Australian lawyer Anne Gallagher was honoured by the US Secretary of State this week for her work on fighting the illegal trade in human beings for sex and slave labour.
Dr Gallagher, based in Bingi on the south coast of NSW, was one of 10 people singled out by Hillary Rodham Clinton in Washington for their work in fighting the trade.
She said being one of 10 Trafficking in Persons Heroes was a tribute to the work she has done for years. She also said it was an honour to be included among such an inspirational group.
Dr Gallagher said one hero, a medical doctor in the Democratic Republic of Congo, constantly put his life on the line to treat victims of trafficking and violent exploitation. Another hero, the first female lawyer from Mauritania who has been imprisoned almost half a dozen times because of her work, helped to push through the first anti-slavery laws in the country. Mauritania is one of the few countries which still has chattle slavery - the buying and selling of people.
''It's really wonderful to be in the company of these heroes,'' Dr Gallagher said.
Dr Gallagher has worked in close to 50 countries and encountered all form of trafficking, from labour and sexual exploitation to finding children who have been locked up in sealed-off factories for more than a year. The inventive ways in which people exploit each other continue to shock her.
Since 2003, Dr Gallagher has led a program aimed at strengthening legislative and criminal justice responses to trafficking in south-east Asia.
Her work on developing an effective criminal justice response to trafficking saw her recognised as a Trafficking in Persons Hero.
''We've come a considerable way,'' Dr Gallagher said. ''I think countries everywhere now recognise what a good anti-trafficking law actually looks like.''
Ms Gallagher said human trafficking was still a high-profit, low-risk crime.
''You have to go back and work with law enforcement and change attitude and behaviour there.''