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One of the primary challenges for improving knowledge about human trafficking, slavery and slavery-like practices (herein referred to as human trafficking and slavery; see Table 1) is obtaining relevant and accurate data that can describe the nature and scale of human trafficking and slavery, and assist in the development and delivery of effective policies and interventions (Tyldum & Brunovskis 2005). Over the last decade:

[a]ttention for the subject of human trafficking has grown enormously…creating a need for more knowledge (including quantitative data) about the phenomenon in order to increase the effectiveness of efforts to prevent and combat human trafficking and to provide better protections for victims (Dettmeijer-Vermeulen 2012: 283).

The hidden nature of human trafficking and slavery, the complexity of the crimes associated with trafficking and slavery-like practices, and limitations with existing data collections has complicated the development of a uniform data collection that can accurately measure and monitor the different facets of these crimes, the people involved (as victims, offenders or facilitating agents) and the responses enacted. The challenges in measuring and describing the nature and context of human trafficking and slavery in Australia was addressed in Wise and Schloenhardt (2014) in their examination of the variable estimates generated around prevalence.

Further complicating the development of such a data collection is the absence of an international standard for the measurement and collection of data on human trafficking and slavery (UNESC 2013). Inter-jurisdictional data is affected by variation in conceptual and operational definitions of human trafficking and slavery, while national systems often rely on data compiled from disparate data sources. While these issues are not unique to data on human trafficking and slavery, they can affect the reliability, utility and comparability of current data. The compilation of accurate (or rather complete) statistics on many aspects of human trafficking and slavery, both in Australia and internationally, have thus remained largely elusive.

Table 1 Definitions of human trafficking, slavery and slavery-like practices
Human trafficking is the physical movement of people across and within borders through coercion, threat or deception for the purpose of exploiting them when they reach their destination
Slavery is where a person exercises the rights the rights of ownership over another person
Slavery-like practices are practices involving exploitation so serious that they are considered similar to slavery. These include servitude, forced labour, deceptive recruiting, debt bondage and forced marriage

Source: IDC 2014

At present and outside of discrete research projects undertaken by the Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC) and others, data on human trafficking and slavery in Australia is largely captured in annual reports prepared for the IDC (see IDC 2014) and six monthly reports under the Whole-of-Government Performance Management Framework (see, for example, AGD 2014). These data, collected at the aggregate level, provide snapshots of information on investigations and prosecutions, government victim support and trafficking-related visas but not necessarily the detailed picture on the trafficking process identified as needed by stakeholders. This report considers how the scope, nature and responses to human trafficking and slavery in Australia might be better monitored and the data needed to support such monitoring processes.

Background and purpose

Although a low-rate crime in Australia, the seriousness of human trafficking and slavery has led to the issue receiving national attention and has seen the development of enhanced anti-trafficking legislation and increased responses to investigate and prosecute offenders, and to support victims. In 2015, the Australian Government delivered the National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking and Slavery 2015–19 (AGD 2015). Listed among the action items to the plan is the implementation of measures to improve and standardise the collection of statistical information on human trafficking and slavery. A key outcome attached to this action item is the development of an enhanced monitoring program on human trafficking, slavery and slavery-like practices.

As part of its Human Trafficking and Slavery (previously Trafficking in Persons) Research Program, the AIC undertook preliminary monitoring work, including an assessment of the extent of the Australian Government’s response to human trafficking and slavery, an audit of data recorded by various Australian Government and non-government bodies, and consultations with key stakeholders in the broader Asia–Pacific region to identify emerging trends and issues. Two monitoring reports were released, covering the periods July 2007–December 2008 (Joudo Larsen, Lindley & Putt 2009) and January 2009–June 2010 (Joudo Larsen et al. 2012). Both reports described current trends and issues concerning human trafficking in the Asia–Pacific region, an overview of Australian Government responses and the presentation of administrative data that was available on human trafficking and associated exploitation cases in Australia. The second report also described the findings of a Community Awareness and Attitudes on Trafficking in Persons survey the AIC conducted in 2010.

It was subsequently determined, in the preparation of the 2015–19 Action Plan, that the AIC explore the feasibility, logistics and options for the potential establishment of a formal monitoring program on human trafficking and slavery, based on an expanded conceptual representation of these crimes. The purpose of the exercise, described in this report, was to develop a monitoring framework that provided a more complete description of human trafficking and slavery as a process and to assess the availability and reliability of data collected in Australia that could be incorporated into the foundation data collection. If such a monitoring program could be established, it would contribute to:

  • an improved understanding of how human trafficking and slavery is manifest in Australia;
  • identifying key risks and protective factors to these crimes, and
  • an evaluation of system responses.

The AIC’s involvement in developing monitoring programs

The AIC has had extensive experience in developing and administering monitoring programs on crime and criminal justice matters. Among the monitoring programs currently administered by the AIC are the National Homicide Monitoring Program (NHMP), the National Deaths in Custody Program (NDICP), the Drug Use Monitoring in Australia program (DUMA) and the Fraud Against the Commonwealth survey; previous and now concluded monitoring programs include the National Armed Robbery Monitoring Program and the National Firearm Theft Monitoring Program. The origins of these monitoring programs vary, although most were established in response to recommendations that there be a centralised collection of data on the specified topic to promote the dissemination of consistent statistics and inform policy responses. For example, the NDICP was established (in 1992) following the recommendation in the final report of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody (RCIADIC 1991) for an ongoing program to monitor Indigenous and non-Indigenous deaths in prison, policy custody and juvenile detention. The NHMP, the AIC’s longest running monitoring program, began data collection in 1989–90 to fulfil a recommendation from the National Committee on Violence (1990: 218) for a ‘national homicide monitoring system’.

