Blog 05

The Umbrella Girl

Growing up on the island of Tasmania, I had a great childhood filled with love and most importantly safety. I never realised just how much a simple act of going to sleep peacefully, was something not everyone was afforded. I put my head on my pillow at night and I knew that when I woke up, the only thing I would need to worry about was what I was having for breakfast. How easy it is to get comfortable in your own life and the mundane things that we find a reason to complain about.

“…how big the world outside of my own was.”

I was twenty-one years of age when I moved overseas to the United States of America. This was my first taste of life outside of my little hometown of Hobart and little it was. It had always felt so big, but once I had lived in another city and country, I realised just how big the world outside of my own was. When I was twenty-five I moved to the small island of Sicily, at the base of Italy. I envisioned the picturesque light blue water, the ruins of once-grand buildings, bustling streets and markets, it was not as I had imagined. Whilst of course there were many beautiful landscapes to be seen, there were also sights I did not expect.

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I can clearly remember the day I first saw an ‘Umbrella’ girl. There were two girls sitting under the shade of a large tree, a little younger than myself. They were dressed in light blue lace underwear and each sported a pair of running shoes. It was such a peculiar sight to see on the side of a rural road and I watched as they sheltered each other from the sweltering heat underneath a sun-faded pink umbrella. Without having to raise a question, our guide raised his eyebrow’s and said that they were ‘Umbrella’ girls, under the protection of the local mafia. We were also told it was against military policy to have any contact with them or we would be charged with participation in human trafficking. It sounded like such a common phrase, no alarm in his voice, that it was just a matter of fact statement.

“…they would be gone, without a trace.”

I lived in Italy for three years, there was not a day that went by that I did not see one of these girls. I would be on my way to the grocery store and I would see their faces, in the same place as they were every day. An hour later on my drive home, they would be gone, without a trace. It was as if they had never been there, to begin with. I was naïve to think that these girls were there because that was the life they had chosen for themselves. I knew no different. It was not until I heard rumblings that these women and girls, were of all different nationalities, that they had been brought across into Italy, that I began to question what I thought I knew.

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My first interaction with Be Hers was at the 2016 Be Hers ball. I was moved to tears during the presentation and realised for the first time, that what I had seen were women who were being used against their will in human trafficking. That these women had been taken from their homes and their families and were now at the dispense of people who were sinister in intent. When you know better, you do better. It is one thing to turn a blind eye when you are unaware of what is happening in our world, but once your eyes are opened, you must never close them again.