Warning: This story contains material that some readers might find distressing.
Gemma Crawford doesn’t like to speak openly about the time she was almost abducted as a teen in Indonesia – it’s an experience she says she’d rather forget.
But it was that frightening situation in 2012 that has led the now 25-year-old Novocastrian to commit to bringing awareness to child exploitation.
As the owner of small business ‘Fox and Fawn’, Gemma has partnered with Destiny Rescue to highlight the plight of more than one million children each year.
Based in Warabrook, the business is now “giving back” by donating 10% of its proceeds to the group that rescues and re-homes children in slavery.
Gemma’s involvement with the not-for-profit group stems from a lesson she learned when she hit “rock bottom”.
In her final year of studying journalism and international relations at Avondale College, she was seeking a new career path when she experienced a string of traumatic events.
This was also the year she was to become a bride.
“I had a few deaths in the family and was hospitalised for health reasons,” she said.
“A lot of things came crashing down and I wasn’t coping so I took a step back.
“In November last year, my husband and I were two weeks out from our wedding when our venue was ravished by the fires racing through our country.
“I had just broken my foot during a soccer game, and had my car written off in an accident.
“Then, after our wedding, we experienced six weeks together before Jesse (new husband) had to leave for work.
“Life was really tough for me in 2019.”
Art became therapeutic for Gemma, who says her psychologist suggested she find a creative outlet.
Together with her Christian faith, she says she began to heal.
“I’m a shy, timid person,” she said.
“I like to write but I can relax when I am being creative, my brain gets a chance to switch off.”
As part of her business plan, Gemma began making polymer earrings and selling them at local markets, a talent that eventually evolved into her new venture.
As her business grew, so too did her commitment to Destiny Rescue, a group she had learned about whilst in high school.
“Despite how difficult it has been for me recently, it cannot compare to the horrors of the one million children who are exploited in the commercial sex trade each year,” she said.
“The more we’re able to talk about this issue, the more funds will be raised, which will ultimately lead to more children being rescued from slavery.”
Gemma has had her own first-hand experience with the fear of abduction when, as a teenager in 2012, she was dragged to the back of a clothing store in Kuta, Bali’s main shopping strip.
“It was so frightening,” she said.
“My best friend and I went into this shop and as soon as we got inside a man grabbed me and started pushing me towards the back of the shop.
“It was a really long and narrow shop and I just remember seeing this girl under a table and she looked unconscious. I don’t know if she was but she looked unconscious.
“I was so frightened I lost the ability to speak and I couldn’t move.
“My mum tells me that my friend grabbed me and made a scene.
“I don’t remember any of that, I just remember getting back out on the street with my mum and crying.
“I remember the silence. It was like I was letting it happen I was so scared. Why couldn’t I scream?
“I was so, so lucky.”
Although Gemma believes it was her small stature that made her a target that day, Destiny Rescue partnership manager Craig Wood said her experience was not an isolated one.
“Slavery is bigger than at any time in history right now,” he said.
“It is the fastest growing industry on the planet.
“More money is made in the slavery trade than in the profits of Coca-Cola, Nike and Disney combined.
“This is a $99 billion industry.”
While statistics roll off his tongue with ease, the reality of the industry in which he works is not lost on Craig.
The father-of-four travelled to Thailand in 2019 to witness firsthand the atrocities.
The 52-year-old documented his time spent on the laneways referred to as ‘Walking Street’ in a diary he entitled ‘Hearing the Silent Cries’.
“I distinctly remember a man appearing in front of me and handing me a menu,” he said.
“At first it was a slight trace of normalcy – an innocent waiter just trying to gain business for his restaurant.
“But as I gazed down, this optimism vanished. In its place – utter disgust. This menu was a list of all the sexual acts you could do to a girl.
“This was no carnival, no Easter Show or theme park.
“All I could see was the exploitation of women, thousands of women, young girls and children too – all made as objects to fuel a disturbing gaze and desire of a man’s world.
“If you listened carefully you would hear silent cries.”
Since 2011, Destiny Rescue has rescued more than 5,200 people enslaved around the world through its various programs.
“Child exploitation is a massive problem and needs to be talked about,” Craig said.
“It’s right here in Australia, it’s on our doorstep, and a lot of people wouldn’t even know.”
For more information about Destiny Rescue, text the word MORE to 0488 852 639.