Australia is primarily a destination country for women subjected to forced prostitution and, to an increasing extent, for women and men subjected to forced labor. Child sex trafficking occurs with a small number of Australian citizens, primarily teenage girls, as well as foreign victims, exploited within the country. Some women from Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines, South Korea, China, and to a lesser extent India, Vietnam, Indonesia, Eastern Europe, and Africa migrate to Australia voluntarily intending to work legally or illegally in a number of sectors, including the sex trade. Subsequent to their arrival, some of these women are coerced into prostitution. These foreign women and girls are sometimes held in captivity, subjected to physical and sexual violence and intimidation, manipulated through illegal drugs, and obliged to pay off unexpected or inflated debts to their traffickers. There were reports of some victims of sex trafficking and some women who migrated to Australia for arranged marriages being subsequently subjected to domestic servitude. In 2013, there were reports of an Australian female victim subjected to sex trafficking in the United States and other countries.
Men and women from several Pacific Islands, India, China, South Korea, and the Philippines are recruited to work temporarily in Australia. After their arrival, some are subjected by unscrupulous employers and labor agencies to forced labor in agriculture, horticulture, construction, cleaning, hospitality, manufacturing, seafaring, and domestic service. They may face confiscation of their travel documents, confinement on the employment site, threats of physical harm, and debt bondage through inflated debts imposed by employers or labor agencies. Most often, traffickers operate independently or are part of small organized crime networks that frequently involve family and business connections between Australians and overseas contacts.
The majority of identified victims were individuals on student visas in Australia. Many foreign students in the country spend significant sums in placement and academic fees. Some foreign students work in housekeeping, restaurants, and other service industries and are subject to a restriction of working a maximum of 20 hours per week under their visas. Unscrupulous employers coerce students to work in excess of the terms of their visas, which makes them vulnerable to trafficking because of their fears of deportation for immigration violations. There were reports that some foreign diplomats subjected household staff to forced labor in Australia.
The Government of Australia fully complies with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking. During the year, the government continued to prosecute a modest number of trafficking cases and convicted one offender. The government enacted legislation that enhanced protections for witnesses in trafficking cases, such as through granting the ability to provide testimony by video, and it continued to identify and refer victims to the government-funded support program. The government continued robust efforts to combat child sex tourism, including through prosecuting six cases and convicting three Australian nationals who committed this crime overseas.
Recommendations for Australia:
Vigorously prosecute, convict, and stringently sentence traffickers, with increased focus on labor trafficking; continue to increase efforts to train police, local councils, health inspectors, diplomats, and other front-line officers to recognize indicators of trafficking, and respond to suspected cases of both sex and labor trafficking; enhance and utilize formal mechanisms for government agencies that deal with labor violations to refer cases with elements of trafficking to law enforcement officials to consider criminal prosecutions; continue to strengthen efforts to proactively identify trafficking victims among vulnerable groups, such as migrants arriving in the country without documentation, through methods other than immigration compliance actions; consistently employ multidisciplinary groups of law enforcement officers and social service providers when planning to conduct initial screening interviews with potential victims; consider ways to streamline and expedite visa processes for trafficking victims; continue to ensure all victims have access to a full suite of protective services; sustain and increase funding to NGOs for the provision of protection services and the implementation of awareness campaigns, particularly among rural communities and migrant populations that are not easily accessed through mainstream media; consider establishing a national compensation scheme for trafficking victims; consider appointing an ambassador dedicated to addressing human trafficking issues worldwide; and develop a targeted campaign to raise awareness among clients of Australia’s legal sex trade about the links between prostitution and trafficking.
The Government of Australia increased investigations and prosecutions of human trafficking offenses. Australia prohibits sex and labor trafficking and trafficking-related offenses through divisions 270 and 271 of the Commonwealth criminal code, which prescribe maximum penalties of 12 to 25 years’ imprisonment and fines of up to the equivalent of $152,000. These penalties are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for other serious offenses, such as rape. Through the 2013 Crimes Legislation Amendment (Slavery, Slavery-like Conditions and People Trafficking) Act, it amended the criminal code and addressed gaps in previous legislation, most notably by including specific prohibitions of forced labor and prescribing sufficiently stringent penalties of nine years’ imprisonment for this offense. The legislation also expanded the definition of coercion to include non-physical forms such as psychological oppression, abuse of power, and taking advantage of a person’s vulnerability. The Migration (Employer Sanctions Amendment) Act of 2007 prohibits exploiting migrant employees through forced labor, sexual servitude, or slavery and prescribes penalties of up to five years’ imprisonment and various fines; these also are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious crimes. Child prostitution is criminalized by state and territorial laws.
