Human Trafficking to Australia: A Research Challenge

Article excerpt

We know that for some crimes, like human trafficking, it is difficult to secure prosecutions. It is also the case that these kind of crimes are difficult to detect. Human trafficking presents different challenges from domestic crimes, like sexual assault, because of its often transnational nature and the potential involvement of a network of facilitators in a number of countries. Extreme caution should be exercised in extrapolating from the under-reporting of domestic crimes to transnational crimes, as Australia enjoys the natural protection provided by being both an island and geographically remote and has extensive border protection mechanisms. This paper argues that we need to be aware of trends, internationally and in the region, to ensure we have early warning of activities that could impact on the level and type of trafficking to Australia, and to ensure we are providing the most effective responses to prevent and detect trafficking. This paper provides an overview of the challenges involved in obtaining reliable information on the trafficking process.

Toni Makkai

Director

It is timely to revisit human trafficking as an issue that affects Australia. Since the AIC published a major report on the topic in 2000 (David 2000), the Australian Government, in 2003, committed $20 million to address human trafficking, new federal offences entered into force in August 2005 (Criminal Code Amendment (Trafficking in Persons Offences) Act 2005), and in September 2005 Australia ratified the United Nations (UN) protocol to prevent, suppress and punish trafficking in persons, which supplements the UN convention against transnational organised crime.

Despite the attention which trafficking has received at the international and national level since the UN General Assembly adopted the convention on transnational crime and its associate protocol on trafficking in persons, there are still no reliable data on the issues. There have been several largescale efforts to estimate and document human trafficking across the world. A recent report, based on an analysis of a database which recorded citations of trafficking by various sources of information over the period 1 996-2003, relies on secondary sources and provides a limited and potentially inaccurate picture of global patterns (UNODC 2006). Many of the citations came from previous or ongoing efforts to estimate and document human trafficking by a number of key institutions the Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report produced annually by the US Department of State, reports produced by the International Labour Organization (ILO) and International Organization for Migration (IOM) which focus on forced labour, and a major report produced by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF 2005), Trafficking in human beings, especially women and children, in Africa.

The estimates found in these reports vary over time and across regions, primarily because human trafficking is an extremely difficult activity to investigate. There are also differences in focus and in methodologies. As the evidence base is shaky, and easy to challenge, it is important to consider how knowledge on this issue can be improved, in order to properly inform efforts to prevent and reduce trafficking. The following paper summarises current evidence on trafficking to Australia and within the wider region, and highlights constraints that exist when endeavouring to interpret what this evidence tells us about the problem. It concludes with recommendations for further investment into research and monitoring.

Defining the problem

There are important distinctions between people smuggling, and trafficking, with the former involving the illegal migration of people across borders. Although trafficking involves movement of people it does not necessarily occur across national borders and must involve exploitation of the victim and, at least where the victims are adults, an element of force, deception or abuse of power. …