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The conceptual framework

The function of a conceptual framework is ‘to ‘map’ the terrain surrounding an area of interest’ (ABS 2009: 11) and hence guide the identification, assignment and assessment of embedded measures. In selecting an appropriate template on which to base the conceptual framework, two conditions were deemed crucial:

  • the framework examines human trafficking, slavery and slavery-like practices as a process rather than an event; and
  • it is able to assimilate the complex array of factors considered necessary to better understand these crimes.

The framework developed by the ABS to measure family, domestic and sexual violence (see ABS 2013a) was determined to best complement these requirements and was selected as an appropriate structural foundation. This framework comprises six conceptual elements that are equally relevant to monitoring the nature, extent and responses to human trafficking and slavery—context, risk, incident, response, impact and outcomes, and research and evaluation.

The conceptual framework was constructed with the intention that it illustrate all areas that would be ideal (but with the caveat that this is not always feasible) to monitor. It also provides a diagrammatic representation onto which existing data can be mapped and potential data providers identified, and to highlight where data collection on human trafficking and slavery in Australia is typically focused.

The framework has been developed, however, recognising that not all themes reflected in the conceptual framework will be populated with data collected to a standard that best practice advises and in some cases, no form of useable information will be available for the immediate future. The latter includes themes, such as contextual factors, that are not necessarily included in crime and criminal justice monitoring frameworks, or are not in the format identified by stakeholders as necessary to this purpose. Further, the framework is not designed to specifically outline the data variables that may be collected in the resultant data collection tool but rather the indicator themes on which data variables will be based. In this section, the context for each of the framework’s conceptual elements and indicator themes are described; the framework is illustrated in Figure 1.

Figure 1 Human trafficking and slavery monitoring program: Conceptual framework

Figure 1


Understanding contextual factors is regarded as important in any comprehensive examination of human trafficking and slavery. As noted by Aronowitz (2009: 50):

analysis of the context, including the socio-economic situation in a country of origin, the respect for human rights, the prospect for education and access to the labour market, gender disparities, as well as the extent of restriction of labour migration laws in the country of destination can provide valuable information and point to trends in human trafficking.

Contextual elements describe the environmental (including attitudinal) and psychosocial factors that enable (or counteract) human trafficking and slavery occurring. There are a range of factors that create vulnerabilities, promote resilience and foster pathways into offending, particularly in source countries but sometimes in destination countries as well. It is not the purpose of this report to describe these factors in any detail as this has been done comprehensively elsewhere but they include:

  • gender;
  • poverty;
  • religious and ethnic equality/discrimination;
  • status of women and children;
  • family arrangements and obligations;
  • localised unemployment and underemployment;
  • labour protections and regulations;
  • migration barriers;
  • corruption;
  • war, conflict and environmental disasters; and
  • existing anti-trafficking initiatives and programs and legislative responses.

Such factors may be examined for the purposes of the proposed monitoring program in two ways:

  • contextual factors can be monitored as they relate to countries, sectors or communities identified as (or presumed to be) source environments for victims of human trafficking and slavery into (or out of) Australia. This would provide a broad assessment of vulnerability to human trafficking and slavery for specific regions or population groups; or
  • these factors can be investigated as antecedents to human trafficking and slavery via an analysis of known cases in Australia.

Since the majority of known incidents of human trafficking and slavery in Australia have to date involved victims who were originally, or were trafficked, from the Asia–Pacific region, the collation of data from source countries could concentrate on regionally relevant factors as identified from environmental scans. However, not all victims originated from this region. Further, a limitation of aggregating factors to large regions from which the majority of victims originate includes minimising the differences that may exist within these areas and excluding countries and regions from which a minority of victims originate. Factors that are relevant to trafficking events originating in, for example, the Mekong region of South East Asia are not necessarily identical to factors typical to Melanesia (in the Pacific), the Indian subcontinent or Eastern Europe—regions from which it is known persons trafficked into Australia originated. To expand the environmental scan to all recognised source countries, however, creates a contextual scope that may prove impractical to address.

