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Valli Mendez

Through her work with Project Respect, a small advocacy and support organisation for women in sex work, Valli Mendez has improved the lives of many.

Honour Roll

"I'm probably most proud of the direct contact with the women - treating them with dignity and humanity. To me the women are not just clients, they are human beings" - Valli Mendez

Valli tirelessly lobbied for funding to provide outreach workers in brothels and support services for women in the industry, and doggedly pursued a commitment from the Federal Government to tackle the problem of women and girls being trafficked to Australia. In 2001 Valli started working one day a week at Project Respect alongside founder Kathleen Maltzahn, who spearheaded the campaign that preceded the Federal Government's october 2003 announcement of a $20 million countertrafficking program. Valli secured Victorian Government funding to offer emergency accommodation to trafficked women ineligible for Federal Government support. At a local level she worked with the Brunswick Women's Theatre and artist Catherine Simmonds to develop a theatre project to provide community education on issues of trafficking. This culminated in a powerful drama performance in 2008.

In 2006 Valli took over as co-ordinator of Project Respect, a position she held until October 2008. "You listen as empathically as you can to women's stories but it really took its toll. It was so hard trying to get money to support the women."

Despite leaving the role as co-ordinator, Valli continues to work on a Project Respect enterprise to open a Thai noodle bar in Melbourne. The aim is to provide a community venture offering long-term employment for former trafficked women.

"I see myself as being committed and passionate about the women. If any of the women we support in Sydney have to come to Melbourne I always say to them, 'You are more than welcome to come and stay at my house'."

Prior to working at Project Respect, Valli worked at the East Timor Human Rights Centre documenting human rights violations in East Timor. Her focus has also now shifted to the classroom, teaching community development at chisholm Institute of TAFE. There she hopes to "share my experience and impart a passion and compassionate way of working with people".