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1) Does slavery exist in 21st century Australia?

Yes. Many people are unaware that slavery is happening everywhere around the world. It is likely that there are more people living in slave-like conditions now than any other time in history.

The Criminal Code Act (Cth) defines slavery as ‘the condition of a person over whom any or all of the powers attaching to the right of ownership are exercised, including where such a condition results from a debt or contract made by the person’.

In 2008 the High Court of Australia handed down its judgment in Australia’s first slavery case The Queen v Tang [2008] HCA 39.

For a better understanding of slavery in Australia, please refer to Fact sheet 1: Understanding slavery, which further explains the offence of slavery, and provides a brief summary of the most important Australian court cases dealing with slavery.

What is trafficking?

Trafficking 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. People can be trafficked into any industry or setting, even in private homes.

For more information about trafficking generally, please refer to Fact sheet 3: Understanding trafficking.

For more information about specific trafficking offences, please refer to:

How is trafficking different from people smuggling?

Like trafficking, people smuggling involves the 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’.

You can find out more by reading the Australian Institute of Criminology’s brief People smuggling versus trafficking in persons: what is the difference?

Do you have to be physically abused to be a victim of human trafficking?

No. In addition to physical violence, the Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth) states that trafficking can also be committed through psychological abuse which includes threats, manipulation, and deceit.

For more information about trafficking generally, please refer to Fact sheet 3: Understanding trafficking.

For more information about specific trafficking offences, please refer to:

How do traffickers recruit people?

People can be recruited through advertisements, agencies, or a family friend, promising opportunities to work overseas, an opportunity to visit relatives and see another country, and many hope that it would be opportunity to make a new life for themselves. However many people end up being deceived about the conditions that they will be working under, the type of work that they will be doing, and who their boss is. After they have arrived in the destination country, many people find out that the situation is very different to what they have been promised.

You can find out more by reading Amnesty International’s report, Malaysia: Trapped: The exploitation of migrant workers in Malaysia and the US Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report 2010.

Why don’t trafficked or enslaved people attempt to escape or ask for help?

So far the cases of trafficking identified in Australia often do not resemble the stereotypical images of slavery and trafficking where people are forcibly restrained or terrorized into submission through the use of violence. In most cases it is the more subtle forms control such as ‘debt, fear of violence, psychological coercion and control’ that have been central to identifying the existence of slavery:

  • Victims may experience social, cultural and physical isolation, and may not speak the language of the country that they are in.
  • Traffickers may threaten to report the victim to the authorities or hurt the trafficked person or their family if they try to escape.
  • Traffickers often convince victims that their situation will only deteriorate if they contact the authorities, such as deportation.
  • Victims usually have no money or nowhere to go, and their travel and personal identity documents have been confiscated.

For more information please see Fact sheet 3: Understanding trafficking.

Who is most likely to become a victim of human trafficking?

Usually traffickers will prefer to target people with vulnerabilities they can exploit. A person may become vulnerable in situations such as a divorce, or the death of a family member. However a trafficked person does not necessarily have to come from an impoverished background. Victims of trafficking can come from different backgrounds, genders, ages and social classes. Therefore, any person is a potential victim of trafficking.

Does trafficking exist in Australia?

Yes, Australia is a destination country for people being trafficked. The exact number of people trafficked to Australia each year is not known. However, between January 2004 and April 2009, the Australian Federal Police 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.

For more information about trafficking in Australia, please refer to Fact sheet 1: Trafficking and slavery in Australia, and Fact sheet 3: Understanding trafficking.

What is the Australian government response to trafficking?

In 2003 the Australian Government implemented its anti-trafficking strategy. The Commonwealth Government’s Anti-Trafficking Strategy contains a range of measures intended to reduce the incidence of human trafficking, punish offenders, and protect and support victims of trafficking. The Anti-Trafficking Strategy has four elements: prevention; detection and investigation; criminal prosecution and victim support; and rehabilitation.

For more information see: Fact Sheet 1: Trafficking and slavery in Australia.

What is the community response to trafficking?


NGOs play a vital role in identifying and supporting people who have been trafficked, as well as raising community awareness of all forms of trafficking in Australia. There are currently four main NGOs which provide services for trafficked people in Australia: The Anti-Slavery Australia, Samaritan Accommodation, Scarlet Alliance, and Project Respect.