An alternative approach is to use what contextual information is documented in records, such as client case files or court transcripts of known victims. The limitation to this method is that the information contained in these sources may be inconsistent and/or scant in detail, and potentially unrepresentative. Nonetheless, these data are anticipated to be the most practical and ultimately useful if contextual factors are formally incorporated into a monitoring data collection.

A comprehensive assessment of contextual factors should also take into account those factors that act to counteract, not just facilitate, human trafficking and slavery. Indeed, monitoring environmental factors that are directly influenced by Australian action, such as legislative and regulatory responses and initiatives in education and awareness raising, is arguably the more significant contextual contribution, as it can highlight where and how Australia has acted to lessen incidences, particularly in-country exploitation. Prevention factors are described in the Response element of the framework. It is suggested these also be included in the broader discussion of the environment that counteracts (or inadvertently facilitates) human trafficking and slavery occurring in Australia.


Risk encapsulates the ‘likelihood of an individual becoming a victim or a perpetrator’ (ABS 2013a: 30). Risk may be described in terms of actual risk, measured as the known incidence or prevalence of a crime, and perceived risk (eg what the general public understands the occurrence of human trafficking and slavery is in Australia).

Actual risk

Incidence and prevalence are the most commonly used measures of risk. Incidence refers to the number of incidents of a specified crime for a defined population within a specified reference period (see next section discussing the measurement of incidents). Prevalence refers to the number (or rate) of victims or offenders for a particular category of crime for a defined population within a specified reference period. In measuring incidence and prevalence, there must be careful consideration as to how the crime will be measured—as the broader construct of human trafficking and slavery or as separate offences defined in the Criminal Code.

Measures of incidence or prevalence of human trafficking and slavery will likely be an underestimate due to the underreporting of these crimes. Hence, actual risk might be estimated by using and comparing two measures—the number of reported cases and the number of assumed cases. Reported cases are derived from official administrative data (eg law enforcement) and assumed cases may be sourced from individual records documented by service providers and the like, including cases not formally reported to or substantiated by identified authorities. Comparing the two estimates will introduce the issue of double counting (see next section) but may also illustrate the perceived discrepancy between officially reported and identified but unreported cases. This discrepancy might be exacerbated by the use of different parameters to identify cases of human trafficking or slavery. While government agencies use the Australian legal system to define what constitutes human trafficking, slavery and slavery-like practices, non-government organisations and service providers may use a definition suited to their focus of service or a modified version of the legislated definition.

Perceived risk

The perception of risk by stakeholders and the general community is an additional area to monitor as it can influence response. Perceived risk is closely aligned with knowledge of and/or experience with human trafficking cases.

Gauging knowledge and understanding of human trafficking and slavery by formal response and support provision personnel, and the Australian community more broadly, is valuable for informing policy and practice in the area to shape future awareness-raising activities and to ensure human trafficking scenarios are responded to appropriately. This knowledge is also important as community members are more likely than authorities to come into contact with trafficked persons.

However, a 2009 AIC survey of community attitudes and awareness survey on human trafficking found confused understanding of what constituted human trafficking. Three-quarters of respondents (n=1,204) indicated they would not be able to ‘identify’ a trafficked person (Joudo Larsen et al. 2012). Thus, without education campaigns to raise awareness of what constitutes trafficking and slavery matters for professionals and the wider community, it is likely that perceived risk will be significantly underrated by the Australian community for some time to come.

Risk profiles

Individual risk may also be estimated using risk profiles. Risk profiles or typologies for both victims and offenders can be constructed using data from known cases. This could be informed by the demographic indicators collected under Incident (ie the trafficking incident; see below), combined with information on contextual factors. Risk profiling can help to estimate the risk of victimisation and offending within the community and to establish at-risk groups of people. This last point is important as it establishes a target group for community awareness and other prevention initiatives. Risk profiles can also inform risk assessments, which can be used by those working in community services and the criminal justice system.


