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Estimates and other reported figures on trafficking in persons vary greatly depending on the source of information.  Obtaining reliable and detailed statistics from relevant agencies is a major challenge with data often being released in an ad hoc, disorganised, and uncoordinated manner.  This page collates and presents the available data relating to investigations and prosecutions of trafficking in persons cases, as well as information pertaining to victims of trafficking in Australia.  This information is current as on 24 November 2015.

Investigations

The Australian Federal Police (AFP) releases information about the number of trafficking-related investigations and assessments.  This information is supplemented by reports of the Australian Government’s Anti-People Trafficking Interdepartmental Committee that contain some basic figures about police investigations and assessments relating to trafficking conducted during these periods.

Trafficking in persons investigations and assessments, Australia 1999–2015[1]

Financial year

New referrals for assessment
during the period[2]

Total number

Since Jan 2004 Since 1999
2014–15 119 588  
2013–14 70 469
2012–13 52 398
2011-12 41 346
2010-11 35 305
2009-10 38 270 +
2008-09 not available not available
2007-08 17 150
2006-07 15 125
2005-06 20 110
2004-05 29   105
2003-04 not available 79
2002-03 20 32

The information displayed above shows that between 15 and 119 new allegations of trafficking in persons have been referred to the AFP each financial year.  In the 2014–15 financial year, the AFP received 119 referrals relating to trafficking in persons for assessment, with 93 leading to investigations.  29% of these 93 referrals relate to sexual exploitation, 28% to other forms of labour exploitation, 28% to allegations of forced marriage, and the remaining 15% to other forms of slavery or trafficking in persons.[3]  This statistical breakdown represents a significant deviation from previous years, particularly in the increased proportion of investigations into forced marriage.[4]

The majority of AFP investigations into trafficking in persons have been carried out in Sydney and Melbourne, Australia’s two largest cities.  Between July 1, 2000 and June 30, 2009, approximately 65% of victims identified were located in Sydney.[5] Reported cases as well as government sources confirm that trafficking in persons has been identified in Queensland, South Australia, and the Australian Capital Territory (ACT).[6]  In 2013, the first case involving charges relating to trafficking in persons came before the courts in Western Australia. 

  Prosecutions

A total of 17 persons have been convicted for trafficking-related offences since Divisions 270 and 271 of the Criminal Code (Cth) first came into operation.  Ten of these defendants were convicted for slavery offences, four of sexual servitude offences, and three for trafficking in persons.  No new convictions were recorded during the 2014-2015 financial year.  As at 30 June 2015, two slavery or trafficking-related matters involving four defendants were before Australian courts.[7]

Figures relating to the number of victims of trafficking in persons in Australia differ significantly between government sources and those reported by NGOs.

Official figures

Approximately 300 victims of trafficking in persons have come to the attention of Australian authorities since record-keeping started in January 2004.  This estimate is based on figures relating to AFP investigations and the number of persons who have obtained specific government support available to victims of trafficking in Australia.  By 30 June 2015, a total of 273 persons had been referred to the Australian Government’s Support for Trafficked People Program since the program’s inception in 2004.[8]  Official figures confirm that the great majority of known victims of trafficking in persons in Australia are women.  Trafficking involving male victims or children are very rare by comparison.

A total of 88 persons received support under the Support for Trafficked People Program in 2014–15, compared to 76 in the previous financial year.  It needs to be noted in this context that a victim may receive support over more than one financial year which may slightly distort these figures.   

Number of clients in and referred to the Support for Trafficked People Program, 2005 to 2015[9]

Financial year

New clients entering
the Support Program

Number of clients on the Support Program

Total

Male

Female

2014–15

38 88 18 70

2013–14

21 76 11 65

2012–13

21 83 11 72

2011-12

9 77 9 68

2010-11

29 80 9 71

2009-10

24[10] 65 3 62

2008-09

not available 59 not available not available

2007-08

not available 60 not available not available

2006-07

not available 48 not available not available

2005-06

not available 41 not available not available

With 81 persons (or about 40% of all victims) identified between 2004 and 30 June 2013, Thai nationals constitute the single largest group of trafficked persons in Australia.  In recent years a growing number of South Korean (Republic of Korea) nationals has been identified and referred to the government support program (38 persons 2004–30 June 2014).  Malaysian nationals (33 persons) are the third largest number of known victims in Australia.  In 2014-15, Thai nationals also constituted the largest group of clients on the Support for Trafficked Persons Program, alongside Malaysia.[11]  Other victims involve primarily persons of North Asian and Southeast Asian background.[12]  According to official figures, trafficking in persons to Australia from countries outside Asia is extremely rare. 

