Australian Institute of Criminology

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A number of methodologies, both qualitative and quantitative, were used in this study to explore the role of marriage in human trafficking. These are outlined below.

Analysis of quantitative data on Partner visas

Two de-identified datasets were provided to the AIC by DIBP. These datasets contained information on:

  • all individuals who obtained a Partner visa during the period 2001–02 to 2010–11, by age, sex, country of citizenship, applicant type (principal or secondary) and Partner visa subclass (ie permanent and temporary fiancé, spouse and interdependent (same sex) visa subclasses); and
  • all individuals on Partner visas who received permanent residency as a result of being recognised as a victim of family violence committed by their sponsor, for the period 1 July 2006 to 31 December 2011, by age, sex, country of citizenship, visa subclass and applicant type.

DIBP also provided information on the total number of Australian citizens or permanent residents who have sponsored a second or subsequent partner to migrate to Australia between 1 July 2005 and 30 June 2011 (ie following changes to the Migration Regulations 2004 (Cth) that limit the number of partners any individual can sponsor).

These data were analysed to provide important background and context on partner immigration to Australia, as well as specific information on domestic violence within relationships between Australian sponsors and their immigrant partners, and the prevalence of ‘serial sponsorship’.

Analysis of case files of victim/survivors of human trafficking and related exploitation involving marriage

De-identified case files of a small number of victim/survivors of human trafficking or related scenarios involving marriage (n=8) were provided to the AIC for qualitative analysis. Victim/survivors were recruited for this study via the AIC’s existing relationships with agencies that provide support for victim/survivors of human trafficking and related forms of exploitation, such as domestic violence. In all cases, victim/survivors were invited to participate in the study by the agency from which they had received support. All victim/survivors had completed any legal processes relating to their exploitation and any subsequent legal processes (eg processes relating to custody of children, visas and residency), and had not been receiving support in relation to their exploitation for a period of at least six months.

Victim/survivors were asked permission for a de-identified copy of their case file to be provided to the AIC for analysis and to participate in an interview. All victim/survivors who consented to a copy of their case file to be analysed also agreed to be interviewed (see below).

The nature and extent of material contained in victim/survivors’ case files varied substantially. In general, however, documents contained in case files included case management notes, records of court matters and other legal matters, police reports, referral letters to other support services, statements of facts by victim/survivors and affidavits by relatives or community service providers who had contact with the victim/survivor.

In this study, the analysis of case file material had a number of purposes, including:

  • informing interview questions and in particular, enabling the researchers to tailor questions to each participant’s individual circumstances and experiences;
  • providing broad background material and an insight into the context of each victim/survivor’s experience; and
  • providing an insight into victim/survivors’ processes of help-seeking and responses to this help-seeking by relevant agencies.

Perhaps most importantly, case file analysis is a form of ‘unobtrusive’ research (Kellehear 1993). In this study, it provided an important insight into a very sensitive topic while limiting the potential for distressing the victim/survivors who agreed to participate. Although these victim/survivors all agreed to be interviewed once their case file material had been analysed, the information obtained from case files meant that these interviews could be less confronting for participants than they may otherwise have been.

Qualitative interviews with victim/survivors of human trafficking and related exploitative scenarios

Eight victim/survivors of human trafficking or related exploitative scenarios involving marriage or Partner visas were also interviewed for this study between September and December 2011. The purpose of the qualitative interviews with victim/survivors of human trafficking and related exploitative scenarios was:

  • to gain insight into victim/survivors’ experiences of exploitation related to marriage, including relevant risk and protective factors;
  • to seek victim/survivors’ views on available support services;
  • to seek victim/survivors’ views on how similar scenarios might be prevented in future; and
  • to clarify information contained in victim/survivors’ case files (described above).

