Australian Institute of Criminology

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Report investigates help-seeking barriers to women trapped in servitude

Media release

4 February 2014

The Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC) today released a report into women who were trafficked, tricked and trapped into servitude, or slavery, through the partner migration process.

The report’s authors interviewed eight women who had escaped situations of domestic and sexual servitude from their partners.

“The report details barriers which count against migrant women in a slavery situation, and strategies they used to escape an abusive partnership,” report author and AIC Research Analyst Samantha Lyneham said.

The victim/survivors in this study faced a number of barriers to seek help, including:

  • fearing retribution from husbands;
  • lack of trust in police and other authorities;
  • not identifying their experiences as violent or exploitative;
  • being unaware of services; and
  • lack of an effective response when the victim/survivors initially sought help.

Other barriers included: language barriers, social isolation and limited understanding of Australian culture and laws.

The research found that often informal contact with service providers gave women the way out of their predicament.

Servitude cases are most commonly identified as domestic violence, and the research intends to create a better understanding of slavery in a domestic setting so that women can receive appropriate help - for example through the Support for Trafficked People Program - and perpetrators can be prosecuted under Trafficking and Slavery legislation.

“Such research findings help inform Government policy, and can also inform the professionals and social service providers of warning signs of domestic and sexual servitude,” Ms Lyneham said.

Last year Parliament introduced criminal offences for forced marriage, which received bipartisan support. Australia’s laws against domestic servitude and servile marriage were strengthened in February 2012.

The report is part of a major AIC trafficking study in partnership with Australian Government Interdepartmental Committee on Human Trafficking and Slavery and is available at

For Comment: Colin Campbell 0418 159 525