For more information about these organisations and NGOs in general, please refer to Fact Sheet 12: Community response to trafficking.

Do trafficked people have legal rights in Australia?

Yes, people who have been trafficked to Australia may be able to seek legal remedies in criminal or civil proceedings. They may also have access to special visas.

For more information see Fact Sheet 7: Australia's legal response to human trafficking and Fact Sheet #15: How to get help. For information about visas, please see Fact Sheet 6: Understanding what visa options a trafficked person may have.

Are there any victim supportive services available for trafficked people in Australia?

Yes, trafficked people are victims of serious human rights violations and need support to enable their physical, psychological and social recovery. In this respect, a range of services are provided by NGOs as well as the government, as a part of the Commonwealth Government’s Anti-Trafficking Strategy. This support includes accommodation, financial assistance and access to legal advice.

Please see Fact Sheet #15: How to get help for more information.

Are all trafficked people “illegal migrants”?

No. Although some trafficked people may be in Australia without a valid visa or working in breach of their visa conditions, there are others who have a valid visa with work permission but find themselves in exploitative work in Australia.

The Anti-Slavery Australia believes a trafficked person should never be denied adequate protection and support because that person is an unlawful non-citizen or because that person is unable to help police. This is why an effective and flexible visa framework is essential to allow trafficked people to remain in Australia lawfully and receive assistance and protection they need.

A trafficked person may be eligible for a visa under the People Trafficking Visa Framework or for another type of visa.

Fact sheet 6: Understanding the visa options for trafficked people explains how the people trafficking visa framework works and what other visa options may be available to people who are trafficked.

How can I identify someone who has been trafficked, enslaved or is in forced labour?

It can be difficult to tell if someone is in a severely exploitative work situation.

People who are enslaved in Australia can be visible to us every day. They may work in a restaurant, on a construction site, in a shop, on a farm. It is important to note that the vast majority of migrant workers in Australia are not in forced labour. However, sometimes you might have the instinct that something is very wrong in a workplace.

When we ask people about their experiences we find that the following questions can help us identify someone who has been trafficked or is enslaved or in forced labour:

  • Are you being paid?
  • Do you have a debt or contract?
  • Can you leave your job if you want to?
  • Can you come and go as you please?
  • Have you or your family been threatened?
  • What are your working and living conditions like?
  • Where do you sleep and eat?
  • Do you have to ask permission to eat/sleep/go to the bathroom?
  • Are there locks on your doors/windows so you cannot get out?
  • Has your identification or documentation been taken from you?

If someone is a migrant worker and you see them being treated badly by their boss, forced to work excessive hours or in harsh conditions, or it looks like they do not have the choice to leave their workplace, feel free to contact us for some confidential advice about the best way to handle the situation.

Not all people in slavery are migrant workers. In rare cases, Australian citizens or residents may be enslaved in very extreme situations of labour exploitation.

Call Anti-Slavery Australia on (02) 9514 9662 or email us at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

How can I report a suspected case of human trafficking?

Anyone can report a case of trafficking or suspected trafficking to the Australian Federal Police by calling 1800 813 784. If immediate assistance is required, general police services should be contacted on 000.

If you are worried about a person or group of people who are in an exploitative work situation and would like to talk to us on a confidential basis please call us on (02) 9514 9662 or email This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

How do I get help for a person that I am worried has been trafficked or enslaved?

If you think you have been trafficked, enslaved or severely exploited in Australia or are worried about someone in this situation, please call us for confidential advice or an appointment. We will keep your information confidential and we will not contact any person or government department, including immigration, without your consent.

If you are in Australia and need an interpreter please let us know and we will call you back with a professional interpreter. Alternatively, you can call the national free Telephone and Interpreting Service (TIS) and ask them to call us. The TIS number for professional interpreting is 131 450. The TIS operator will ask for your name but you can choose to keep your name confidential.

If you have an emergency please call police or ambulance on 000.

Call Anti-Slavery Australia on (02) 9514 9662 or email us at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it



Contact Us

Anti-Slavery Australia, University of Technology Sydney
Phone: +61-2-9514 9660