Drawing on research undertaken to explore the role of partner migration in human trafficking into Australia, this paper presents qualitative data on the help-seeking strategies of victim/survivors of human trafficking and similar exploitative situations involving partner migration.
Introduction: There is a diversity of experiences among victim/survivors of human trafficking across all aspects of the trafficking process. Recognising and responding to this diversity, and the challenges involved, is important in understanding human trafficking and the development of legal and policy initiatives to address it. While research is increasingly focused on the nature of, and responses to, human trafficking involving men and women exploited for labour purposes, including in the sex work industry, to date, little has been documented about the help-seeking strategies of victim/survivors of human trafficking generally and victim/survivors of human trafficking involving partner migration specifically. This is largely because of the clandestine nature of human trafficking generally and the particularly hidden nature of exploitation that occurs in domestic settings. However, the concern for human trafficking into domestic settings has received growing attention, with the Australian Government introducing criminal offences for forced marriage, as well as strengthening Australia’s laws against domestic servitude and servile marriage in February 2012 (see Crimes Legislation Amendment (Slavery, Slavery-Like Conditions and People Trafficking) Act 2013).
Human trafficking is defined by the Protocol to Prevent, Supress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children (the Trafficking Protocol) and involves the recruitment or transportation of a person by means of deceit, force or coercion for the purpose of exploitation. Human trafficking is similarly defined under Australian legislation.
Human trafficking involving partner migration refers to cases where marriage and other intimate relationships have been used as the action or exploitation element of human trafficking. That is, the Partner Migration system may be used to facilitate human trafficking, or spouses may be subjected to exploitative conditions by their partners in Australia. For cases of human trafficking involving partner migration, exploitation can include forced marriage, servile marriage, domestic servitude, sexual servitude, forced labour and other slavery-like conditions. Help-seeking has been defined as ‘any communication about a problem or troublesome event which is directed toward obtaining support, advice, or assistance in times of distress’. Help-seeking behaviours are typically categorised as ‘formal’ (eg reporting to law enforcement and/or other professional services such as counsellors or crisis accommodation) and ‘informal’ (eg seeking help from family, friends, neighbours and/or colleagues).
Understanding the help-seeking strategies of victim/survivors of human trafficking involving partner migration is important if victims are to be effectively supported to exit exploitative situations, receive appropriate and targeted victim support, and be assisted through the criminal justice system. Research demonstrates that cases of human trafficking involving partner migration (and similar exploitative scenarios involving slavery) can have extremely serious consequences for women and their children, including sexual and physical violence, domestic and sexual servitude, and even death. Consequently, cases are likely to be treated (indeed misidentified) as domestic violence. While identifying a person’s experience as domestic violence may allow them to exit the abusive situation and receive support, it is important to correctly identify trafficked people for a number of reasons. First, correctly identifying trafficked people is the first step toward protecting their human rights. Second, while cases of human trafficking into a domestic setting are likely to involve domestic violence, the defining feature of a trafficked person’s experience is the exploitative purpose. Correct identification can therefore ensure appropriate social and criminal justice support and visa entitlements are accessed. Third, the serious nature of the offence can be recognised and harsher penalties can be imposed on offenders. Finally, correct identification has important implications for detection, enforcement and monitoring.
Drawing on research undertaken to explore the role of partner migration in human trafficking into Australia, this paper presents qualitative data on the help-seeking strategies of victim/survivors of human trafficking and similar exploitative situations involving partner migration. It also discusses how victim/survivors’ narratives of help-seeking might better inform government and community responses to human trafficking and associated exploitative scenarios involving partner migration.