The majority of guidelines and handbooks describing the collection of human trafficking and slavery data specifically recommend compiling accurate data on the trafficking event (incident) (recruitment, transportation and transfer, and exploitation), victims and offenders. It is anticipated that as with other human trafficking data collections currently in operation, these data will comprise the monitoring program’s core indicators, along with indicators on Response.

The trafficking event: Action, means and exploitation

Within this framework, the trafficking event is examined with reference to Action and Means and Exploitation to reflect the international definition of human trafficking. The action and means element of human trafficking comprises the majority of indicators for this conceptual area and includes recruitment practices, migration pathways of victims, movement within Australia, level of organisation among offenders and the use and nature of coercion, deception or force. These themes can assist in establishing the modus operandi of offenders and the use and extent of trafficking networks.

The element Exploitation covers the nature and characteristics (eg duration, location) of the exploitation experienced. Current attempts to collect data on human trafficking and slavery have broadly categorised types of exploitation into sexual and (physical) labour exploitation, but these classes do not always adequately reflect the nature of the exploitation experienced. In this framework, the type and location of exploitation will be examined more laterally by collecting information, where possible, on the specific industry sector the victim was located in, the services provided by the victim and the employer and location of these services.

For human trafficking and slavery-like scenarios such as forced marriage and trafficking through partner migration, modified variants of these indicators will be required. Such events may be better classified through the use of additional themes, including length of exploitation, means of control and experience of violence, and other forms of abuse.

Victims and offenders

Victim and offender profiles are generally constructed from demographic indicators typically collected by criminal justice and service provider agencies. For both victims and offenders, these include gender, age, nationality/country of birth, education level and legal visa status in country of exploitation. While there are no cases of revictimisation in Australia documented to date, it is recommended that information on revictimisation be collected where and if it occurs. This will help understand the extent to which (and where and how) persons re-enter a trafficking scenario and for offenders, their prior status as a victim and role in the commission of the trafficking event/exploitation.


Response refers to actions that take place following an incident (ABS 2013a). These largely include the range of formal and informal contacts and assistance available to victims of human trafficking and slavery and the investigation and prosecution of offenders. For this framework, it also includes government and non-government led action to prevent human trafficking and slavery.

Informal responses

Informal responses constitute the support sought and/or received from family, friends, neighbours, other employees, customers/clients etc. There has been limited research on the use of informal support by victims of human trafficking and slavery (see Richards & Lyneham 2014) but victimology research has demonstrated that informal support is more commonly sought than formal support by victims of crime (for a review of the literature see McCart, Smith & Sawyer 2010). The nature of that contact may play an important role in both the long-term outcomes for victims, as well as subsequent reporting of human trafficking and slavery cases to recognised authorities. Obtaining standardised data on the occurrence of informal contact and responses is, however, unlikely outside of information that may be collected through individual studies focusing on victim experiences or that possibly recorded by support services.

Formal responses

Formal responses include those actions undertaken by government and non-government agencies to prevent, identify, respond to and counter human trafficking and slavery. The ABS (2013a) categorises formal responses as:

  • detection and prosecution;
  • treatment and support; and
  • prevention.

The first two categories are reclassified here as criminal justice responses and service provision; the third additionally captures legislative and policy responses. For the purposes of monitoring, a fourth category should be developed to capture the visa framework that has been established to allow foreign nationals who are suspected victims of human trafficking and slavery to remain in Australia.

Criminal justice and related responses

The primary government agencies involved in the detection, investigation and prosecution of human trafficking and slavery offences in Australia are the AFP, CDPP and DIBP. Other agencies that may be involved in detection (or investigation of related matters) include state and territory law enforcement, the Fair Work Ombudsman, Fair Work Building and Construction, state/territory labour regulators, industry groups and unions.

Indicators measuring criminal justice responses would include the collation of data on:

  • number of referrals (eg to state/territory police, AFP, DIBP and the CDPP);
  • number of investigations and assessments;
  • number of persons charged with human trafficking and slavery offences;
  • charges at arrest;
  • number of convictions/number of convictions for specified human trafficking and slavery offences;
  • type of sentence imposed;
  • number of persons acquitted; and
  • number of appeals/result of appeal process.

