Associate Professor Sallie Yea is a leading scholar internationally on human trafficking and modern-day slavery. She is a Human Geographer, currently based in the Department of Social Inquiry as the 2021 Tracey Banivanua Mar Fellow. Her major research project for the Fellowship examines Seafood Slavery, or the human trafficking of men and boys into the offshore fishing industry in the Indo-Pacific Region. During the Fellowship she will also work on joint projects with Australian and international colleagues on human trafficking in other sectors, including the construction sector and for organ removal.
Before joining La Trobe University in 2016 she held academic positions in Human Geography in Singapore (2009-2015) and New Zealand (1996-2000). Whilst in Singapore she conducted extensive research on human trafficking of migrant workers in a range of sectors, including the sex and nightlife industry, the construction sector and off-shore fishing industry. She also worked on human trafficking issues in Cambodia during this time, interviewing dozens of men trafficked onto Thai and Taiwanese fishing vessels. It was then that she realised this was a very neglected sector for research on modern-day slavery. As well as several journal articles, she published a monograph on this research, Paved with Good Intentions? Human Trafficking and the Anti-Trafficking Movement in Singapore, in 2019.
She was also Program Co-ordinator and then Senior Research Fellow in International Development at RMIT University in Melbourne (2000-2007). During this time, she conducted in-depth ethnographic research with Filipino women who were trafficked into bars and clubs around US Military bases in South Korea. She spent eighteen months living with some of these women, documenting their transnational lives as marginal migrant women in Korea. Her first monograph, published in 2015, was based on this research and is titled Trafficking Women in Korea: Filipina Migrant Entertainers.
Sallie has also published over forty journal articles, two edited volumes and ten book chapters, as well as more than fifteen consulting reports and commissioned chapters for international organisations working on labour migration, gender and human trafficking. She collaborates regularly with Winrock International (USAID), ASEAN-ACT (ASEAN-Australia Counter Trafficking), ECPAT (End Child Prostitution and Trafficking), and GAATW (Global Alliance Against Trafficking of Women). She believes strongly in finding mediums through which the voices of victims and survivors of modern-day slavery can be heard, and won a Scholar-Activist Award from the Antipode Foundation in 2013 to produce edited volumes and podcasts of narratives of trafficked constructions workers from South Asia. This year she and her team received an award from Winrock International for a similar project with survivors of seafood slavery.
When COVID restrictions finally end she will head back out to the field; to Cambodia, the Philippines and Bangladesh. This time, she hopes, her two children will finally be old enough to accompany her during some of her trips. She reflects on what a challenge it was taking her then three-years old daughter to Malaysia for fieldwork back in 2010.