The Australian Federal Police (AFP) initiated 46 investigations in 2013, an increase from 29 investigations in 2012. The government initiated prosecutions against six defendants, compared to three in 2012. In 2013, the government convicted one offender for subjecting Malaysian women to sex trafficking; one offender was also convicted in 2012. One sex trafficking prosecution was dismissed when the jury was unable to reach a verdict; a retrial is expected to occur in 2014. The punishment of a sex trafficking offender, convicted during the previous reporting period, was reduced from eight years and 10 months’ imprisonment to six years and 10 months’ imprisonment as the result of a successful appeal of the sentence. The majority of labor trafficking cases were addressed through civil mechanisms. The AFP continued to use specialized Human Trafficking Teams (HTT) to investigate suspected trafficking offenses. The government provided specialized training on human trafficking investigation procedures to 18 police and immigration officers. The government did not investigate, prosecute, or convict any Australian government officials for trafficking or trafficking-related criminal activities during the reporting period.
The Government of Australia sustained efforts to provide protection to identified victims of trafficking, though the number of identified victims remained low. In 2013, the government and NGOs identified 21 trafficking victims, including 12 subjected to sex trafficking and nine subjected to labor trafficking. The AFP referred these victims to the government’s victim support program. Victims in this program could typically access accommodation, living expenses, legal advice, health services, and counseling. Only the AFP could refer victims to the government’s victim support program; NGOs provided support to additional victims who were either not recognized by the AFP or who chose not to communicate with law enforcement. Among those referred to the support program was one Australian victim subjected to sex trafficking in the United States and other jurisdictions. Fifty-five victims identified during previous years continued to receive government support services. The government provided the equivalent of approximately $1 million to fund its victim support program. There were no government-run shelters for trafficking victims and few trafficking-specific shelters in the country; most victims were initially placed in hotels that met security standards set by the AFP and the support program assisted victims participating in the criminal justice process to access longer-term housing solutions. The government encouraged victims to participate in trafficking investigations, and 92 percent of identified victims participated in an investigation or prosecution during the reporting period. In 2013, the government granted 14 Permanent Witness Protection (Trafficking) visas to victims and their immediate family members, which required contribution to an investigation or prosecution of a trafficking offense. However, local organizations expressed concern that lengthy delays in processing this type of visa could be a disincentive for victims to pursue the benefit. In 2013, the government enacted legislation that improved protections and rights for witnesses in some criminal proceedings, including cases of human trafficking; new provisions allow for victims to provide testimony by video within or outside Australia. Victims identified by authorities were not incarcerated, fined, or penalized for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked.
The AFP updated its procedures for the identification of victims based on the 2013 amendments to the criminal code, which includes new definitions of forced labor, and officials followed formal procedures to proactively identify and refer to services victims involved in the legal sex trade. The majority of trafficking victims were identified through immigration compliance actions, an environment in which the fear of detainment and deportation could make victims reluctant to communicate with law enforcement officers. The government did not ensure social service professionals were present during initial screening interviews, although procedures were in place to bring in social service personnel when law enforcement officers determined they were needed. The government’s efforts to identify and refer victims of forced labor were limited, and many front-line officers, particularly at the sub-national level, would benefit from additional training to identify indicators of trafficking, particularly labor trafficking. The government reported that immigration officers were trained to identify indicators of potential trafficking among undocumented migrants arriving by sea, although international observers expressed concerns that possible victims among boat crew members detained in Australia for people smuggling violations, including some children, may have remained unidentified. Victims could be eligible for compensation through state and territories’ general crime victim schemes, but benefits varied by region and could only be granted on the basis of trafficking-related crimes, as trafficking is not a crime in state and territorial law. Few victims had access to this form of redress. NGOs reported concerns that victims were not always adequately informed about visa options and legal avenues available to individuals who wish to remain in Australia to pursue compensation or civil remedies.
The Government of Australia continued to demonstrate strong efforts to prevent trafficking in persons. Government anti-trafficking efforts were coordinated by the interdepartmental committee, chaired by the Attorney General’s Department, which produced an annual report on its efforts for parliament, and the national roundtable continued to serve as a consultative mechanism between the government and NGOs on trafficking issues. The government continued to fund the Australian Institute of Criminology to conduct research on human trafficking in Australia and Asia. In May 2013, the government established two working groups to supplement its national roundtable consultative process; one group will develop and implement a human trafficking awareness and communication strategy, and the other will develop recommendations for policies to address slavery in supply chains. In May 2013, an interagency group provided a briefing on indicators of human trafficking and avenues for assistance under Australian law for foreign diplomats in Canberra. The Fair Work Ombudsman conducted awareness campaigns and pursued civil efforts through the courts for workplace violations such as underpayment of wages; however, none of the cases it investigated were referred to the AFP or the Department of Immigration and Border Protection for criminal investigation of potential forced labor.
Australia continued to fund anti-trafficking activities in the Asia-Pacific region. AFP HTT officers conducted a two-week human trafficking training course in Thailand for law enforcement officials and social service providers from across Southeast Asia. The government conducted numerous programs to combat child sex tourism including, in May 2013, an AFP-conducted symposium on the commercial sexual exploitation of children in travel and tourism for attendees from numerous Pacific island nations. It continued to distribute materials to Australian passport applicants outlining the application of Australian child sex laws to Australians overseas. The Australian government prosecuted six cases of child sex tourism under extraterritorial provisions and convicted three offenders. The government did not take significant steps to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts, but continued to undertake specific efforts to raise awareness of and prevent trafficking within its legal sex trade.