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Community attitudes and awareness survey

Examining the Australian community’s awareness of trafficking and perceptions of who the victims of trafficking are is valuable for informing policy and practice in the area. The knowledge that members of the community possess is important for two reasons:

  • Members of the community are more likely than the authorities to come into contact with trafficked persons and therefore their knowledge assists identification and reporting.
  • Court cases are likely to be tried before juries drawn from the wider community, and their understanding of the facts of people trafficking in Australia is important in reaching just trial outcomes.

Assessing community awareness of people trafficking as well as attitudes to related issues can also shape future awareness-raising activities and shed light on issues that may have a significant impact on trial outcomes (eg juror perceptions). To that end, the AIC developed an online survey of respondents’ understanding of trafficking and attitudes to a range of related issues, including people who are unlawfully in Australia, labour exploitation, sex work and the notion of ‘deserving’ victims.

The sample

The national online survey was piloted in the ACT in December 2008 and run nationally in mid-2009. There were 1,617 respondents to the survey, which was advertised in the major newspapers in each state and territory (The Australian, the Courier Mail, the Adelaide Advertiser, the West Australian, the Mercury and the Northern Territory News), as well as via Ninemsn, Facebook and the Australian Institute of Criminology’s website. The highest number of respondents were female (63%), aged between 30 and 49 (46%), born in Australia (76%; 96% of respondents indicated they were Australian citizens), living in the eastern states of Australia (75%) and in full-time employment (50%)(see Table 5).

Table 5: Characteristics of respondents
n%
Total 1,617
Gender
Male 601 37
Female 1,014 63
Age
Less than 19 61 4
20–29 301 19
30–39 410 26
40–49 338 21
50–59 279 17
60 and older 208 13
Refused to answer 20 1
Birthplace
Australia 1,125 76
Overseas 358 24
Refused to answer 5
State
NSW 404 25
Vic 321 20
Qld 381 24
WA 222 14
SA 138 9
NT 27 2
Tas 58 4
ACT 48 3
Overseas 16 1
Australian citizen
Yes 1,546 96
No 69 4
Employed full-time 804 50
Employed part-time/casual basis 262 16
Full-time student 164 10
Full-time homemaker 78 5
Unemployed 65 4
Retired 111 7
Pensioner 58 4
Other 73 5

Source: Australian Institute of Criminology, People trafficking awareness and attitudes survey [computer file]

Definition, nature and extent of people trafficking

When asked to explain what they believed people trafficking referred to, only nine percent (n=148; Table 6) of respondents correctly identified all three elements of trafficking in persons—the means, action and purpose—as set out in the UN definition. A further 20 percent (n=318) identified two of the three elements (most often the action and purpose but not the means). However, 10 percent of respondents (n=155) gave completely incorrect responses, while 61 percent (n=973) of respondents clearly confused trafficking in persons with people smuggling. Given the continuing debate on people smuggling into Australia and the high level of media and political attention it receives, it is not surprising that members of the public confuse the two concepts.

Table 6: Definition of people trafficking
Provided correct definitionn%
Yes 148 9.3
No 155 9.7
Partly (two elements defined) 318 20.0
Partly—action and means 66 4.1
Partly—action and purpose 197 12.4
Partly—means and purpose 56 3.5
Smuggling 973 61.0
Total 1,595 100.0

Source: Australian Institute of Criminology, People trafficking awareness and attitudes survey [computer file]

Half of respondents (50%; average rank 1.8) believed international organised crime networks were primarily responsible for people trafficking, followed by brokers in the trafficked person’s home country (35%; average rank 2.1) (see Table 7). The involvement of organised criminal networks is the subject of a forthcoming AIC paper, and key findings from this work are summarised in Box 6.

