Human trafficking and slavery happen every day, in every country

Fighting slavery close to home

It's difficult to imagine the person next door might be a slave, maybe they were trafficked into Australia under false pretenses, maybe they're being exploited.

Human trafficking and slavery are atrocious crimes that happen every day, in every country around the world. Slavery is a $158-billion industry worldwide, with only 1 per cent of victims ever rescued.

In Australia it is believed slavery-like offences have been historically under-reported, but the numbers are increasing with the Australian Federal Police experiencing a rise in human trafficking and slavery referrals in recent years.

In the 2013-14 financial year the AFP received 70 human trafficking-related complaints, that number more than doubled by 2017-18, with 162 referrals received.

Picture: Shutterstock

Picture: Shutterstock

An AFP spokeswoman said one reason for the increase was human trafficking and slavery offences were strengthened in 2013 after legislative amendments were made to the Commonwealth Criminal Code Act 1995.

The amendments introduced new forced marriage offences, and standalone offences of forced labour and organ trafficking, as well as expanding existing offences of sexual servitude and deceptive recruiting for sexual services.

"These legislative amendments ensured that all forms of serious exploitation are comprehensively criminalised and have likely resulted in an increase in the number of overall human trafficking and slavery referrals and investigations," the spokeswoman said.

Human trafficking is a complex, transnational crime that can have traumatic and lasting effects on victims.

How does it happen

Human trafficking victims are recruited for a specific purpose and taken across or within borders to be exploited.

Slavery has many ugly and dark faces - forced labour, forced marriage, organ trafficking, child trafficking, child soldiers and sexual servitude.

People already living in Australia can be subjected to these hideous forms of slavery practices, or they can be trafficked from overseas and subjected to the exploitative practices.

Victims' freedom and ability to make their own choices is often obliterated.

People can be trafficked through a number of methods which include fake job advertisements, being sold by family and friends, abduction and false immigration.

The AFP spokeswoman said it was often difficult for victims to come forward for a range or reasons, many of which reflect the inherent vulnerabilities associated with the crime.

"Victims may have been threatened, forced or coerced and not all victims identified by the AFP are willing to assist in a prosecution," she said.

The law

In response to recommendations of the Royal Commission into Child Sex Abuse, Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton will reintroduce the Combating Child Sexual Exploitation Legislation Bill.

If passed, the definition of forced marriage will be expanded in the criminal code to include all marriages involving children under the age of 16 and the offence will automatically attract the aggravated maximum penalty of nine years' jail.

The proposed laws also reduce the need to call evidence from vulnerable child victims and simplified the burden for prosecution to demonstrate a lack of full and free consent.

Failing to report or protect children at risk of sexual abuse offences will be a crime if the bill is passed.

The AFP has strong partnerships with government, non-government and private agencies to prevent, detect and investigate human trafficking and modern slavery offences.

"The AFP is one part of a whole of government approach to combating human trafficking, which is led by the Department of Home Affairs," the spokeswoman said.

The approach has four central pillars; prevention and deterrence, detection and investigation, prosecution and compliance, and victim support and protection.

How to help

Tasmanian woman Melody Towns founded Be Hers after hearing harrowing stories about young girls going missing around the world, most likely trafficked into a lifetime of rape and abuse.

"I was sitting there with my young daughter on my lap completely horrified," Ms Towns said.

"The thought of her being sold into a brothel just shocked me."

A desire to help victims led to Ms Towns launching Be Hers.

The not-for-profit organisation raises money for victims and educates people about the realities of modern-day slavery.

Ms Towns described the fundraiser events, which had raised close to a million dollars in the past eight years, as a soft entry into a really overwhelming issue.

"We are raising awareness [in Tasmania] because of online trafficking and why women here are at risk," she said.

"The demographic we get at our events are aged 25 to 35. They are the girls going out travelling. They are the ones who need to hear this message."

Through extensive fundraising efforts, Be Hers has resourced a child advocacy centre in Cambodia in partnership with A21 - a non-profit organisation with a mission to abolish slavery.

The centre focuses on the protection and rehabilitation of children, with 41 survivors aged from two to 17 helped last year.

Through Be Hers and SHE Rescue Home, a sewing centre was established, money for medical care provided, new homes have been built and ongoing rehabilitation and assistance was provided to trafficking victims.