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Preventing and responding to human trafficking involving partner migration

As the phenomenon of human trafficking is necessarily viewed within a broader migration framework, solutions and responses are often developed from an immigration or criminal justice perspective, which involves maintaining the integrity of border control programs and prosecuting offenders. In applying a migration lens, there is a risk that other points of view will be overlooked, leading to narrow responses and inherent limitations in what can be done. Consequently, solutions often lack the voice of victim/survivors, which should be at the centre of any approach to combating all forms of human trafficking crimes.

With this in mind, stakeholders working in the area of human trafficking and importantly, victim/survivors interviewed for this study were asked what could be done to prevent instances of human trafficking involving marriage in the future. This section outlines potential strategies for prevention, drawing on these interview data, victim/survivors’ stories more broadly and the relevant literature.

Improve provision and distribution of information to migrating partners

In general, the women interviewed for this study reported feeling ill-informed about a range of important topics and the provision of more and better information—and the improved delivery of such information—was considered a particularly important prevention measure by victim/survivors and stakeholders.

Enhanced content of information for migrant partners

Although information materials have been specifically developed for partners migrating to Australia, most victim/survivors interviewed for this study could not recall receiving this information. Most interviewees had arrived in Australia largely uninformed about Australian culture, customs, law and life. Perhaps most importantly, they arrived uninformed about gender roles in intimate relationships and what to do if their relationship was not as they expected it to be. Victims/survivors were unaware of the details of their own unique circumstances, as well as the broader social service context in Australia. For example, one victim/survivor was unaware that her husband’s brother, rather than her husband himself, was her sponsor. Another’s knowledge of social welfare services in Australia was so limited she confused staying in a women’s refuge with being a refugee. Most others had very limited or no knowledge of services such as women’s refuges.

Only two women were able to leave their exploitative situations using the information that was provided to them. One woman received information from DIBP upon arrival (see below) and she used this to seek assistance and subsequently leave her situation. Another read about a support service in a pamphlet she received from the hospital when she gave birth to her child. She contacted the support service who referred her to the Domestic Violence Crisis Service where she was able to access the support she needed to exit her exploitative conditions. These examples demonstrate that if appropriate and useful information is available, women can and will use it to seek assistance for themselves and their children.

Although DIBP (2014a) produces a detailed information booklet for migrants—Beginning a Life in Australia—in 38 languages, most women in this study had no recollection of receiving this material. The booklet contains valuable information relating to:

  • Australian ways of life, including gender equality;
  • the law, including that violence towards family, within marriage and against other people is illegal and explaining that violence is ‘behaviour by a person that results in the victim experiencing or fearing physical, sexual or psychological abuse and damage, forced sexual relations, forced isolation or economic deprivation’ (DIBP 2014a: 31);
  • sexual assault and the legal age of consent, including for sexual relations within marriage. Specifically, that ‘sexual assault or violence is any behaviour of a sexual nature that is unwanted or happens without consent—even when this behaviour occurs within a marriage or established relationship. It includes sexual harassment, sexual assault, childhood sexual abuse and rape. Sexual violence is an abuse of power that may involve the use of physical force, threat or coercion’ (DIBP 2014a: 32); and
  • forced early marriage, stating that it is ‘illegal to take or send a child to another country for forced early marriage or to have someone else organise this’ (DIBP 2014a: 33).

The booklet also contains information about a relationships advice helpline and website for family relationship issues, and information relating to various services that exist to support victims of crime or violence, including violence in the home.

There are a number of potential reasons that DIBP representatives interviewed for this study gave for the migrant women not receiving this information:

  • In instances of partner migration, the Australian sponsor is the ‘authorised recipient’ of this information, rather than the sponsored migrant partner. Information of this nature may therefore not have been passed on to the migrant partner (either intentionally or unintentionally); and
  • The Beginning a Life in Australia booklet is not provided in hard copy. Rather, the website for the booklet is referred to in the grant letter to the Australian sponsor. Due to resource constraints and because the letter is a legal document, it is only provided in English.

This restricts access to this information for migrant partners with limited English and/or limited access to or capacity to use the internet. DIBP (2013c: 8) recently acknowledged in relation to the booklet that ‘the Department could consider enhancing the content of Partner visa grant letters in order to more clearly set out its availability and the information it contains’.

In addition to enhancing the content of grant letters, the findings of this study suggest a number of limitations of the Beginning a Life in Australia booklet (DIBP 2014a) that could be addressed to better meet the information needs of vulnerable individuals migrating to Australia for the purpose of marriage.

