and tying yellow bandanas across their mouths.  

The silent protest puts front and centre the stories of trafficking victims. 

A21 Australia spokeswoman Erina Low, whose organisation ran the event, said there was a common perception among Australians that slavery no longer existed, and certainly not in their own backyards. 

But as many as 4300 people were believed to be enslaved in Australia, a 2016 Walk Free Foundation report estimated. 

“We all have a valuable part to play in abolishing slavery everywhere, forever,” Ms Low said. 

Walks are organised for 16 other Australian locations, as well as high-profile overseas sites the Eiffel Tower and Hollywood Walk of Fame.

The Morleys also asked that people wanting to know more about human trafficking and their prevention efforts, contact them at tribemorley@gmail.com. 

Support from others was a reminder of the goodness in the community, Christopher said.  

“For all the bad we see in humanity, the human spirit is alive and well,” he said. 

“People still know how to love each other, and everyone has that at the core of their being.”

If you suspect someone might be the victim of human trafficking, phone the Australian Federal Police on 13 12 37.

*real name withheld