Where data are available, further information should be sought to aggregate the source of referrals (reports) and to describe charges and convictions for other offences (such as offences for allowing an unlawful non-citizen to work (s 245AB) or a lawful non-citizen to work in breach of visa requirements (s 245AC) under the Migration Act 1958 (Cth)).

In using these indicators to describe the criminal justice response in Australia (and as a de facto measure, in combination with Incident indicators, of the nature and extent of human trafficking and slavery), there is the recognition that not all cases of human trafficking and slavery will be recognised, identified, reported or recorded as such or at all. Victims do not necessarily identify (or wish to identify) themselves as having been trafficked or exploited. Persons or organisations who have first contact with victims may also not comprehend the nature of the situation being presented to them and not respond to it as a trafficking matter (David 2010; Joudo Larsen et al. 2012; Richards & Lyneham 2014). The latter is an equally relevant point when considering informal responses.

Further, until recently, alleged cases of human trafficking and slavery occurring outside the sex industry in other workplace sectors were mainly dealt with under migration and labour regulation laws. The few cases that were prosecuted under federal laws were unsuccessful in most instances due to the inability to prove the presence of force or threat or an element of movement. With amendments to the Criminal Code under the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Slavery, Slavery-like Conditions and People Trafficking) Act 2013 (Cth), provisions are now in place to deal with the broader scope of human trafficking and slavery offences and the circumstances in which they occur.

Finally, sexual servitude and deceptive recruitment for commercial sexual services are offences under state and territory law (except Queensland and the Northern Territory). These cases, if not directly sought for incorporation in a monitoring program, will be missing from the final count.

Service provision

There is a small group of government and non-government services that specifically provide support and assistance to victims of human trafficking and slavery. For example, the Australian Government-funded Support for Trafficked People Program (STPP) provides support to those persons determined by the AFP to be (or who may have been) a victim of human trafficking and slavery. The Australian Red Cross provides the delivery of services including case management support, counselling, accommodation and access to medical care and legal and migration advice. Support and related services are also provided by the Salvation Army, Anti-Slavery Australia, Project Respect and ACRATH among others.

Support may similarly be sought and available from health and medical services, domestic and family violence services, labour regulators, unions, migrant services, child protection agencies and other faith-based community support services. Despite recent recommendations and action to improve broader service awareness of human trafficking and slavery (IDC 2014), many services may still not recognise clients as victims of trafficking or slavery-like practices. Even when a case is identified as such, the matter may be dealt with by addressing the more immediate issue (such as physical abuse or sexual violence). In either situation, formal service responses to victims of human trafficking and slavery will be underestimated.

Indicators of service provision include number of victims accepting (and declining) support, types of support received, type of institution providing support and length of support period. However, as described above, measuring the full extent of service provision is an uncertain prospect and any realistic measure should (at least initially) focus on known service providers who are likely to deliver the bulk of support services.

Visa framework

The European Commission (Eurostat 2013) collects data on the granting of residency permits to victims of human trafficking and this measure is also recommended for use by Aronowitz (2009). The primary arrangement in Australia for enabling trafficked foreign nationals without a valid visa to remain temporarily or permanently in the country is the Human Trafficking Visa Framework. Three visas are available under this Framework:

  • Bridging F visa (BVF)—Persons assessed by the AFP as a suspected victim of human trafficking or slavery are eligible for the BVF, which allows visa holders to remain in Australia for 45 days and to continue to receive support under the STPP. The victim’s family members may also be eligible for this visa. A second BVF may be granted where victims are willing but unable to assist the AFP in their case.
  • Criminal Justice Stay visa (CJSV)—The CJSV is granted to trafficked persons to allow them to stay in Australia for the length of time ‘their presence is required for the administration of criminal justice’. As well as receiving STPP support, CJSV holders may also seek employment.
  • Witness Protection (Trafficking) (Permanent) visa—This visa is available to trafficked persons who contributed to an investigation or prosecution. The visa grants permanent residency to victims and their immediate family.

