A report into human trafficking in NSW by the Community Relations Commission published today made a number of recommendations, including strengthening the NSW government response to the problem with the establishment of a Human Trafficking Ministerial Advisory Council.
Committee member Jennifer Burn, who is a director of Anti-Slavery Australia and an Associate Professor of Law at the University of Technology, Sydney, says there needs to be greater co-ordination between different government departments in tackling the problem.
“There are trafficked people and people who have experienced slavery who are just not entitled to support or services in NSW,” she says, citing the example of a trafficked person on a temporary visa who was unable to get support through the housing department as they were not a resident.
At a Commonwealth level, Burns says trafficked people are supported for 45 days and continued backing after that time period is contingent on them providing assistance to law enforcement. “There are some key gaps,” she says.
Burn also believes there needs to be greater community awareness that exploitation is not just confined to the sex work industry but occurs in the hospitality and agriculture sector and in private homes with “intimate partner relationships” where people have been forced into marriage and domestic servitude situations.
Little is known about how widespread the problem is – highlighted by the fact that while the Community Relations Commission consulted a number of groups, they spoke to only one woman who had been trafficked and a further five people working in the area gave evidence confidentially.
“It is a hidden crime and victims are less willing to identify themselves as victims, men in particular,” says Samantha Bricknell, Principal Research Analyst and Manager of the Human Trafficking and Slavery Research Program at the Australian Institute of Criminology.
She says there are currently 200 people receiving support through the government-funded Support Trafficked People program run by the Red Cross and 17 people to date have been convicted of the crime.
“It is very difficult to uncover, it’s not just what is going on but how many people are affected,” says Bricknell. “There are very disparate views – I think there is consensus that it is going on – and certainly exploitation and slavery-like practices are occurring in various industries but whether it is trafficking in the true sense of the word…in some cases is debatable.”
“Victims are usually living in terrible conditions and it is very difficult for them to get access to services, if they have come from elsewhere they don’t know who to approach and they are terrified of approaching anyone.”