First, no information on intimate partner violence is included in the Family chapter in the section titled Marriage and Other Relationships. Instead, information is provided later in the booklet, in the chapter on Australian Law. In addition to information about national, state and territory help lines and services, this section provides the following definition of domestic and family violence:

Violence within the home and within marriage is known as domestic or family violence. Domestic or family violence is unlawful. This is behaviour by a person that results in the victim experiencing or fearing physical, sexual or psychological abuse and damage, forced sexual relations, forced isolation or economic deprivation (DIBP 2014a: 31).

This definition is a useful one in the context of human trafficking involving partner migration, as it describes many harmful behaviours experienced by victim/survivors, but not commonly recognised as domestic violence—such as forced sexual relations, forced isolation and economic deprivation. Women interviewed for this research frequently stressed that they were unaware that a range of behaviours—including sexual, emotional, psychological and financial abuse—were classed as domestic violence and therefore against the law. Victim/survivors typically adhered to very narrow conceptualisations of domestic violence, considering only serious physical assaults to constitute domestic violence offences. Previous Australian research on intimate partner violence against women from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities has similarly indicated that migrant women are often unaware of the diverse range of behaviours that are subsumed under the rubric of domestic violence. For example, Taylor and Putt’s (2007: 2–3) research on sexual violence against Indigenous and CALD women found in relation to sexual violence that:

many CALD women stated that rape could not occur within marriage since the marriage contract implied consent for sexual intercourse for the duration of the relationship. Several participants indicated that there is no phrase for ‘rape in marriage’ in their languages. Indeed, in some languages, the word for marriage literally means having sex.

As many harmful behaviours are not identified as illegal by migrant partners, it is recommended that this valuable information be included in the Family chapter of DIBP’s information booklet (DIBP 2014a). At a minimum, this section should reference the Australian Law chapter in which the relevant information is currently included.

Second, in light of the widespread mistrust of police and misunderstanding of their role by the migrant women interviewed for this study (see also Taylor & Putt 2007), it is recommended that information on police currently included in the Beginning a Life in Australia booklet be enhanced. The booklet currently states:

In Australia, the police aim to protect life and property in the community, prevent and detect crime, and preserve peace. The police may intervene in family issues where there is a domestic dispute or concern about physical, sexual or psychological abuse. Police are not connected to the military forces. The police do not play a part in politics (DIBP 2014a: 17).

It is recommended that the booklet explain that police can be trusted, are required to act ethically and are subject to external accountability mechanisms that do not tolerate illegal or corrupt behaviour. This is important as the victim/survivors interviewed for this study repeatedly stressed their lack of trust in police due to police corruption in their home countries.

In addition to the information already produced by DIBP, the Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee (2012:10) have recommended that DIBP:

develop an information package for newly arrived migrants on a Prospective Marriage visa or Partner visa, which informs such migrants about: the law in Australia with respect to family violence and forced marriages; factors which might indicate the existence of a forced marriage; and how migrants experiencing family violence or a potential or actual forced marriage can seek assistance (see also APTIC 2012; ALRC 2011).

As the ALRC (2011) argues, it is particularly important that Partner visa applicants receive culturally appropriate information about the Family Violence Provisions. Therefore,

the ALRC recommended that…information about legal rights and the family violence exception is provided to visa applicants prior to and on arrival in Australia and that such information should be given in a culturally appropriate and sensitive manner. Ensuring that victims have adequate knowledge about their rights and entitlements is one important factor in empowering them to exercise personal autonomy to leave a violent relationship and not be forced into marriage against their will (ALRC 2012: 2–3).

While concerns have been expressed about the adequacy of the Family Violence Provisions in protecting holders of Prospective Marriage visas from violence and abuse perpetrated by their partner (ALRC 2011), some of the same concerns are apparent for Partner visa holders. As the DIBP data outlined earlier in this report indicate, the vast majority of migrants who enter Australia as partners of Australian citizens are granted Partner visas rather than Prospective marriage visas. All but one of the migrant women in this study was married outside Australia and entered on a Partner visa. Although there are a number of reasons why they did not seek help or were unable to leave their situation, one of the main reasons was fear of deportation and lack of knowledge about the law and their rights (see further Richards & Lyneham forthcoming). Although the family violence exception would be available to these women, they did not know this and strongly believed, or were made to believe by their husbands or his family members, that they would be deported if their marriage broke down within the two year provisional visa period. Indeed, many of the women stayed in their exploitative situation for significant periods of time, with the longest time being eight years. Further, women were seemingly manipulated to believe their situation was ‘normal’. They had little understanding of domestic or family violence and laws relating to violence perpetrated by a spouse in Australia. It is therefore recommended that information to be available to migrants entering Australia on all marriage visa classes regarding the Family Violence Provisions for when a marriage breaks down and the services available to them, both pre- and post- entry.