Table 7: Views on involvement of networks, brokers, family members and local business
People trafficking is committed byAve rank% rank as 1% rank as 2% rank as 3% rank as 4% rank as 5
International organised crime networks 1.8 50 30 12 4 3
Organised crime networks in Australia 3 7 22 38 28 5
Brokers in the trafficked person’s home country 2.1 35 33 22 7 2
Family members of the trafficked person 3.5 5 13 23 41 17
Local business in Australia 4.5 3 1 5 19 71

Source: Australian Institute of Criminology, People trafficking awareness and attitudes survey [computer file]

Box 6: Organised crime and organised trafficking in persons

The role of organised crime groups often dominates discussions on the structure of criminal involvement in people trafficking. However, key actors in the trafficking of humans can be organised in a variety of ways. A recent report (UNODC 2010b) highlighted a number of key features of trafficking in persons and the role of organised crime.

First, there is a wide spectrum of criminal involvement and the players active in these markets. Traffickers may be highly organised criminal groups, loosely connected networks, individuals, or even family and friends of the victim. The crucial factor that determines the structure of criminal involvement in trafficking in persons is profit maximisation.

Second, traffickers can be classified as organised or unorganised. Organised criminal involvement consists of hierarchical structures and network structures, while unorganised criminal involvement includes individual traffickers and social networks. Hierarchically organised crime groups are structured with clear leadership and subordinate roles that follow a rigid chain of command. The groups are known to operate according to codes of honour, family and clan ties, and vows of secrecy. In contrast, crime groups structured in networks consist of more loosely connected specialised criminals all playing a separate yet coordinated role in the trafficking process. They may operate on a highly independent basis whereby members of the same network do not necessarily know each other in the absence of direct contact.

Although organised crime groups dominate the landscape of offender typologies, there is also evidence to support significant unorganised criminal involvement. An individual or duo can be responsible for orchestrating all stages of the trafficking process, from recruitment to transportation and exploitation. Social networks can include friends, relatives or acquaintances, usually from the same community as the victims. Where this is the case, existing trust relationships are abused in order to recruit victims (UNODC 2010b).

While the existing research is far from comprehensive, several themes do emerge from the current literature, which suggests that the role organised crime networks play in the trafficking process is complex. David (2012) concluded the following:

  • The level of organisation involved in the trafficking process appears to vary by degrees, with some studies formulating typologies of offending based on the nature and level of organisation apparent in the action of trafficking a person/people (among other variables).
  • Evidence suggests that while ‘traditional’ networks (centralised networks with a defined hierarchy) are less likely to be involved in the trafficking process, the trafficking process can involve a high level of organisation among a variety of actors.
  • Evidence also suggests that trafficking offenders can use pre-existing networks (whether diaspora communities or organised networks for crimes other than trafficking in persons) or spontaneously develop links and networks in response to trafficking opportunities.
  • Such types of ‘organised’ trafficking in persons can contribute to considerable challenges in detecting and prosecuting the crime.

David found a great deal of diversity in the characteristics, criminal histories, operations and motives of trafficking offenders and highlighted the need for these differences to be captured more effectively through identification of common typologies of trafficking crimes.

Respondents’ estimations of the number of people trafficked each year in Australia were generally higher than known cases. Forty-six percent of respondents believed over 1,000 people are trafficked into Australia each year, while 18 percent believed the number to be between 500 and 1,000 (Table 8). In comparison, as reported earlier, 35 cases were under investigation by the AFP in 2010–11; on average AFP investigations of 32 cases relating to trafficking for sexual or labour exploitation have been completed since 2004–05.

Table 8: Number of persons believed to be trafficked into Australia each year
Number trafficked into Australia each yearn%
Missing 5 0.31
None 0 0
Less than 100 28 1.73
100 to 249 94 5.81
250 to 499 164 10.14
500 to 1,000 290 17.93
Over 1000 744 46.01
I have no idea 292 18.06
Total 1,617 100

Source: Australian Institute of Criminology, People trafficking awareness and attitudes survey [computer file]

Identifying victims

The majority of respondents (75%; n=1,204) believed they would not be able to identify a trafficked person but, of those who thought they could (22%; n=350), the following characteristics were commonly identified as what they would expect to find:

  • poor English language skills
  • no freedom of movement/association
  • not in possession of personal documents, such as a passport
  • unwilling to talk about themselves
  • afraid of authorities
  • little money
  • Asian background
  • poor working conditions
  • no family in Australia and few social networks.

