Go to top of page

Executive summary

This second monitoring report provides Australian trafficking data for the period January 2009 to June 2011. It summarises the AIC’s work examining community attitudes and awareness, environmental scans of neighbouring regions, the role of organised criminal networks, and labour trafficking. It also sets out areas of future research for the AIC.

Trafficking in persons in Australia

As is the case for most victims of crime, the exact number of trafficked persons is impossible to identify. However, data from Australian Government agencies that respond to people trafficking incidents give some indication of the extent and nature of trafficking into Australia.

The available aggregate statistics from government agencies indicate that between January 2004 and June 2011:

  • 305 investigations and assessments of people trafficking–related offences were conducted by the Australian Federal Police’s Transnational Sexual Exploitation and Trafficking Teams (TSETT);
  • 184 victims of trafficking had been provided with assistance through the government-funded Office for Women’s (OfW) Support for Trafficked People (STP) program; and
  • 13 people were convicted for people trafficking–related offences (nine of the 13 defendants were convicted of slavery offences, three of sexual servitude and one of people trafficking.

Most investigations and assessments conducted by the AFP between 2004 and 2011 related to trafficking for sexual exploitation (APTIDC 2011). This is reflected in the profile of clients referred to the STP by the AFP, the majority being women trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation (81%; n=149). In contrast, the 19 male clients who were provided with support through the program were all exploited in non–sex labour industries. Four young people, aged between 15–17 years at the time of the referral, were referred to the support program between January 2009 and June 2011 as suspected victims of people trafficking.

As in previous years, clients in the support program in 2010–11 mostly originated from southeast Asian countries. More than one in three people who received support during this time were from Thailand (n=32), a further 17 were from Malaysia and nine were from the Philippines.

Community awareness and attitudes survey

Examining Australians’ awareness of trafficking and their perceptions of who the victims of trafficking are, is valuable for informing policy and practice in the area. The knowledge that members of the community possess is important for two reasons:

  • Members of the community are more likely than the authorities to come into contact with trafficked persons and their knowledge may assist in identification and reporting.
  • Such cases are likely to be tried before juries drawn from the wider community, and an understanding of the facts of people trafficking in Australia is important in reaching just trial outcomes.

Assessing community awareness of people trafficking, as well as attitudes to related issues, such as people smuggling, can also shape future awareness-raising activities and shed light on issues that may have a significant impact on trial outcomes. To that end, the AIC developed an online survey of respondents’ understanding of trafficking and their attitude to a range of related issues, including people who are unlawfully in Australia, labour exploitation, sex work and the notion of ‘deserving’ victims.

The survey was run nationally in mid-2009 and had 1,617 respondents. The majority (63%) of respondents were female, 46 percent were aged between 30 and 49, 76 percent were born in Australia (96% of respondents indicated they were Australian citizens), 75 percent were living in the eastern states of Australia and 50 percent were in full-time employment.

Results from the survey revealed respondents to be confused about the distinction between people trafficking and people smuggling. This is likely to have influenced other findings, including the assumptions that international organised crime networks are primarily responsible for people trafficking, that over 1,000 people are trafficked into Australia each year and that most trafficked persons come from Afghanistan.

Many beliefs about the nature and extent of people trafficking were based on misconceptions commonly found in popular media and were conflated with the issue of people smuggling. This highlights the need for further work in raising awareness and providing factual information to the community. Yet, survey participants were, by and large, reasonably well informed about trafficking and held quite humane attitudes. There was strong support for the notion that the human rights of trafficked persons are paramount and that trafficked persons require support regardless of how they arrive in Australia.

Regional trends and issues

Australia is a destination country for victims of trafficking, who come here mainly from Asia. A number of countries in this region have been rated ‘high’ or ‘very high’ as both source and destination countries, reflecting wide-scale intraregional trafficking (UNODC 2006).

In 2008, the second year of the AIC’s research program, there was a focus on key trends and issues in people trafficking in the south and east Asia regions. This included a scoping of migration trends in the region and a focus on the nature and manifestation of transnational organised crime and related areas, such as the use of international marriage as a tool for trafficking women. The results revealed distinct patterns in the trafficking process:

  • Trafficking movement patterns—In both south and east Asia, trafficking generally flows from less developed to developing countries and onwards to the most developed areas in the region. India operates as a hub in the south Asia region due to its geographic location, large sex industry and high level of corruption.
  • Offenders and facilitators—Making the transition from trafficked person to trafficker is known to occur in the Asia region as in other regions. One study of trafficked Nepalese girls in India found several instances in which trafficked Nepalese women whose period of slavery or debt bondage had ended were able to purchase their own tsukris (a person in slavery or debt bondage) and operate brothels (TDMIF 2005). Corruption is known to play a role in trafficking in several regions, and this is the case within south Asia, where police and politicians are referred to often work for traffickers.
  • Nature of offending—Language and cultural similarities among neighbouring areas, specifically Bangladesh and India, affect the control mechanisms exhibited by traffickers in the south Asia region. Because of their familiarity with the language Bangladeshi women trafficked into India are often controlled through physical confinement, social stigma and debt bondage, as opposed to cultural and linguistic isolation which is common among other regions. In east Asia it is evident that traffickers use isolation resulting from language barriers, fear of prosecution, concern about immigration status and deportation, and threats against family members in the source country as a means to control their victims. It seems that the use of these methods is multiregional. Further, in east Asia there appears to be a link between the ethnicity of the trafficker and the victim. For example, North Korean refugees in China are exploited by ethnic Koreans with Chinese citizenship.
  • Response to trafficking—Government responses in countries within south Asia concentrate on the trafficking of women and children for sexual exploitation to the exclusion of trafficking of men or trafficking for forced labour, resulting in a gender bias whereby men are invariably viewed as ‘migrants’ and women in the sex industry as ‘trafficking victims’. This is also the focus in east Asia, even though there appears to be a greater degree of trafficking for forced labour in this region.

Future research directions

The AIC will conclude its initial, four-year Trafficking in Persons Research Program in early 2012 and is currently developing a new four year workplan. Key areas of work being undertaken or considered for investigation include:

  • developing a conceptual framework that will guide the creation of a national minimum dataset on trafficking in persons, providing better data for future monitoring reports
  • examining trafficking for the purpose of exploitation in non–sex industries— including marriage arrangements and construction work—and the potential for domestic trafficking within Australia; and
  • examining understandings of trafficking scenarios, trafficked persons, offenders, and offending patterns and trafficking in the Pacific.
Last updated
3 November 2017