Enhanced distribution of information for migrant partners

The distribution of the information described above could be enhanced in several ways. This research found that victim/survivors are likely to visit community organisations, education centres and have contact with Centrelink. Therefore, a recommendation of this research is that information could be provided distributed at these places to migrant partners regarding their rights, what they are entitled to and how it may be different from their country of origin. This information could also be made available on posters and in brochures in various languages to be placed in the areas most frequented by foreign partners.

For example, victim/survivors (interviews 2011) highlighted the role of English classes in transferring information that helped them to recognise and exit their exploitative marriages. Under the government-funded AMEP, migrants who qualify can access free English classes (DIBP 2014a), however as the AMEP is not compulsory, DIBP does not monitor compliance. Sponsors are expected to enable their partner to attend these lessons, if needed, by signing a ‘sponsorship undertaking’ that requires the sponsor to ‘provide information and advice to help [their] partner settle in Australia’ (DIBP 2013c: 16).

A number of further suggestions have been made in the literature on human trafficking about the provision of information to prospective migrant partners as a prevention strategy. In its submission to the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade’s Inquiry into Slavery, Slavery-like Conditions and People Trafficking. Australian Catholic Religious Against Trafficking in Humans suggested that:

a credit card-sized concertina brochure be developed to convey to a woman her rights in marriage according to Australian law and relevant phone numbers should her situation mean she needs to seek assistance. The small size of the brochure has been recommended to [Australian Catholic Religious Against Trafficking in Humans] as something a woman can conceal and keep private (ACRATH 2012: 14).

Australian Catholic Religious Against Trafficking in Humans (ACRATH) (2012: 14) claim that such a strategy has been adopted by the Brazilian Government. Stakeholders interviewed for this study suggested similar creative initiatives, including distributing information to women in lipsticks containing contact details of police and support services.

Expanding sponsor background checks and the disclosure of outcomes to applicants

Of particular concern to the women interviewed for this study was the lack of information made available to them about their prospective husbands and the imbalance of power in their relationships that this inevitably caused. Specifically, while Partner visa applicants must undergo a range of health and character checks (eg criminal record checks), Australian sponsors do not (see DIBP 2013c). The lack of information provided to Partner visa applicants about their sponsor’s marital and criminal histories, health and mental health, living conditions, family and employment exacerbates existing power imbalances between sponsor and applicant, and makes migrant partners vulnerable to abuse (see Orloff & Sarangapani 2007).

The role of DIBP does not extend to providing information about Australian sponsors to Partner visa applicants, because in these circumstances, the Australian sponsor and not the visa applicant, is DIBP’s ‘client’. DIBP representatives interviewed for this research explained that the Department must attempt to strike a balance between recognising that Partner visa applicants may be vulnerable and ‘not impinging Australians’ rights to partner someone from overseas’ (immigration stakeholder). DIBP (2013c: 6–7) has stated that

the Department remains cautious about placing additional sponsorship barriers between Australians and their foreign partners, especially those based on the previous behaviour of the sponsor. Such measures could lead to claims that the Australian Government is arbitrarily interfering with families, in breach of its international obligations. It could also lead to claims that the Government is interfering in relationships between Australians and their overseas partners in a way in which it would not interfere in a relationship between two Australians.

Further, according to DIBP representatives, the Department recognises that Australian sponsors and their partners are adults and as such, responsible for discussing their histories with one another and making appropriate decisions.

While this framework is understandable, it may fall short in cases of human trafficking, given that Partner visa applicants may be deliberately deceived about their partner and the broader situation that they are seeking to enter. In addition, providing information to Partner visa applicants might not be considered a ‘sponsorship barrier’ but a measure that would better facilitate Partner visa applicants making fully informed decisions. Certainly, providing such information to Partner visa applicants would not necessarily prevent their migration to Australia as originally intended. This report therefore recommends that the issue of providing information to Partner visa applicants be revisited by the Australian Government. Although providing information (eg outcomes of criminal record checks) would undoubtedly require more resources, it is also the case that the current system of not providing this information is a costly one, both economically and socially.

