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What is trafficking?

TraffickingTrafficking is the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of a person for the purpose of exploiting that person through slavery, forced labour, sexual servitude, debt bondage, organ removal or other forms of exploitation.

Traffickers move their victims through the use of force, threat, coercion, deceptive or abusiv a means.

Trafficking is a violation of human rights and a serious crime. While exploitative practices such as forced labour, slavery and practices similar to slavery often occur as a result of trafficking, this is not always the case. For example, the International Labour Organisation estimates that at any one time there are 2.5 million victims of trafficking world wide and 12.4 million victims of forced labour.

It is important to understand that people trafficking and people smuggling are different. Like trafficking, people smuggling involves the illegal movement of people. Unlike trafficking, people smuggling does not involve moving people for the purpose of exploitation after arriving in the destination country. The United Nations Office of Drugs and Crimes states one of the major differences between trafficking and people smuggling is that smuggled migrants consent to the smuggling, while trafficking victims “have either never consented or, if they initially consented, that consent has been rendered meaningless by the coercive, deceptive or abusive actions of the traffickers”.

The Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth) (‘the Criminal Code’) contains offences for trafficking in persons which were introduced in 2005 to implement Australia’s obligations under the Trafficking Protocol. Division 271 of the Criminal Code prohibits organising or facilitating the movement of a victim into, out of, or within Australia, where this movement occurs because of force, threats, or deception for the purpose of exploitation. It is also an offence to be reckless to the fact that a person who is trafficked to Australia may be exploited. The maximum penalty of the trafficking offences is 12 years imprisonment (aggravated offences have a penalty of 20 years imprisonment). There are separate offences of trafficking in children and domestic trafficking within in Australia.

Trafficking in Australia

Australia is a destination country for people who have been trafficked. The exact number of people trafficked to Australia each year is not known. Between January 2004 and April 2009, the Australian Federal Police (‘the AFP’) undertook over 270 investigations and assessments of allegations of trafficking and offences related to trafficking such as slavery and sexual servitude. There have been 34 people charged and seven convictions. Fifteen people have been identified as having been trafficked to Australia for trafficking for exploitation outside the sex industry. There have been no credible allegations of child trafficking since 2004.

Suspected victims of trafficking and slavery who have been identified by the AFP have not always been kept under lock and key. Instead trafficked people may be effectively controlled through more subtle methods such as confiscation of travel documents, threats of violence, fear of being reported to authorities and social, cultural and physical isolation. While some trafficked people are unlawfully in Australia, others hold valid visas entitling them to work in Australia.

People are trafficked to Australia for exploitation including forced labour, slavery, sexual servitude and debt bondage. These types of exploitation can occur in workplaces or in private homes. So far most cases of trafficking in Australia have been identified in the sex industry but people can also be trafficked to Australia for exploitation in other industries such as hospitality, construction and agriculture, as well as domestic labour and forced marriage.

To find out more about people trafficking see Fact Sheet #1 Slavery in Australia and Fact Sheet #3 Understanding Trafficking.


Contact Us

Anti-Slavery Australia, University of Technology Sydney
Phone: +61-2-9514 9662