Few studies of human trafficking have involved qualitative interviews with victim/survivors. This study therefore addresses a key gap in the research literature on human trafficking. As Hannah-Moffat (2010: 208) argues

we must continue to listen to, and learn from, the voices of individuals experiencing the [criminal justice] system as victims, offenders, and practitioners rather than claiming to ‘know what is best’.

Interviews with victim/survivors were semi-structured and consisted primarily of open-ended questions. Participants were asked a series of questions about a number of key themes, including:

  • their background and the process of their immigration to Australia;
  • their motivation(s) for immigrating to Australia on a Partner visa;
  • their experiences of life, including their intimate relationship, once in Australia;
  • how they exited the exploitative situation for which they later received support or assistance;
  • their experience of assistance and support services, including criminal justice services; and
  • the risk and protective factors relevant to their own situation of human trafficking or related exploitation.

Some of the interview questions for victim/survivors were based on the International Labour Organization’s (ILO 2009) Operational Indicators of Trafficking in Human Beings. As the UN Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons explains, these operational indicators of trafficking in human beings were developed from the findings of a Delphi survey carried out by the ILO and the European Commission in March 2009 and are designed to enable the identification of victims of human trafficking (Ezeilo 2009; see also ILO 2009). Further, the indicators were developed to ‘provide guidance to researchers and practitioners on the evidence that should be gathered when interviewing possible victims’ (ILO 2009: 2). According to the ILO (2009), the indicators can be used to assess the situation of potential victims of human trafficking in relation to each of the six primary elements of the definition of trafficking in human beings (as outlined in the United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime):

  • deceptive recruitment (including transfer and transport);
  • coercive recruitment;
  • recruitment by abuse of vulnerability;
  • exploitation;
  • coercion at destination; and
  • abuse of vulnerability at destination.

In this study, these indicators were not used to identify whether cases of exploitative marriages met the definition of human trafficking (although some participants had already been identified through existing governmental processes as victim/survivors of human trafficking), but rather to gain an understanding of the risk and protective factors related to these indicators.

While forced marriage and deception through promises of marriage are considered indicators of coercive recruitment and deceptive recruitment respectively (and therefore indicators of both labour and sexual exploitation; ILO 2009), no indicators have been developed specifically to identify cases of human trafficking involving marriage exploitation. This report may provide a preliminary basis for the development of such indicators in the future.

Interviews with victim/survivors lasted between 30 minutes and three-and-a-half hours, and were recorded for accuracy. Interpreters were used when necessary. All victim/survivors were invited to have a support person present during their interview; most opted to have a case worker present throughout the interview from the service they had been supported by. All the victim/survivor participants had finished receiving direct support (ie being sheltered in supported accommodation) for at least six months prior to their interview.

Demographic characteristics of victim/survivors

All of the eight victim/survivors interviewed for this study were female. This is at least partly a result of the recruitment strategy used for this research (outlined above). It should be noted, however, that males may also be the victims of human trafficking and related scenarios involving marriage.

For example, the United Kingdom’s Forced Marriage Unit processed 220 complaints from males about situations of forced marriage in 2009 (UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office 2010; see also Hill & McVeigh 2010). The participants were aged between 18 and 49 years at the time of their exploitation and were citizens or residents of a range of countries prior to their immigration to Australia, including those in Asia (particularly southeast Asia), the Pacific, the Middle East and Eastern Europe.

Qualitative interviews with stakeholders

Qualitative interviews with a range of key stakeholders (n=17) were also undertaken for this research between April and December 2011. Stakeholders came from a range of agencies, including:

  • relevant Australian government departments, including law enforcement; and
  • NGOs that provide assistance and/or advocacy to victims of human trafficking and related exploitation and abuse, such as domestic violence.

Participants were initially identified via the AIC’s existing contacts in the human trafficking area. A strategy of ‘purposive’ sampling was used, whereby individuals and organisations deemed to have experience and/or knowledge relevant to the project were invited to participate in an interview. As these interviews progressed, ‘snowball’ sampling was also used. That is, interview participants sometimes identified other potential participants who they thought could contribute to the research. These individuals and agencies were subsequently invited to participate in an interview.