Since March 2010, DIBP has been required to undertake character checks if there are minor children included in an application to sponsor a migrant partner and to disallow sponsorships from any individual with a conviction for a registrable offence (DIBP 2013b). This measure reflects Australia’s obligations to protect children under international instruments such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Research from the United States indicates that this is potentially an important measure in preventing violence against migrating partners and their children. The US Government Accountability Office (USGAO 2006) matched computer records of all US citizens who applied to sponsor an overseas family member during 2005 against the National Sex Offender Registry and found that 398 convicted sex offenders applied to sponsor overseas family members (including spouses and children) during that year.

There are, however, several limitations associated with the current approach of disallowing individuals convicted of a registrable offence from sponsoring an overseas partner. Given the importance of preventing child abuse, it is important to consider whether this approach is an adequate preventative measure. It is recommended that the following issues be considered in this context:

  • whether convictions for registrable offences should be the sole factor that prevents an individual sponsoring a partner with minor children to migrate to Australia. Research evidence clearly shows that sexual offences against children are often not reported (Abel et al. 1987; Bates, Saunders & Wilson 2007) and that sexual offending against children has a high rate of attrition from the criminal justice system (Eastwood, Kift & Grace 2006; Fitzgerald 2006). Including convictions related to serious violent offences, in addition to registrable offences against children, in the exclusion criteria might provide for better protection against human trafficking cases involving partner migration;
  • whether the outcomes of criminal proceedings alone are an adequate measure. Cunneen and Stubbs’ (2000) research indicates that a broader range of legal proceedings (eg applications for Apprehended Domestic Violence Orders, child protection and Family Court proceedings) would provide relevant information to grant or reject a Partner visa application.

Pre-migration education and awareness initiatives

In addition to measures that can be implemented within Australia, non-government and law enforcement stakeholders recommended that prevention initiatives should begin in the country of origin prior to immigration. These include education about the possibility of negative experiences abroad, as well as specific information on exploitation and violence. Information could be handed out in the most vulnerable areas or provided on planes during immigration and in an appropriate format that takes into account the education level of the intended audience, for example a cartoon. Therefore, even if the person still decides to immigrate, they will have some information and contact details for places they can seek assistance if they encounter any problems (service provider).

The Quality of Life Promotion Center and Cacioppo (2006: para 6.2.2), for example, argue that women considering migrating for marriage be provided with detailed information in their home country. Considering the specific issue of Vietnamese women migrating for marriage, they suggest that:

women applying for visas for marriage overseas should attend a counselling session hosted by the provincial Women’s Unions offering basic language and cultural skills specific to their destination. Such education should encourage women to think very carefully about migrating abroad for marriage and should minimize the risk of a hurried, harmful decision...In addition, all women should know the contact information of the nearest Vietnamese embassy or consulate.

Education, awareness and training

Community awareness and education

In addition to recommending enhanced provision and delivery of information to migrant partners, stakeholders interviewed for this study recommended broader community education on the issue of human trafficking, slavery and slavery-like practices. Community awareness about human trafficking in Australia is very limited. A previous AIC study on community attitudes and awareness found that of 1,617 respondents to an online survey, only nine percent (n=148) had a complete understanding of what human trafficking is and 61 percent (n=973) confused human trafficking with people smuggling (Joudo Larsen et al. 2012). As a number of victim/survivors interviewed for the current study sought help from members of their community, it is important to increase community awareness and education regarding human trafficking and related exploitation to enhance detection, reporting, monitoring and referral pathways to support services.

ACRATH (2011: 4) has recommended educating the community on very broad relevant issues—‘a community education project in which we tackle societal attitudes of patriarchy and exploitation’—and also specifically on human trafficking involving marriage. However, as previously noted, men may also be the victims of human trafficking and human trafficking involving marriage, and therefore all societal attitudes that promote, support or are ambivalent to exploitation, human trafficking and slavery need to be tackled. ACRATH (2011) suggest embedding education about human trafficking involving marriage into existing community education campaigns on domestic violence and into the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children (NCRVAWC 2009). Other stakeholders consulted for this research agreed that national awareness campaigns and education are vital to improving detection, identification, prevention and victim support. Similarly, they recommended it would be most effective to tie any response and awareness-raising of human trafficking involving marriage exploitation into existing approaches to domestic violence:

We don’t need to duplicate and if we already have a well-refined and comprehensive domestic violence response, then adding [human trafficking] will see people take the same kind of attitude towards it (service provider).

Stakeholders proposed that an effective way of educating the community would be to circulate awareness posters with information on what human trafficking is and how to report it in frequently attended venues such as in entertainment precincts, restaurants, movie theatres, shopping centres and other public settings (service providers).