Non-governmental sources

Several Australian NGOs have released figures relating to the number of trafficked persons.  These figures focus exclusively on trafficking for the purpose of commercial sexual exploitation.  Among these NGOs, there is disagreement about the definition of trafficking in persons and thus about the number of victims.  There is also a great discrepancy between the number of victims identified and assisted by authorities and the magnitude of the problem claimed by some NGOs.

For example, Project Respect, an Australian trafficking in persons advocacy group, claims to have identified over 300 victims of trafficking during a study conducted over a six-week period in early 2004.  These victims are said to relate to 60 cases of trafficking which occurred sometime between 1997 and 2003, with some cases involving as many as 89 victims from a diverse range of nationalities.[13]  These cases cannot be independently identified and the figures presented are not supported by other official or scholarly information.  Project Respect, however, suggests that its study ‘amply supports’ its suggestion that

around 1,000 women are trafficked in Australia each year and under contract at any one time and still paying off a debt.  Realistically, the number could be far greater as we do not know how many women are still in Australia but have left the situation of exploitation, or how many women are trafficked for other purposes such as marriage and labour exploitation.[14]

This figure has been used in multiple publications and presentations made by Project Respect, and has gained a life of its own after frequent repetition in the media and in other reports and writing.[15]

Suggestions that 1000 or more persons are trafficked into Australia each year have been criticized by a variety sources, which also cast doubts over the methodology used to generate these high estimates.  For example, on April 1, 2003, the then Minister for Immigration, Mr Philip Ruddock, issued a media release stating that:

It is not a credible suggestion that hundreds or thousands of people are being trafficked unwillingly into the industry and have escaped detection over many years [...].  While I do not diminish the concerns on trafficking, the actual complaints from individuals do not match the level of claims being made [...] [T]he claims being made about the wide extent of trafficking cannot be substantiated.[16]

A parliamentary briefing paper published in the same year has also been critical about the methods used by NGOs to estimate the number of persons trafficked to Australia, suggesting that ‘[s]ome of these methods may inflate the extent of the problem’.[17]

More recently, similar criticism has been extended to statistical analysis provided by the Australian anti-trafficking NGO, ‘Walk Free Foundation’.  This NGO created a Global Slavery Index designed to quantify and rank the prevalence of trafficking and slavery in nations alongside the adequacy of governmental responses. This index estimates 3,000 people are currently victims of trafficking or slavery in Australia.[18]  The methodology used in creating this index has been criticised for relying too heavily on extrapolation, to the point that it ‘verges on the ludicrous’.[19]

Based on the available data it is perhaps fair to conclude that trafficking in persons does not appear to occur on a very large scale in Australia and that ‘[t]rafficking is generally not as significant a problem as in other countries.’[20]  To that end, the Australian Government also stresses that ‘[o]pportunities to traffic people into Australia are limited because of […] strong migration controls and geographic isolation.’[21]  Government sources have, however, also been criticized for their ‘reliance on the actual number of complaints [which] significantly understates the problem’.[22] 

  Dark Figures

In 2013–14, the Human Trafficking Working Group undertook further research into the available data and the possible ‘dark figure’ relating to trafficking in persons in Australia.  The findings of this research have been published in Matthew Wise & Andreas Schloenhardt, ‘Counting Shadows: Measuring Trafficking in Persons in Australia’ (2014) 3 International Journal of Criminology and Sociology 249–266. 

This article explores the challenges of measuring trafficking in persons and examines the available data from Australia.  It outlines similar analyses conducted by other authors abroad, and attempts to develop a methodology to provide insight into the true extent of trafficking in persons in Australia.  The goal of this article is to provide insight into the challenges of research in this field, critically analyse the work undertaken by other scholars, and articulate the parameters to measure trafficking in persons in Australia more accurately.  This is important in order to evaluate and improve Australia’s national response to trafficking in persons.  Indeed, the lack of any official mechanism in Australia to estimate the full extent of the country’s trafficking in persons problem has been repeatedly noted as a barrier to the evaluation and success of Government policies on this issue.