Thirteen percent of respondents (n=212) believed they had been in contact with a trafficked person. When asked if they had contacted any of a range of agencies or organisations, their responses were as follows:

  • 20 respondents contacted local police about the matter.
  • 26 respondents contacted the Australian Federal Police.
  • 25 respondents contacted a victim support agency.
  • Three respondents contacted a union.
  • Seven respondents contacted a sex worker organisation.
  • 25 respondents contacted the Department of Immigration and Citizenship.
  • 95 respondents did not contact any agency or organisation.
  • 48 respondents provided other assistance to the person, including helping them personally, contacting the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, a hospital, social worker or the Fair Work Ombudsman (formerly the Workplace Ombudsman).

Twenty-three percent (n=368) of respondents indicated they had come into contact with a person in Australia on a labour contract where the conditions of that contract had changed unexpectedly upon arrival in the country (see Table 9 for the specific conditions that changed).

Table 9: Type of change to contract
Type of changen%
Hours of work 102 28
Salary 97 26
Contract 64 17
Work location 67 18
Type of work 92 25
Other conditions changed 24 7
Not sure what changed 96 26

Note: Categories are not mutually exclusive

Source: Australian Institute of Criminology, People trafficking awareness and attitudes survey [computer file]

Country of origin

The largest proportion of respondents (19%; n=311) listed Afghanistan as the country from which most trafficked persons originate. Overall, respondents indicated a belief that most persons trafficked into Australia originated from a southeast Asian country (53%; n=857), with Indonesia (17%; n=270) and Thailand (14%; n=228) identified as the top two countries in this region, followed by China (10%; n=167). Table 10 lists the top five countries ranked as first, second and third by respondents to the survey. The numbers in brackets indicate in which order (highest=1) countries were ranked first, second or third.

Table 10: Most common countries of origin of trafficked persons (n)
Source countriesFirstSecondThird
Afghanistan 311(1) 159(1) 72(6)
Indonesia 270(2) 157(2) 136(2)
Thailand 228(3) 142(4) 88(4)
China 167(4) 111(5) 137(1)
Philippines 83(5) 83(6) 80(5)
Iraq 146(3) 92(3)

Source: Australian Institute of Criminology, People trafficking awareness and attitudes survey [computer file]

Barriers to reporting

Most respondents (72%; Table 11) indicated that fear was the most important barrier to victims of trafficking going to the authorities. Among respondents who listed fear as a barrier, 47 percent specified that trafficked persons would fear deportation, 27 percent specified fear of traffickers and four percent specified a fear of authorities.

Table 11: Barriers to reporting by trafficked persons
n%
Threats 107 6.8
Fear 1,133 71.6
Constantly supervised 34 2.1
Language barriers 116 7.3
Don’t know where to seek help/not aware of rights 40 2.5
Here by choice/monetary gain/unaware illegal 42 2.7
Other 110 7.0
Total 1,582 100.0

Note: 35 missing responses

Source: Australian Institute of Criminology, People trafficking awareness and attitudes survey [computer file]

Main source of information

The majority of respondents indicated that their main source of information on people trafficking was film/television (n=1,398), followed by newspapers (n=1,208) and the radio (n=688) (Table 12). This information is important for future awareness-raising activities.

Table 12: Sources of information for people trafficking
n
Television 1,398
Internet 453
Newspapers 1,208
Magazines 419
Radio 688
Court reports 165
Academic research 208
Other 294

Note: Total will not sum to 1,617, as respondents were asked to select all that applied

Source: Australian Institute of Criminology, People trafficking awareness and attitudes survey [computer file]

Attitudes to trafficking in persons and related issues

Respondents were asked to indicate their level of support for 17 statements about trafficking and related issues. Overall, the responses indicated a belief that people can indeed be deceived about the nature of work (93%), that men may also be victims (93%), that migrant workers should expect similar work conditions to those of Australian workers (76%), that victims require support regardless of how they entered the country (75%), and that entering the country using false documents does not nullify victim status (56%) (see Table 13).