Measures of the receipt of temporary and permanent residency permits or similar used in other monitoring efforts simply calculate the number of victims who received such a permit (or visa) in a defined time period. Such a measure could be used under this framework, but it would also be useful to understand the proportion of successful applicants for each of these visa categories.

Legislative and policy responses, including prevention initiatives

A final area for monitoring is the scope (and evaluation) of anti-trafficking efforts. At a higher level, this is reflected in the implementation of the National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking and Slavery 2015–19, supported by agency-specific (eg AFP) anti-trafficking strategies.

One particular focus should be the prevention initiatives that have been put in place. Prevention in Australia largely takes the form of programs and campaigns implemented by both government and non-government agencies that aim to educate and raise awareness about human trafficking and slavery. These programs focus on improving knowledge about risks and indicators of trafficking activity (eg forced labour and forced marriage) and how and where to respond if a potential victim of trafficking is identified. They include media campaigns, e-learning initiatives and community forums, as well as formal education and specialist training of frontline officers employed in government agencies, service providers, education providers, civil celebrants and other personnel who may come into contact with a victim of trafficking (see, for example, summary in IDC 2014). Little is known, however, of the reach and impact of these campaigns and programs, the extent they complement one another and additional preventative actions that could be taken. Some of this deliberation falls within the Research and Evaluation conceptual element and crossreference between these two elements of enquiry might be used to monitor the characteristics and successes of different prevention approaches.

Connections between, and barriers to, informal and formal support

Monitoring formal and informal responses to cases of human trafficking and slavery enables a description of the extent to which government, non-government and the broader community are responding to cases of human trafficking and slavery and potentially, how these responses strengthen and evolve as new cases are identified. It may also provide some perspective on the intersection between informal and formal responses, and the relative importance of informal support as a first point of contact and as an ongoing source of support. This perspective, however, is most likely derived from qualitative data, obtained through research interviews or perhaps through an assessment of case notes compiled by service providers.

An additional and valuable outcome of this assessment is to identify and confirm where barriers to formal (and informal) support exist. Aronowitz (2009) recommends collecting data on the number of victims who were refused assistance and the number who declined assistance but these measures are only potentially indicative of barriers to accessing formal mechanisms of support and cannot capture the nature of those barriers. Such information is unlikely to be recorded in administrative data, or at least not recorded in any standardised way. It may therefore be better to assess such information through interviews with a sample of service providers or victims/survivors.

Impacts and outcomes

The Impacts and Outcomes element describes the short and long-term effects on victims and offenders. For victims, it refers to the impacts from being trafficked and exploited, the longer term outcomes following the receipt of support and other measures to reintegrate the person back into everyday life, and the risk of revictimisation. The type of support services accepted by victims might suggest, for example, physical or mental health concerns requiring treatment, which may be used as an indirect measure of impact. Broader personal, social and economic consequences and outcomes, for those granted residency and those choosing to repatriate, are more likely sourced from ongoing case management or similar follow-up. Outside of logistical considerations, particularly for repatriated persons, there are issues with the longer term ‘monitoring’ of victims, as the process can be perceived as intrusive, potentially induce stress and may be ‘counter-productive’ to the ultimate goal of allowing the person to return to a ‘normal’ existence (IOM 2007: 104).

Measuring outcomes for human trafficking and slavery offenders is still a relatively novel monitoring concept. Much of the information currently collected about offenders concerns conviction rates, sentences received, parole and occasionally incidences of recidivism.

Research and evaluation

Research and evaluation regarding human trafficking and slavery can be informed by, and also act to inform, the other conceptual areas. For example, evaluating the aims, objectives and outcomes of education and prevention activities (both government and non-government initiated) would contribute to, and reflect changes in, contextual factors, risk and incident specifics. The monitoring framework would benefit from the inclusion of:

  • new empirical and theoretical findings on offending and/or victimisation;
  • the aims, objectives and evaluated outcomes of education and prevention activities; and
  • the evaluated outcomes of detection and intervention activities.
Last updated
3 November 2017