With the exception of the DUMA, the AIC’s monitoring programs source(d) data from government agencies, primarily (depending on the program in question) state and territory police services and/or custodial agencies, supplemented by additional sources of data where needed (eg in the case of the NHMP with data from the National Coronial Information Service). To establish these monitoring programs, the AIC followed standard data development protocols that comprised negotiations with data providers on the form, content and specifications of data collection tools, development and testing of data dictionaries, and options for data transmission in the event that data providers could not provide data in the agreed format. These processes were supported by executing formal undertakings or other agreements with data providers that outline purpose, receipt and use of data by the AIC. The primary output from these monitoring programs are the publication of an annual or biennial report on most recent year findings and presentation of trend data where appropriate.


The development of an enhanced Human Trafficking and Slavery Monitoring Program is framed around six critical tasks:

  • the establishment and refinement of a conceptual framework, indicator themes and associated indicators;
  • a stocktake and evaluation of data that is collated from relevant government and non-goverement agencies;
  • an assessment of the data that is needed to support information requirements;
  • configuration of a proposed monitoring program—selected indicators and data sources;
  • the development of data collection tool(s) and data specifications; and
  • an assessment of the program’s readiness for implementation, including pilot testing.

The first four steps (Phase One) constituted a feasibility analysis for the proposed monitoring program and is the focus of this report. The report also describes alternative options for monitoring human trafficking and slavery. Phase Two (steps five and six) is to proceed depending on final assessment of the findings from Phase One in consultation with stakeholders (the Human Trafficking and Slavery Operational Working Group and more broadly, the Interdepartmental Committee on Human Trafficking and Slavery). This phase will involve the development and pilot testing of the data collection tool(s). The following outlines the methods taken to fulfil Phase One.

Literature review

A literature review was conducted to identify current measures, measurement frameworks and standardised data collections undertaken on human trafficking and slavery. These included various guidelines and handbooks prepared by the European Union, International Organization for Migration (IOM), the International Centre for Migration Policy Development (ICMPD), the International Labour Organization (ILO), the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the Institute for International Research on Criminal Policy, the US Department of Justice and the Bundeskriminalamt (Germany). A complementary review examined best practice principles for data collection and monitoring more generally. This focused on guidelines established by the ABS and the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), and referred to monitoring program development at the AIC.

Development of the conceptual framework

The conceptual framework for the monitoring program was based on a framework developed by the ABS to establish areas of data requirement and monitoring for family, domestic and sexual violence (see ABS 2013a). This framework was selected as an appropriate template as it treats crime as a process, incorporating broaders themes around the environment in which the crime can occur, the actions used to prevent and respond to criminal activity and the outcomes of these responses. As is described later in this report, the framework incorporates the conceptual elements of context, risk, incident, response and impact/outcomes, which align with the four pillars of prevention, detection and investigation, prosecution and victim support, and rehabilitation upon which the Australian Government’s anti-trafficking strategy rests.

Indicators were largely modelled on measures used in human trafficking data collections currently administered or in development elsewhere. It was established during the literature review that the most practical approach was to incorporate useful measures that had already been identified or tested and the majority of indicators were ultimately selected in this way. Some indicators, however, were developed based on themes that emerged from the broader literature on human trafficking and slavery and were considered important measures to monitor.

The framework and indicators underwent two stages of refinement based on:

  • stakeholder feedback; and
  • assessment of the feasibility of the proposed conceptual elements and indicators and the ultimate contribution they might make to a data collection.

Data stocktake

Consultations were undertaken with selected government and non-government organisations identified as already collecting and contributing useable data on human trafficking and slavery, and hence the likeliest primary contributors to the proposed monitoring program. These agencies were the Australian Federal Police (AFP), Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions (CDPP), Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT; at the time of interview, AusAid), the Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP), Department of Social Services (DSS; at the time of interview, the Department of Family, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs), the Australian Red Cross and Salvation Army Samaritan Accommodation.

The purpose of the consultations was to gain an updated understanding of the type, method of collection and purpose of data collected on human trafficking and slavery in Australia, and ultimately the utility of these data for a monitoring program. Agencies were asked to provide, where possible, hard copies or screenshots of data collection tools to show the types of data items collected and any documents or guidelines outlining the data specifications and collection practices. Any potential issues in the provision of annual or biennial data were discussed, as were the steps required to establish a data sharing arrangement to service the monitoring program. The consultations also provided the opportunity to receive further feedback on the conceptual framework and the perceived benefits of the monitoring program for individual agencies.

Preliminary assessment for establishing a data collection tool

Using the information gathered from the data stocktake, a preliminary assessment was made of data collection and utility issues, the degree of data consistency and completeness, and options for data linkage. These assessments were informed by consultation with data development experts from AIHW on the requisite steps and issues for consideration in developing a data collection tool. Data identified from the stocktake was in turn mapped against the conceptual framework to ascertain those elements that could be populated (ie where data that was available for each element) and to highlight where information gaps existed.

A total of 100 potential indicators were identified on the basis of practicality, non-ambiguity and legitimate contribution to understanding the dynamics of, and responses to, human trafficking and slavery as it affects Australia. The second component of the assessment involved ranking the selected indicators in terms of the potential for routine collection and/or if they were already collected as part of other monitoring programs. The latter measure was used to denote validity and resulted in the identification of 34 indicators that might be considered for incorporation into the first iteration of the data collection.

Assessing options

The final stage of Phase One was to consider options for future presentation of information on human trafficking and slavery. These considered the pros and cons of:

  • maintaining the status quo, with the collation of data in the annual report of the IDC (see IDC 2014);
  • augmenting existing AIC monitoring reports on human trafficking and slavery; or
  • implementing processes to refine and establish a formal monitoring program, with the AIC as data custodian and administrator of the program.
Last updated
3 November 2017