Table 13: Attitudes towards trafficking in persons and related issues (%)
No.StatementStrongly agree/agreeNeither agree nor disagreeStrongly disagree/ disagreeMode
1 A person can be deceived about the nature of work they are entering into 92.7 3.3 3.9 SA
2 Some people claim they are trafficked only to protect their reputations 26.8 39.3 33.8 N
3 Men can be victims of trafficking 92.6 3.9 3.4 A
4 People claim they are trafficked to avoid deportation 46.8 32.5 20.6 A
5 Migrant workers from poor countries shouldn’t expect to get the same pay and conditions as Australian workers 12.7 11.5 75.8 SD
6 The labour sector most vulnerable to trafficking is the sex industry 69 18.6 12.3 A
7 The human rights of trafficking victims are important 87.9 6.2 5.9 SA
8 All victims of trafficking require support, regardless of how they arrived in Australia 74.7 9.1 16.1 SA
9 People who say they have been trafficked but stay in the same industry once they have paid their debt were not real victims 18.9 25.3 55.8 D
10 The government should focus on prosecuting traffickers 91.5 4.2 4.1 SA
11 A sex worker can be trafficked 89.2 3.5 7.2 SA
12 It is reasonable for victims of trafficking not to contact the authorities because they fear what traffickers may do to them or their families 86.3 6.6 7 SA
13 People who accept an offer from a stranger to work overseas have no right to complain about their working conditions upon arrival 13.7 11.9 74.3 SD
14 A person using false documents to enter a country is not a victim of trafficking 25.3 18.9 55.7 D
15 A person who is poor and has little or no education is more likely to be a victim of trafficking 70.9 14.5 14.5 A
16 A victim of trafficking would attempt to contact authorities at the first opportunity 8.2 10.3 81.4 D
17 People who enter Australia and work illegally have done so because they cannot do so legitimately 45.4 23.3 31.2 A

Mode: SD= strongly disagree; D=disagree; N=neither agree nor disagree; A= agree; SA= strongly agree.

Source: Australian Institute of Criminology, People trafficking awareness and attitudes survey [computer file]

Results of the data analysis

A factor analysis and principal component analysis were conducted to identify factors underlying the variables. These further analyses sought to classify the questionnaire items into constructs that measure similar attitudes (Appendix A gives an explanation of further analyses conducted). After several iterations, a four-factor solution was found to explain 60 percent of the variance. The factor loading matrix for the final solution is presented in Table 14.

Table 14: Factor loadings and communalities for 13 items from the attitudes to trafficking and related issues scale (n=1,617)
No.StatementNot real victimsAnyone can be a victimVulnerabilities to traffickingFalse claims of victim statusCommunality
1 A person can be deceived about the nature of work they are entering into 0.63 0.57
2 Some people claim they are trafficked only to protect their reputations 0.84 0.76
3 Men can be victims of trafficking 0.69 0.66
4 People claim they are trafficked to avoid deportation 0.8 0.72
5 Migrant workers from poor countries shouldn’t expect to get the same pay and conditions as Australian workers 0.68 0.50
6 The labour sector most vulnerable to trafficking is the sex industry 0.67 0.64
7 The human rights of trafficking victims are important -0.76 0.68
8 All victims of trafficking require support, regardless of how they arrived in Australia -0.81 0.70
9 People who say they have been trafficked but stay in the same industry once they have paid their debt were not real victims 0.54 0.49
11 A sex worker can be trafficked 0.55 0.45
13 People who accept an offer from a stranger to work overseas have no right to complain about their working conditions upon arrival 0.75 0.63
14 A person using false documents to enter a country is not a victim of trafficking 0.51 0.38
15 A person who is poor and has little or no education is more likely to be a victim of trafficking 0.59 0.54

Note: items with factor loadings <0.5 have been suppressed

Source: Australian Institute of Criminology, People trafficking awareness and attitudes survey [computer file]

The first factor was marked by high positive loadings on items 5, 9, 13 and 14 and high negative loadings on items 7 and 8—items which refer to the rights of trafficked persons and the notion of a ‘real’ victim. Respondents who believed that migrant workers shouldn’t expect the same work conditions as Australians and shouldn’t complain about conditions if they accept work from a stranger, and that real victims don’t stay on in the sex industry once their debt is paid or use false documents to enter a country were less likely to believe that the human rights of trafficked persons were important or that they required support regardless of the method of arrival in Australia.