The need for community education on both human trafficking involving marriage and domestic violence was reflected in the experiences of a number of the victim/survivors interviewed for this study. In one case, a victim/survivor attempted to escape her situation by seeking the help of a neighbour, but was incorrectly advised by the neighbour that she could only contact the police if she had experienced physical assaults. This suggests that better informed members of the public may be better equipped to identify and respond to situations involving exploitative marriages (see further Richards & Lyneham forthcoming).

Stakeholders interviewed for this study also recommended educating the community about who they should contact if they suspected a person was being held in a situation of slavery or servitude, including information on the role government, NGOs, law enforcement and DIBP in ensuring the safety and protection of Australian citizens and residents, as well as vulnerable foreign nationals who may need assistance. Community education campaigns such as those developed by ACRATH (see ACRATH Radio Awareness Project,, Anti-Slavery Australia (see and the University of Queensland (see were therefore considered an important step towards preventing human trafficking into Australia. These campaigns take different approaches to achieve a common goal of educating the community about human trafficking in Australia. The campaign by ACRATH consists of multi-language community service announcements broadcast on local ethnic radio programs in Victoria; the national Anti-Slavery Australia campaign consists of a series of short film clips depicting what modern slavery and servitude looks like in Australia; and the national campaign by the University of Queensland targets the demand for goods produced by trafficked people by warning the community to ‘be careful what you pay for’ (Schloenhardt 2011: 4; see also Schloenhardt, Astil-Torchia & Jolly 2012).

The Australian Government also plays an important role in raising general awareness of human trafficking, slavery and slavery-like practices, including as a human rights issue within the Australian community and among target groups. The Australian Government, through the Communication and Awareness Working Group comprised of representatives from civil society organisations and Australian Government agencies, is currently redeveloping the Communication and Awareness Strategy for Human Trafficking and Slavery. The working group will develop a consultation and evaluation strategy to ensure that relevant communities, groups and organisations are involved in the development of awareness raising products and materials.

The importance of evaluating anti-trafficking strategies such as public awareness campaigns is considered to be the ‘single most critical addition necessary to strengthen anti-trafficking work’; Konrad cited in GAATW 2010). However, GAATW (2010: 4) argue that ‘anti-trafficking initiatives are not being sufficiently evaluated, impeding the effectiveness of anti-trafficking responses and limiting progress in combating trafficking’. Anti-trafficking awareness campaigns that have been evaluated have shown to be effective in their aim to increase the knowledge of the target audience; however, their effectiveness is limited in affecting attitudinal and behavioural change.

For example, an evaluation of Denmark’s Action Plan for Combating of Trafficking in Human Beings found that awareness raising measures specified in the Action Plan were largely successful in educating the community about trafficking in women and to lesser a lesser extent trafficking in children and men. The evaluation also showed that two-thirds of respondents reported they would contact the police if they suspected a person had been trafficked (COWI 2010).

Similarly, MTV EXIT was launched in 2006 as a multi-media, multi-platform awareness and prevention campaign against human trafficking in the Asia Pacific. MTV EXIT documentaries were developed as part of this extensive campaign to ‘build knowledge and influence attitude and behaviour of the target audience’ (Thainiyom 2011: 1). The MTV EXIT documentaries were found to be ‘most successful at raising awareness of the issue and increasing knowledge of human trafficking’; however, the documentaries had limited influence on attitudes and behaviour, which were considered to require longer term and more intensive intervention (Thainiyom 2011: 15).

The UNODC’s Toolkit to Combat Trafficking in Persons (2008), examines various methods of prevention through public education and information, and provides guidelines for developing targeted anti-trafficking awareness campaigns.

Education for government, law enforcement and domestic violence service providers

In addition to education for the community in general, a recommendation of this research is that education about human trafficking involving partner migration is vital for authorities and victim support services most likely to come into contact with victim/survivors—state and territory police officers, immigration officers and domestic violence service providers. In the eight cases described in this study, human trafficking involving partner migration was often initially identified by law enforcement and victim support services as domestic violence. Although identifying a case in this way may assist the victim/survivor to exit the exploitative situation and access support services, victim/survivors of human trafficking are likely to have needs beyond those that domestic violence service providers are equipped to address and have suffered exploitation-related trauma that may be outside the scope of mainstream domestic violence services (eg labour exploitation). In addition to ensuring that victims of human trafficking receive appropriate assistance, identifying suspected victims is the first step toward protecting their human rights; ‘[f]ailing to identify a trafficked person correctly “is likely to result in a further denial of that person’s rights”’ (UN OHCHR cited in Simmons & Burn 2010: 714). Additional reasons for correctly identifying victim/survivors include:

  • the likelihood of needing to rectify their visa and immigration status, as they may be repatriated if they have not yet married their partner;
  • ensuring they are granted the appropriate visa for their situation and which allows them rights that may not be available on a visa granted under the Family Violence Provisions (eg work rights);
  • facilitating access to tailored assistance via the Support for Trafficked People Program or similar services that are specific to victim/survivors of human trafficking;
  • the need to address a combination of physically, sexually and psychologically abusive and exploitative experiences that might occur in various settings within or outside the home;
  • facilitating access to appropriate legal assistance;
  • rectifying child custody issues;
  • recovering unpaid wages;
  • facilitating assistance in learning the basic ways of life in Australia, such as banking, shopping, learning English, catching transport and obtaining a driver’s licence; and
  • for monitoring purposes, to inform appropriate responses and the development of victim support programs.

Stakeholders provided further reasons of the need to correctly identify these types of human trafficking cases. The benefit of viewing cases as human trafficking include the opportunity to raise awareness of this form of human trafficking, to show internationally that Australia will not tolerate these kinds of abuses, which has the potential to act as a deterrent and the benefit it provides to victims to be recognised as someone who has endured an experience that is more than domestic violence (see further Bales 2005). A central reason given for distinguishing human trafficking involving partner migration from domestic violence is the notion that there are ‘separate elements to migrant travel and subsequent violence that are quite different to domestic violence’ (service provider). Migrant experiences of exploitation were viewed by stakeholders as an aggravated offence because of increased vulnerability that may have been targeted by the perpetrator. For example, one service provider believed:

transportation to another country heightens vulnerability a whole lot more. This is because they are people who have no understanding of the kind of rights they have here in the country, they may not know the language, they are often very isolated and it’s easier for [the offender] to then control because they don’t have any contact with family or any friends or any networks, and [the offender] makes sure of that. It then makes it more difficult to leave (service provider).

In addition, stakeholders explained the benefits of being granted a visa to stay in Australia as a victim of human trafficking as opposed to a victim of family violence:

What happens now is if somebody applies for Family Violence Provisions they don’t have an attached support program like there is with trafficking cases. That person, while they are awaiting permanent residency, which could take one or two years, are on a temporary visa. That means they have all the restrictions that come with a temporary visa and it makes it very difficult for them to rehabilitate…In particular, temporary visa holders have no access to our mainstream housing support…A lot of housing providers are conscious of taking in somebody with a temporary visa because what it means is they can’t be moved on from the service until they have obtained permanent residency. So not having them recognised as trafficking cases means they aren’t able to exercise their rights and access support (service provider).

While a permanent visa may be granted within two years in cases where family violence has occurred, support providers have experienced delays, victim/survivors are not often aware of the possibility of securing a visa sooner and victim/survivors are still unable to access the same services available to trafficked people.

However, while it is important to correctly identify victim/survivors of this form of human trafficking, victim/survivors may have other avenues of redress. For example, the AFP can charge suspected offenders with migration, fraud or sham marriage offences if they are unable to utilise human trafficking legislation (law enforcement stakeholder). However, such remedies and the penalties that can be imposed, may not be adequate for the seriousness of human trafficking offences and therefore not as effective as prosecuting the case as a criminal matter, where trafficked people may be able to pursue compensation as victims of crime and the offender may be incarcerated.

Therefore, training for operational state and territory law enforcement officers, immigration officers and domestic violence supports could be expanded to include a focus on the indicators of human trafficking (eg threat of deportation, confiscation of passports, restricted movement) so that victim/survivors are correctly identified and provided the most appropriate support based on their experience of exploitation. Currently, DIBP’s compliance officers undergo mandatory training that includes modules on human trafficking, sexual servitude and labour exploitation. Training sessions are also currently offered to federal police (which have also been attended by a limited number of immigration officials) through the AFP’s Human Trafficking Investigations Program, which aims to assist in developing investigator skills in the specifics of human trafficking investigations. A recommendation of this research is to include a small component on human trafficking in the domestic and family violence training module in state and territory police recruit programs so that the officers who are most likely to detect exploitation in a domestic setting are able to distinguish a situation of domestic violence from one of human trafficking.

Enhanced training could also support intelligence and information sharing, particularly with DIBP officers posted abroad to assist with cultural knowledge and practices to develop risk profiles for source countries.

