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Salvos speak out at Sexpo

Territorial social justice secretary Major Marion Weymouth led a Just Salvos volunteer team at Melbourne’s Sexpo convention. The major says her first foray into the politics and loneliness that abounds at the sexuality and lifestyle exhibition afforded her and the team the opportunity to ‘raise awareness of sexual slavery and human trafficking, and to encourage people in its abolition’.

‘In the process, we hoped for engagement in conversations that might spark off areas that help us to listen to them, hear a story and in turn provide appropriate challenge, help or encouragement to those we met.’
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Major Marion Weymouth reflects on Sexpo 2013

The presence of Just Salvos in a massive exhibition like Melbourne’s Sexpo was well worth it! Sexpo is a sexuality and lifestyle exhibition that is expanding rapidly, with additional new localities planned in Hobart and Adelaide in 2014.

The mission entailed an aim: to raise awareness of sexual slavery and human trafficking, and to encourage people in its abolition. In the process, we hoped for engagement in conversations that might spark off areas that help us to listen to them, hear a story and in turn provide appropriate challenge, help or encouragement to those we met.

Thousands of people thronged through the alleyways and show areas of the exhibition space, mostly wandering as they walked and trying to take in the attractions all around. The Salvation Army had an 11-member volunteer team that engaged with many people throughout the event.

Being my first opportunity for ministry in this space, I was curious as to how Just Salvos volunteers could attract the gaze of those who passed. After all there were great extremes of expression of ‘goods on show’ – not only showbag material, but activities that could be judged as highly risqué.

Helping our conversation with people was a wall dedicated to tracing their own hands, signing their names and committing to help stop the trafficking of human beings. The wall was well filled.  

I picture a young woman who was genuinely interested in the cause.  We talked of her friends who she tries to attract in the challenge of anti-human trafficking.  We discussed her presence at Salvation Army youth events in the past.

Postcard signing directed to a chocolate company, and to the government on ‘slavery-free guarantee’ products, proved the most useful form of engagement. This activity was made more popular by gifts of fairtrade, UTZ  and rainforest alliance chocolate. Fact sheets from World Vision, Stop the Traffik material, Just Salvos folders, books and Tshirts were also made available. Interestingly, not much sold. But that didn’t matter. People stopped and talked, and we befriended nearby stall holders.

In this process, one in-depth conversation involved a man who manages numerous brothels overseas. While hearing of his desire to run healthy, traffik free venues and provide other options of employment for girls who exited the sex industry, I had to wonder about his motive and presence in this place. 

We were able to meet however, for more than an hour, in an ‘equal’ environment, where truth could be fleshed out, and I thanked him for the time we had.  My own understanding has grown and I believe we would benefit from sitting with more people who move in this space.