[1]   Interdepartmental Committee on Human Trafficking and Slavery, Trafficking in Persons: The Australian Government’s Response 1 July 2014–30 June 2015 (2015) 1, 24; Interdepartmental Committee on Human Trafficking and Slavery, Trafficking in Persons: The Australian Government’s Response 1 July 2013–30 June 2014 (2014) 19; AFP, Annual Report 2012–13 (2013) 71; AFP, Annual Report 2011–12 (2012) 53; AFP, Annual Report 2010–11 (2011) 50; Anti-People Trafficking Interdepartmental Committee, Trafficking in Persons: The Australian Government’s Response January 2004–April 2009 (2009) 19; AFP, Annual Report 2004–05 (2005) 32; AFP, Annual Report 2003–04 (2004) 37.
[2]   Note that some investigations and assessments remain active across one or more reporting periods.
[3]   Interdepartmental Committee on Human Trafficking and Slavery, Trafficking in Persons: The Australian Government’s Response 1 July 2014–31 June 2015 (2015) 24.
[4]   Interdepartmental Committee on Human Trafficking and Slavery, Trafficking in Persons: The Australian Government’s Response 1 July 2013–31 June 2014 (2014) 18.
[5]   ANAO, Management of the Australian Government’s Action Plan to Eradicate Trafficking in Persons (2009) 59 [4.8]; Anti-People Trafficking Interdepartmental Committee, Trafficking in Persons: The Australian Government’s Response 1 July 2010–30 June 2011 (2011) 11.
[6]   Anti-People Trafficking Interdepartmental Committee, Trafficking in Persons: The Australian Government’s Response 1 July 2010–30 June 2011 (2011) 11; UN General Assembly, Human Rights Commission, Report of the Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children, on her mission to Australia (17–30 November 2011), UN Doc A/HRC/20/18/Add.1 (18 May 2012) 3 [5].
[7]   Interdepartmental Committee on Human Trafficking and Slavery, Trafficking in Persons: The Australian Government’s Response 1 July 2014–31 June 2015 (2015) 27.
[8]   Interdepartmental Committee on Human Trafficking and Slavery, Trafficking in Persons: The Australian Government’s Response 1 July 2014–30 June 2015 (2015) 34.
[9]   Interdepartmental Committee on Human Trafficking and Slavery, Trafficking in Persons: The Australian Government’s Response 1 July 2014–31 June 2015 (2014) 34; Interdepartmental Committee on Human Trafficking and Slavery, Trafficking in Persons: The Australian Government’s Response 1 July 2013–31 June 2014 (2014) 30; Anti-People Trafficking Interdepartmental Committee, Trafficking in Persons: The Australian Government’s Response 1 July 2012–31 June 2013 (2014) 30; Anti-People Trafficking Interdepartmental Committee, Trafficking in Persons: The Australian Government’s Response 1 July 2011–30 June 2012 (2012) 33; Anti-People Trafficking Interdepartmental Committee, Trafficking in Persons: The Australian Government’s Response 1 July 2010–30 June 2011 (2011) 32–33; Australian Government, Attorney General’s Department, Australian Government Strategy to Combat Human Trafficking and Slavery Whole-of-Government Performance Management Reporting, 1 July–31 December 2012, 4; Australian Government, Attorney General’s Department, Australian Government Strategy to Combat Human Trafficking and Slavery Whole-of-Government Performance Management Reporting, 1 January–30 June 2013, 4.
[10]   This figure relates to the period 1 May 2009–30 June 2010.
[11]   Interdepartmental Committee on Human Trafficking and Slavery, Trafficking in Persons: The Australian Government’s Response 1 July 2014–31 June 2015 (2015) 36.
[12]   Anti-People Trafficking Interdepartmental Committee, Trafficking in Persons: The Australian Government’s Response 1 July 2012–31 June 2013 (2014) 31.
[13]   Project Respect, One Victim of Trafficking is One Too Many: Counting the Human Cost of Trafficking (2004).
[14]   Project Respect, How Are Women Trafficked? (2008).
[15]   See, for example, N O’Brien & E Wynhausen, ‘Sex slaves may get witness protection’, The Australian, 26 Mar 2003,6; N O’Brien & E Wynhausen, ‘Canberra to review sex slave policing’, The Australian, 4 Apr 2003,6; K Lyall, ‘Police lay first sex traffic charges’, The Australian,19 June 2003,1; M Shaw, ‘Police team to tackle sex slavery’, The Age (Melbourne), 14 Oct 2003, 4.
[16]   Cited in K Carrington & J Hearn, ‘Trafficking and the Sex Industry: from Impunity to Protection’ (2003) 5; primary source no longer available.
[17]   K Carrington & J Hearn, ‘Trafficking and the Sex Industry: from Impunity to Protection’ (2003) 6.
[18]   Walk Free Foundation, The Global Slavery Index (2014).
[19]   A Gallagher, ‘The global slavery index is based on flawed data – why does no one say so?’ The Guardian (Online), 28 November 2014.
[20]   E Pearson, ‘Australia’ in, Collateral Damage: The Impact of Anti-Trafficking Measures on Human Rights around the World (2007) 28, 29.
[21]   ACC, Organised Crime in Australia 2011 (2011) 92; Anti-People Trafficking Interdepartmental Committee, Trafficking in Persons: The Australian Government’s Response 1 July 2011–30 June 2012 (2012) 3.
[22]   K Carrington & J Hearn, ‘Trafficking and the Sex Industry: from Impunity to Protection’ (2003) 6.  See further, Drugs and Crime Prevention Committee, Parliament of Victoria, Inquiry into People Trafficking for Sex Work (2010) 29–31.