Forced marriage awareness campaign launched at Australia’s busiest airport

Project Skywarp poster

*UPDATE: VIDEO AND AUDIO OF THE PROJECT SKYWARP PRESS CONFERENCE NOW AVAILABLE

A forced marriage awareness and prevention initiative aimed at reaching passengers at Australia's busiest airport has been launched today, with the roll out of 'Project Skywarp' at Sydney Airport.

Travellers passing through Sydney Airport over the next six months will see custom-designed posters across bathrooms in the Domestic and International terminals, as well as on key digital screens.

The posters encourage readers to learn more about forced marriage, helping them to understand that forcing someone into a non-consensual marriage is against the law in Australia. It also informs how to report information to the AFP, and encourages referrals to support services available through Anti-Slavery Australia's My Blue Sky website.

This pilot prevention initiative, dubbed Project Skywarp, is a partnership between the Australian Federal Police (AFP) and Anti-Slavery Australia (ASA), with the generous support of Sydney Airport. To formalise the launch of the project, a Memorandum of Understanding between the AFP and Anti-Slavery Australia is being signed at the airport today.

The project aims to raise awareness of forced marriage in the Australian community and where victims can get help, while bringing together government, advocacy and advice services, and corporate supporters who are united in the aim of eliminating all forms of human trafficking and modern slavery.

Forced marriage was introduced as an offence into the Commonwealth Criminal Code in 2013. The number of forced marriage referrals to the AFP has been increasing as awareness of the issue grows and becomes reported: in the 2018/2019 financial year, there were 91 reports across Australia, compared to 11 in 2013/2014 when the offence was first introduced.

Sydney Airport is Australia's gateway and busiest airport with over 44.4 million passengers passing through each year, and was selected as the launch site to ensure the maximum level of effectiveness for the awareness initiative.

Washroom advertising was chosen given that bathrooms are often the only places in an airport that passengers at risk of being taken overseas for forced marriage may be on their own, and able to access information in a private space.

AFP Assistant Commissioner Debbie Platz, National Manager Crime Operations, hopes the initiative brings an often unspoken practice into the spotlight.

"This project highlights the importance of joining with private industry partners and sharing in the understanding that complex issues such as forced marriage cannot be simply prosecution-focused.

"Supporting people in Australia who are at risk of forced marriages – particularly vulnerable teenagers – is crucial, as we recognise that disruption and deterrence can have a far-reaching and lasting impact in our communities".

Jill McKeough, Director of Anti-Slavery Australia, said protection and prevention is at the heart of My Blue Sky's confidential services.

"It is vital that people get help before they are forced to go overseas for a marriage they don't want. Stopping the travel or marriage in the first place can have a lifelong effect. We've seen people come to us in despair, get connected to the right support and move towards hope."

Sydney Airport CEO Geoff Culbert said he was proud to play a role in helping shine a light on this complex issue.

"Project Skywarp is an initiative that we are proud to support. We applaud the focus that the AFP is bringing to the important and difficult issue of forced marriage and we look forward to supporting their efforts to create lasting change." 

The final design concepts for the posters were developed in cooperation between government agencies, including support from NSW Police Force youth liaison officers, non-government agencies, business, industry and the implementation of focus group testing feedback.

Project Skywarp will run its first phase over the next six months at Sydney Airport, with further opportunities for collaboration revisited in 2020.

Background:

A forced marriage is when a person gets married without freely and fully consenting, because they have been coerced, threatened or deceived.

Government agencies and non-government advocacy services have been involved in a range of awareness-raising efforts coordinated under the Australian Government's National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking and Slavery 2015-19. The AFP believes the increased awareness of human trafficking and slavery, in particular the offence of forced marriage, in the community has also led to a rise in the number of referrals to the AFP.

It is often difficult for victims to come forward, for a range of 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 comfortable to go on to become witnesses in prosecutions.

If you or someone you know is being forced to marry and you need immediate assistance, you can call 131 AFP (237). For free and confidential advice and support, visit Anti-Slavery Australia's online support platform at My Blue Sky.

*Editor's note: The posters are available to download from hightail.

VIDEO AND AUDIO OF THE PROJECT SKYWARP PRESS CONFERENCE IS ALSO AVAILABLE

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