Australian Institute of Criminology

Skip to content

Trafficking in persons


Trafficking in focus

Trafficking in persons is a crime characterised by exploitation. Being trafficked means a person is recruited, transferred or harboured, through some form of deception, fraud, violence or coercion, for the ultimate purpose of exploitation. Exploitation means conduct serious enough to be described as sexual exploitation, forced labour, slavery or equivalent practices.

Although people trafficking is found in most countries in the world, to date there have been relatively few cases identified in Australia, and few of those cases fit the traditional image of slavery or popular stereotypes about trafficking. Victims have not been abducted, held at gunpoint or kept in chains.

Often coming from poor socio-economic backgrounds, they have sought or accepted opportunities to work in Australia, attracted by the perception of well-paid jobs and educational opportunities. Once in the country they discover their living and working circumstances are very different from what they had expected. It is important to note that trafficking may occur within a country, ie domestically, not only transnationally.

How it happens

Victims find themselves trapped, being controlled and exploited through obligations to repay unreasonable debts, threats of violence, isolation, intimidation, detention, or having their travel documents withheld. While trafficking for sexual exploitation is the best known manifestation of the crime, the reality is that people can be trafficked for forced labour, slavery in any number of situations and industries, including construction, hospitality, agriculture, domestic service.

Most people identified as having been trafficked into Australia come from Asia, in particular Thailand, South Korea, Malaysia, India, Indonesia and China. Particular triggers of people trafficking include demand for cheap labour, lack of employment and education opportunities in the source country, natural disasters, political instability and economic disparity between countries. Another trigger is inequalities for women and girls which can draw them into risky situations to gain access to economic opportunities.

Unlike people smuggling where offenders make their profit from moving people, people traffickers makes their gains by continually exploiting victims when they have arrived at their destination.

In 2005, Australia ratified the international protocol to combat trafficking – the Protocol to prevent and punish trafficking in persons, especially women and children. It also introduced legislation that added the offences of trafficking in persons, trafficking in children, domestic trafficking in persons and debt bondage to the Commonwealth Criminal Code. The AIC releases regular monitoring reports covering Australia and the Asia-Pacific region.

Senate legal and constitutional affairs committee report: Inquiry into Prospective Marriage visa program 

Current projects

The AIC has been running the Australian Government-funded Trafficking in Persons Research Program since 2007 to better understand the nature of the crime in Australia and the Asia-Pacific region.

Current research under this program examines:

  • risks and protections related to exploitation and trafficking in the construction industry
  • data collection and monitoring, including the development of a framework of indicators to monitor trafficking in persons in the region
  • risks and protection of marriage arrangements for trafficking
  • sex worker migration and vulnerabilities to trafficking and exploitation
  • issues related to offenders and circumstances of offending

Events & publications


For details of upcoming events please contact:


The AIC co-hosted a workshop on supply and demand factors relevant to trafficking in persons with the Australian Federal Police (AFP).

In addition, the AIC & AFP  hosted a series of information sessions on trafficking in the Northern Territory and Western Australia. The sessions were attended by state/territory and federal police as well as a range of government and non-government agencies.


The AIC has over the past three years, undertaken research to assess the risks and protective factors for trafficking in persons and to identify matters for priority research as part of the Australian Government’s response to combat trafficking in persons.

Recently, AIC released a T&I paper examining the role of organised crime in trafficking in persons 

Latest publications include:


Further information regarding the Australian Government's response to trafficking in persons is available from the Attorney-General's Department website

Other external links

Inquiry into the exploitation of people through trafficking, in all its forms in NSW. Community Relations Commission for a multicultural NSW