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Sarah Harris Interviews Elaine Pearson, Australian Director Human Rights Watch

Meet the woman generating action to prevent abuse of the human rights which most of us take for granted.

Elaine Pearson has spent her career defending human rights around the world.  In this Game Changers interview she tells Channel Ten’s Sarah Harris what inspired her on leaving university. “I saw injustice and felt something really needed to be done.  I wanted a career that was meaningful and that brought me into contact with people who needed someone to stand up for their rights”.

As Australian Director of Human Rights Watch, the organisation which investigates and exposes human rights violations and holds abusers accountable, the focused lawyer and expert on human trafficking issues has certainly fulfilled her aim.

Human trafficking of women often comes when they enter prostitution for economic reasons, “For some it’s a choice, but for the women who are trafficked they’re deceived, they’re coerced or sold by other family members”, and horrifically Pearson adds that abuse often continues once they’re out of the trafficking situation. “A big part of my work in Thailand, in Bangladesh, in Sri Lanka, in Nepal was about exposing the practices by governments and sometimes by NGOs that basically detained these women in shelters”.

On the prevalence of modern-day slavery she points out “It’s hidden. There are no chains or bonds but it’s the fact that the coercion is in different ways” she explains it comes in many forms. “Slavery is happening all around us.”

Pearson’s current focus is on influencing Australian Government policy on the home-grown issue of prisoners with disabilities. “It might surprise you to know that more than half the prison population has a disability including mental health conditions”. She feels many prisoners’ rights are ignored because “they’re in the dark, in these hidden, far-away spaces but if we’re able to expose these abuses and bring them to light then we can shock the governments into taking action”.

On our treatment of refugees, Elaine says Australia is the ‘lucky country’ but “Ultimately our human rights are best being protected if we live in a region that is rights-respecting, that is democratic. Where these values are upheld.  So it’s up to our government to uphold those values here but also to be an example to the rest of the region”. Human Rights Watch Australia, urgently wants the government to look more closely at the mistreatment of Rohingya Muslims in Burma.

This inspirational woman is, herself, inspired by the victims of human rights violations who have suffered so much “and yet are really desperate to tell you their story”.  We are very pleased we get this opportunity to tell Elaine’s Game Changer story.

Written by Presenter

Sarah Harris has been our resident presenter of Game Changers since it first began in 2016. She is also a mum of two, journalist and host of Network Ten’s news-based panel show, ‘Studio 10’ and 'Shark Tank'.
Sarah has spent more than a decade on the road as a reporter, covering some of the biggest stories around the world.
Before moving to Network 10, she worked for more than a decade at Channel Nine as the network’s go to reporter: delivering extended live coverage from Victoria’s Black Saturday bushfires, the Christchurch earthquake and Queensland’s devastating floods in 2011.

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