As described earlier in this report, the victim/survivors interviewed for this research stressed the importance of domestic violence support services and general community development organisations—both migrant and mainstream—in helping them exit their exploitative marriages. Incorporating issues relevant to human trafficking scenarios in training and education for these organisations is therefore a further recommendation of this report. For example, ACRATH (personal correspondence 2013) have advocated for a short presentation to be offered to all domestic violence and refuge annual meetings on forms of human trafficking where exploitation occurs in the home or involves domestic violence.

Education and training for migration agents

A small number of stakeholders also suggested that enhanced education and training for migration agents on the issues of human trafficking and marriage exploitation could assist in preventing these problems. Migration agents are subject to a range of regulatory mechanisms. Migration agents, whose primary purpose is

to provide professional advice and assistance to organisations and individuals on Australian migration matters in an ethical manner and in accordance with the Code of Conduct (MARA 2011: 4)

must be qualified as Australian Legal Practitioners or have completed a Graduate Certificate in Australian Migration Law and Practice (see All migration agents must be registered with the Officer of the Migration Agents Registration Authority (

In addition, migration agents must adhere to the Code of Conduct for Registered Migration Agents (MARA 2012) and meet the professional standards documented in the Occupational Competency Standards for Migration Agents (MARA 2011). Under Standard 7 of the Occupational Competency Standards for Migration Agents, agents must ‘identify and undertake an ongoing professional development plan’ (MARA 2011: 11).

A recommendation of this study is that education on the issue of human trafficking in general, including human trafficking involving marriage, be incorporated into the professional training and development provided to migration agents in Australia. Awareness of this issue and how to respond to it, could be beneficial as a prevention mechanism. Nonetheless, it is recognised that, like education and training for marriage celebrants, this approach can only have a limited impact on preventing human trafficking involving marriage.

There is no obligation for those seeking to migrate to Australia to use the services of a migration agent; indeed, the cost of doing so may be prohibitively expensive for some. Further, where Australian citizens have sinister motives in assisting a partner to migrate to Australia, they may prevent their migrant partner from using a migration agent. In this study, the women’s Australian partners had taken responsibility for undertaking the work and covering the costs necessary for them to migrate to Australia. However, at least one of the victim/survivors interviewed for this study had used the services of a migration agent; for this woman, a meeting with her migration agent in relation to her tax file number provided the impetus for her to exit her exploitative situation.

Enhanced immigration policy

A number of recommendations relate to potential changes to current immigration policies, which may significantly contribute to improving Australia’s ability to prevent and better respond to incidents of human trafficking and related exploitation.

First, creating more opportunities for marriage and partner visa holders to discuss their family circumstances without their spouse or the spouse’s family present will increase opportunities for detecting exploitative relationships and facilitate disclosure. This could be achieved in several ways. For example, the Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee (2012) recommends that all partner visa and prospective marriage visa applicants under the age of 18 be interviewed separately from their Australian sponsor before being granted entry into Australia, while the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women Australia (2011) recommends this procedure be undertaken for all women entering Australia through such visas. It has also been recommended that welfare checks be undertaken several months after arrival and separately from the sponsoring partner and family members to ensure the safety and wellbeing of those on partner visas (Tomison 2012). Second, as some victim/survivors were prevented from attending English classes by their husbands, it is a recommendation of this study that the AMEP is made compulsory for eligible newly arrived migrants whose language proficiency is inadequate. This initiative could be supported by the development of strategies to monitor the signed undertakings of Australian sponsors to provide support for their migrant partners to settle in Australia more generally.

Third, findings from the current study show that cases of human trafficking and marriage exploitation often present as cases of domestic violence. It is therefore important that sponsors undergo a criminal background check that involves convictions for domestic violence orders and serious violent criminal offences in addition to registrable offences against children. Currently, immigrating spouses are required to undergo such checks; however, the same requirement does not exist for sponsors.

Finally, it is recommended that changes advocated by the ALRC (2011) be implemented regarding the limitations of the Family Violence Provisions in assisting fiancés to remain in Australia if they leave their partner due to family violence. Australia’s efforts to combat this crime could also be enhanced by further amendments to the Migration Regulations 1994 so that couples that have been married by proxy (ie being married without first meeting in person) are ineligible to move to Australia on a Partner visa. This would aid DIBP’s ability to prevent forced, servile and particularly sham marriages from circumventing immigration checks and processes to determine if the marriage is genuine.

