AFP warns of potential human trafficking spike as borders reopen

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Editor's note: Radio grab from Detective Superintendent Human Exploitation Jayne Crossling is available for download.

The AFP is urging travellers to recognise signs of human trafficking as international borders reopen.

Investigators believe human traffickers have been waiting to take advantage of eased border restrictions and increased passenger numbers to ramp up attempts to move people against their will.

AFP Detective Superintendent Human Exploitation Jayne Crossling said human trafficking offences were underreported with a study estimating that for every victim and survivor detected by authorities in Australia, four remain undetected.

"This is a reminder that forcing someone to leave or enter Australia using coercion, threats or deception is an offence under our laws, and Commonwealth human trafficking offences and penalties apply," Detective Superintendent Crossling said.

"As international traveller numbers increase it is important for all of us to be aware of the warning signs and indicators of human trafficking.

"Human trafficking is happening here in Australia and it is up to all of us to work together to protect people who are vulnerable to these exploitative crime types. If you or someone you know could be a victim of this crime type, please report it by calling 131 AFP (237)." 

The AFP is responsible for investigating human trafficking, including entry and exit trafficking, slavery, forced marriage and forced labour. Detective Superintendent Crossling said signs that someone may be a victim of human trafficking include:

  • The person appears reluctant to travel, and/or their movements appear to be controlled by another person;
  • The person does not have a passport or another form of identity or the person can't access them;
  • The person is subject to poor living or working conditions;
  • The person never or rarely leaves their house for non-work reasons;
  • The person has little or no money or no access to their earnings;
  • The person has physical injuries which may have resulted from assault, harsh treatment or unsafe work practices; or
  • The person is always in the presence of their employer or another person, who does not want or allow them to socialise with others.

Reports of human trafficking tripled in Australia from 2013-14 to 2020-21. During the COVID pandemic, reports of human trafficking have remained steady as not all cases involve victims crossing the international border.

The AFP expects cases to increase in 2022 as the impacts of COVID-19 ease, international passenger volumes increase and new new opportunities for exploitative practices likely to emerge.

Over the past eight financial years, reports of human trafficking to the AFP include:

  • 2013-14: 70 reports
  • 2014-15: 119 reports
  • 2015-16: 169 reports
  • 2016-17: 150 reports
  • 2017-18: 162 reports
  • 2018-19: 220 reports
  • 2019-20: 223 reports
  • 2020-21: 224 reports

AFP Detective Superintendent Crossling said human trafficking generally involved people brought in to Australia through coercion, threats or deception; but increasingly included victims leaving the country.

"People are also deceived into leaving or being forced out of Australia, which is known as exit trafficking," Detective Superintendent Crossling said.

"This type of human trafficking appears to be on the rise based on reports that we received last year and we fear it will increase again along with inbound trafficking as the borders reopen."

The maximum penalty for trafficking in persons in Australia is 12 years' imprisonment.

The AFP is the lead Australian investigative agency for all forms of human trafficking but works closely will other Commonwealth, state and territory agencies to protect victims and enforce laws.

This year, AFP Commissioner Reece Kershaw led the ratification of all Australian police Commissioners to the National Policing Protocol to Combat Human Trafficking and Slavery. This agreement commits all Australian police services to a national framework to combat all forms of human trafficking and slavery and represents unified partnerships to Australia's fight against trafficking in persons across all police jurisdictions. Anyone with information about human trafficking should call 131 AFP (237).

The AFP has specialist police officers who are not only trained in the investigation of these sensitive matters, but who are compassionate and empathic and will make victims' safety and their wishes the priority.

Anyone at risk of harm should contact police on '000'.

For more information on human trafficking and the signs to look for visit the website.

Media enquiries

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If it doesn't add up, speak up. Call the National Security Hotline - 1800 123 400.

Read the AFP Annual Report 2020-21

Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation - visit website

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