The purpose of stakeholder interviews was to:

  • obtain information on the role of marriage in human trafficking from professionals working in diverse organisational contexts and from diverse perspectives on the issue of human trafficking;
  • seek the views of these professionals on the risks and protections related to marriage in human trafficking, and any recommendations stakeholders may have about addressing these factors;
  • seek clarification on relevant legal, operational and technical issues; and
  • seek information on any relevant cases of human trafficking or related exploitation in which marriage played a role.

Interviews with stakeholders were therefore semi-structured, consisting primarily of open-ended questions. Stakeholders were asked a number of questions on the following key themes:

  • their understanding of the role of marriage and other intimate partnerships in human trafficking;
  • their experience with cases of human trafficking in which marriage played a role;
  • the detection and identification of cases of human trafficking involving marriage;
  • their views on support and assistance services for victim/survivors of human trafficking and related exploitation involving marriage;
  • the prevention of this form of human trafficking; and
  • their understanding of and experience with offenders of this form of human trafficking and related exploitative scenarios.

Interviews with stakeholders lasted between 30 minutes and three hours. All stakeholders were invited to review a summary of their interview and to clarify material and make further comments.

Limitations of the research

This research study has a number of limitations that should be taken into account when interpreting its results. First, it is a preliminary exploration of an emerging issue rather than an attempt to provide a definitive account of this issue. As such, the findings presented in this report are not generalisable and should therefore be considered part of an emerging conversation around the role of marriage in human trafficking scenarios and as providing a preliminary foundation for further examination of this problem. Second, this research was primarily qualitative in nature. No attempt was made to quantify the issue, although the research findings may be helpful to those wanting to do so in future research. Third, the sampling strategy adopted for this research (outlined above) inevitably meant that it was likely that most victim/survivors invited to participate would be female. It should be recognised that although exploitative marriages have been identified as a gendered phenomenon, men may also be victim/survivors (UK Home Office 2010).

This sampling strategy also meant that the cases examined for this research came from two metropolitan locations in Australia. The findings are not necessarily reflective of the situation in other locations in Australia. Findings may have been different if regional and/or remote areas were sampled; certainly, it is the case that previous AIC research has indicated that human trafficking and related exploitative scenarios have occurred in non-metropolitan areas in Australia (see David 2010, 2008). While this metropolitan bias is a limitation of the current study, the study findings demonstrate that human trafficking scenarios can occur in economically stable, ‘middle class’ urban communities in Australia (see eg Hand 2010). This important finding is discussed later in this report.

Finally, all the victim/survivors interviewed for this study had exited their exploitative marriages. While this was necessary both practically and ethically, it may mean that some of the characteristics of the victim/survivors and their situations may be unique to those who escaped their situations and may not be representative of exploitative marriages from which victim/survivors are unable or unwilling to escape.

A note on terminology

The eight women interviewed for this research are referred to throughout this report as ‘victim/survivors’ in line with conventional practice and in order to highlight the extreme exploitation suffered by each of the women. No distinction is made between individual victim/survivors throughout the report (eg by designating each victim/survivor a number) in order that their identities remain anonymous and so the chronological account of their stories cannot be pieced together). Importantly, however, this does not mean that all the women have been formally identified as victim/survivors of human trafficking, in accordance with the United Nations definition and Australian legislation. Rather, this terminology reflects that the women were all victims/survivors of a range of serious crimes that comprise the breeding ground for human trafficking, slavery and slavery-like practices. That said, as discussed elsewhere in this report, some have indeed been identified as victims of human trafficking by the relevant Australian authorities, or meet the Australian and United Nations definitions of trafficked people.

Referring to the women generically as ‘victim/survivors’ also ensures that elements of the women’s stories cannot be assembled and therefore that the women’s identities remain confidential.