A British backpacker in Australia has told media how she was threatened with rape if she didn’t sleep with a hostel owner, as authorities across the Tasman work to make it safer for tourists on working holidays.
Visitors to Australia under 30 years old who are granted three-year working holiday visas are expected to carry out six months of farm work during their stay.
Some, desperate to fulfil the requirement, are exposed to abuse and sometimes dangerous conditions at backpackers and farmstays.
New Zealanders don’t need a visa to work or travel in Australia, but many are still lured by the appeal of an Outback adventure.
British backpacker Frances Fairs travelled to Mildura, northwest Victoria, in search of adventure, but she was greeted with a hostel in disrepair, the ABC reports.
"I was shown to my room. The beds were bare but you could see the bed bugs on there and there was a soiled mattress in there on the floor and a bathroom that didn't work and a kitchen that had no running water," Ms Fairs said.
However, the hostel's squalid living conditions was the least of her problems. Over the next four weeks, she said, the owner's behaviour towards her turned increasingly sexual, before escalating by Christmas.
"He called me into his office and was like, 'Right, here's the deal – you are to sleep with me and my girlfriend or I rape you. Pick one.'
"He said, 'Well, I'm gunna pick you up tomorrow whether you like it or not,' and 'I have people that will come and grab you. You're not going to be able to resist this.' And I kicked him – I kicked him off me."
Ms Fairs' story was all too familiar for Rosie Ayliffe, whose only child Mia was stabbed to death by a French national in a Queensland backpacker hostel in 2016.
Ms Ayliffe now provides advice for 20,000 people on social media – many of who are looking for farm work in Australia. Their stories of exploitation and assault, she said, "used to reduce me to absolute tears."
"It was like going through Mia's death again. Every time I got another story, it was like going through her death again," she said.
The Department of Home Affairs said they have now introduced a number of sweeping changes to protect visitors, including providing the Fair Work Ombudsman with additional funding and power to investigate and penalise bad employers.