The second factor was marked by high loadings on items 1, 3 and 11—items which indicated a belief that anyone can be a victim. Specifically, responses which loaded this factor indicated a belief that people can be deceived about the nature of work, that sex workers can be trafficked and that men too can find themselves in situations of trafficking.

The third factor was marked by high loadings on items 6 and 15, which refer to vulnerabilities to trafficking. Responses loading on this factor indicated a belief that the sex industry is the most vulnerable sector to trafficking and that trafficked persons are more likely to be poor and have little education. While these vulnerabilities have been identified in research, it is not possible to confirm that the sex industry is the most vulnerable of sectors in Australia, as little is known at this time about trafficking in other industries. Certainly, recent research has highlighted the vulnerabilities to trafficking in the agriculture, cleaning, hospitality, construction and manufacturing industries and in less formal sectors, such as domestic service (David 2010).

Similarly, while the poor and less educated are indeed vulnerable, trafficking primarily occurs within high levels of migration driven mainly by the desire for greater economic opportunity and a better quality of life. Further, within southeast Asia the emerging middle class has been identified as more vulnerable due to a greater willingness to take risks and greater access to the necessary funds to enter into the initial migratory process (Joudo Larsen, Lindley & Putt 2009).

The fourth factor was marked by high loadings on items 2 and 4, which refer to protecting reputations and avoiding deportation as motivations for claiming victim status.

Summary

The community awareness and attitudes survey revealed that many respondents confused people trafficking with people smuggling. This is likely to have influenced other findings from the survey, including the assumptions that international organised crime networks are primarily responsible for people trafficking, that over 1,000 people are trafficked into Australia each year and that most trafficked persons originate from Afghanistan.

While it is frequently assumed that international organised crime groups are heavily involved in trafficking in persons, the extent of this involvement remains unclear. The existing literature is far from comprehensive, and the information obtained through AIC consultations in southeast Asia and the Pacific in the first phase of the Trafficking in Persons Research Program presented a mixed picture. As highlighted in Fiona David’s 2012 paper, key actors in people trafficking can be highly organised criminal groups but may also be loosely connected networks, individuals, or family and friends of the victim.

Further, although the extent of people trafficking in Australia remains unclear, information collected by NGOs and through the Australian Government’s Support for Trafficked People program suggests there are far fewer victims (Joudo Larsen et al. 2009) than survey respondents estimated.

Last, the majority of known victims of trafficking in Australia originated from southeast Asian countries and not the Middle East. The attitudes section of the questionnaire revealed interesting constructs centred on notions of ‘real victims’, ‘anyone can be a victim’, ‘vulnerabilities to trafficking’ and ‘false motivations for claiming victim status’. Responses generally supported the right of trafficked persons to obtain support and justice through the legal process; however, a large proportion (almost half of respondents) indicated a belief that people claim to have been trafficked to avoid deportation.

Attitudes towards people trafficking, trafficked persons and related issues, such as sex work and migrant workers in Australia, provide important insights for the prosecution of these offences before juries. The survey highlighted community attitudes that may need to be challenged or gaps in knowledge that must be addressed to better inform jury deliberations. Overall, it was concluded that survey participants were reasonably well informed about trafficking and held quite humane attitudes towards trafficked persons, with strong support evident for the notion that the human rights of trafficked persons are paramount and that trafficked persons require support regardless of how they arrived in Australia. However, the clear finding that many beliefs about the nature and extent of people trafficking are based on misconceptions commonly found in popular media—and conflated with the issue of people smuggling—highlighted the need for further work in raising awareness and providing factual information to the community.