Regulation of international marriage brokering agencies

International marriage brokering agencies (known as IMBs) have been heavily criticised for their role in facilitating exploitative marriages, some of which constitute human trafficking (CEPA 2004; Huda 2007; Orloff & Sarangapani 2007; Quek 2010).

Given that using IMBs are potentially a relatively easy way to recruit an individual into a human trafficking situation; IMBs are an obvious site of prevention. Regulation of IMBs is therefore often proposed as a key strategy to prevent exploitative marriages, including those that constitute human trafficking (CEPA 2004; GAATW nd; Orloff & Sarangapani 2007). Regulation in the source country, coupled with regulation in the destination country, would greatly advance the goal of protecting and informing migrating brides, and reduce the risk of a bride encountering an abusive or exploitative relationship (Heggs 2010).

Under Australian legislation, a perpetrator (person or company) that causes a person to enter into a forced marriage may be charged under Division 270.7B of the Criminal Code 1995 (Cth). Similarly, offences related to harbouring a victim of human trafficking or slavery (ie where a person or company assists an offender or furthers an offender’s purpose in relation to an offence) may apply to IMBs depending on the circumstances.

Online dating safety measures

Some of the risk factors relating to human trafficking facilitated through IMBs are also common to online dating websites. Despite the clear identification of financial risks relating to online dating, the potentially much greater risks relating to human trafficking and related exploitative scenarios have not been as well covered. As this research demonstrates, online dating can lead to much greater harms than loss of money.

Importantly, some strategies designed to prevent romance scams may also contribute towards the prevention of human trafficking and related exploitative scenarios involving marriage. For example, organisations such as Date Screen and Cupid Screen and their international equivalents, which conduct background searches on prospective partners met through online dating and social networking sites (and in some instances via other avenues), can provide important information to clients about their prospective partners.

It is therefore recommended that further consideration be given to how romance scam prevention measures might be broadened to assist in the prevention of human trafficking. Information about avoiding romance scams provided on online dating sites, particularly those with an international focus, could be broadened to alert users of these sites to potential harms beyond financial exploitation.

A multi-agency approach

A multi-dimensional approach has been widely recognised as best practice for addressing and eradicating human trafficking by many organisations, including the United Nations, non-government agencies and women’s groups (Ming Zhao 2003). A multi-dimensional approach

must include not only legislative initiatives, crime prevention and security control efforts, but also social welfare, education, job training, rights protection and development initiatives in the source, transit and destination locales (Ming Zhao 2003: 98).

Consistent with this approach, the UK’s Forced Marriage Unit (2009) has drafted multi-agency guidelines for handling cases of forced marriage. The guidelines contain important information to assist agencies to understand the issues around forced marriage, important indicators and how to respond to cases. It targets health professionals, schools, colleges and universities, adult and child social workers, police officers and local housing authorities. Most cases involving exploitation within marriage are identified as domestic violence, therefore guidelines for Australian agencies likely to come in contact with these victims would allow for their correct identification and assistance. Critical agencies include community organisations, particularly migrant community centres, state and territory police, immigration officers, migration agents, marriage celebrants, religious organisations, educational institutions, health professionals, counsellors, child protection workers and providers of victim services.

Further research

It is frequently argued that the ‘lack of progress in anti-trafficking is largely due to inadequate data and insufficient knowledge of the scope or scale of the problem and how it should be tackled’ (GAATW 2010: 4). A number of stakeholders, particularly law enforcement and immigration representatives (interviews 2011), recommended that further research into human trafficking generally and the involvement of marriage specifically, was needed to understand the size and nature of the problem, to appropriately target resources, to measure the success of anti-trafficking strategies and to better understand the needs of victim/survivors. The AFP emphasised that:

to be able to devote resources to this issue, research is needed to show that it is a problem. One of the difficulties with any form of human trafficking is that no one is able to quantify it…Before we implement measures we need to know more.

Stakeholders identified they would use research in a number of ways, including to enhance their understanding of the nature, extent and size of the problem, to assist with developing risk profiles for immigration purposes, to better allocate resources and to better support victim/survivors.

As part of the Australian Government’s response to human trafficking, slavery and slavery-like practices, the AIC will continue to undertake research into this area of concern.

Future research could:

  • examine the drivers of marriage migration to inform and develop preventative measures to combat human trafficking;
  • investigate the experiences of men and boys who may be affected by exploitative relationships, domestic servitude and forced marriage;
  • evaluate anti-trafficking awareness campaigns and communication strategies; and
  • evaluate victim support programs and services to ensure victims are receiving the right type and amount of support necessary for rehabilitation and recovery.