Many holidays during my younger years were spent in mining communities. A good portion of my family was involved in mining and for a while I found this to be an amazing job. I didn’t understand why mining communities often get such a bad rap. From the eyes of idealism, they were considered places of exciting adventures. However, adults regarded them as places filled with violence and debauchery, no place for good and certainly no place for children. With the passing of time I was able to recognize that the negative reviews received by mining communities were not justified.
Nearly more patriarchal violence is found in mining communities. Given close community ties and a corrupt / absent police presence, abuse against women and girls is normalized and accepted as the standard. There is little concern and accountability for those experiencing sexual and physical violence. Part of this is also about limited economic and developmental opportunities that exist in these communities.
Generations of families have been involved in the industry and many see it as the only viable option for their economic development. Primarily existing in remote communities that are heavily underfunded by government, educational facilities are lacking and job opportunities are scarce. This contributes to a cycle of young men leaving school to join in search of gold, hoping to be among the lucky ones who strike it rich.
Taught to take on the responsibilities of their families, young women are often encouraged to seek out partners to bring in an income for the household. The sexual trafficking of women at a young age is quite common in our society. This act robs them of their childhood as they are exploited to provide it, making it difficult for them to pursue other opportunities. Added to this are the frequent shrinking of STIs and high rates of teenage pregnancy, perpetuating the persistence of intergenerational poverty. Statistics on abuse and exploitation of these communities are often provided but what is not explored is how the lack of social and economic opportunities is directly related to the lack of progressive development.
These communities have high levels of labor and sexual trafficking. Although often unnoticed, labor trading is very high in mining areas and those along the coast. Many are forced to perform unpaid or underpaid labor but due to limited options they are forced to continue to participate in their own exploitation.
Women face the majority of this exploitation as they are largely regarded as either service or entertainment persons to miners seeking their trade. Those who have sought employment from them take advantage of these women, attracting them to “Dam dams” with promises of quick money. They might expect shopper-only jobs to be sexually exploited, coerced and threatened to stay. Depending on others for food, boarding and money, these women often have no entitlement, especially if they are migrants or have no family ties to which they can turn.
However, there must be a distinction between those who are sexually exploited against those who are already engaged in sex work. Given our puritan standards in society, the lines are often blurred between sex trafficking and sex work. Sex trafficking is when someone is forced to sell sex, while sex work is when someone makes the personal decision to use sex to win. Sex work is work and must be treated in that way, but sex workers continue to be misled and harassed under discriminatory anti-trafficking laws and policies.
Our people are hungry for economic and developmental opportunities and relying on extractive industries continues to damage communities and their environments. The sexual, physical and economic violence that exists in mining areas does not happen by chance, it is the result of decades of underdevelopment and lack of interest. There must be a significant shift away from our extractive industries and a focus on community development focused on the safety of women and girls. As with governments however, the focus on temporary economic growth continues to take precedence over everything else. Awareness of our social problems and inequalities can be good, but it is only effective if reserves are needed.