Only two cases for the crime of human trafficking have been brought in this country and no convictions have yet been recorded. more research into this crime is paramount, writes Dr Andreas Schloenhardt.
To date, there has not been a single conviction under Australia’s trafficking offences. This is due in part to the fact that the relevant offences were introduced into the federal Criminal Code only in 2005. Prior to their enactment, a number of trafficking and trafficking-related cases were prosecuted under sexual slavery and servitude offences which came into operation in 1999. As of October 1, 2008, there had been only two cases involving charges of trafficking in persons.
Offences specifically relating to trafficking in persons were added to the Criminal Code (Cth) in 2005 with the Criminal Code Amendment (Trafficking in Persons Offences) Act 2005 (Cth). The introduction of these offences reflects Australia’s delayed implementation of provisions under the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children, supplementing the United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organised Crime,which Australia signed on December 11, 2000. The key offences include: trafficking in persons, ss 271.2, 271.3 Criminal Code (Cth); trafficking in children, s 271.4; domestic trafficking in persons, ss 271.5, 271.6; domestic trafficking in children, s 271.7; and debt-bondage, ss 271.8, 271.9.
The first person to be charged with trafficking offences under division 271 Criminal Code (Cth) was an Indian restaurant owner in Glenbrook in the Blue Mountains near Sydney by the name of Yogalingham Rasalingam.
Mr Rasalingam was accused of bringing another man from his home town in southern India to Australia and forcing him to work seven days a week, sometimes more than 15 hours a day.
During the trial, the victim testified that upon arrival in Australia, his passport and airline ticket were taken away from him, he was forced to sleep on the floor, and was told by Mr Rasalingam that he would be deported if he complained to the authorities.
Yogalingham Rasalingam was charged with trafficking a person under s 271.2(1B) Criminal Code (Cth) and with intentionally exercising control over a slave, s 270.3(1)(d). The jury found him not guilty on both counts. Mr Rasalingam was, however, convicted of one count of dishonestly influencing a Commonwealth public official contrary to s 135.1(7) Criminal Code (Cth) for photocopying his victim’s signature on an employment contract sent to the Immigration Department.
Keith William Dobie is a Gold Coast man who is currently awaiting trial for trafficking offences under the Criminal Code. Mr Dobie is a hairdresser from Broadbeach who allegedly started a prostitution racket after his hair salon in Currumbin was destroyed by flooding and fire which left him in serious debt.
The prosecution argues that between November 28, 2005 and April 17, 2006 he was directly involved in the deceptive recruitment of at least two Thai women and was possibly preparing to bring further women from Thailand to Australia.
Emails sent between the women and Dobie suggest that the women had previously worked in the sex industry in Thailand and were aware of the fact that they would be working as prostitutes in Australia, but were deceived about the conditions of their stay and employment.
It has been reported that Dobie used false information to organise visas for the women and that his victims were kept locked in the rooms in Surfers Paradise and Broadbeach where they had to work nine hours a day, serving as many as eight men per day. Dobie promised the women that they would be earning as much as $14,000 over three months, but the women only ever received a small fraction of that money.
Keith Dobie was charged on July 19, 2006 with trafficking in persons, presenting false information to an immigration officer, and dealing in the proceeds of crime.
He is currently set to stand trial at the Southport District Court on October 20, 2008. If convicted, Mr Dobie will be the first person in Australia to be convicted for these trafficking offences.
The available case law on trafficking in persons is still very limited. This may be reflective, on the one hand, of the low levels of trafficking into this country, but on the other hand there is reason to think that many cases (especially very sophisticated operations) remain undetected.
Also, in many instances there may be insufficient evidence to launch further investigations and prosecutions. Given the very high threshold of the criminal offences under division 271 Criminal Code (Cth) it is also unlikely to see the number of prosecutions will escalate in the near future.
The central problems in identifying, exploring, and ultimately solving the problem of trafficking in persons are the illegal and clandestine nature of this activity, the lack of co-operation of victims and witnesses with government authorities, and the shame and taboo stigma attached to prostitution and other aspects of human trafficking.
It is, therefore, important that any strategy designed to prevent, disrupt, and suppress trafficking in persons, actively assists victims and witnesses and removes common stereotypes, preconceptions, and prejudices.
Not only is it difficult to measure the current levels of trafficking in persons to Australia and count the number of traffickers and their victims, it is equally difficult to measure the success of any action taken to prevent and suppress this type of crime. Greater numbers of arrests of traffickers alone, for instance, may demonstrate greater law enforcement activity, but they may also be indicative of more trafficking operations.
The need for further research and more in-depth investigations into the causes, circumstances, and consequences of human trafficking in Australia is obvious.
The patterns and criminology of trafficking in persons, relevant criminal offences relating to trafficking and sexual servitude, and the immigration status and legal protection available to both lawful and unlawful foreign sex workers require further examination.
More research into trafficking in persons is necessary to make better estimates about the dark figure of this crime and to document the level and nature of unreported cases more accurately. Such research will inform public debates and assist policymakers and law enforcement agencies in developing fair and effective prevention and suppression strategies.
Dr Andreas Schloenhardt is a senior lecturer at TC Beirne School of Law, and a visiting professor at the University of British Columbia Liu Institute for Global Issues in Vancouver, Canada. He is also an adjunct professor in the Monterey Institute of International Studies, Graduate School for International Policy Studies in Monterey, California. Dr Schloenhardt has received a $50,000 University of Queensland Foundation Research Excellence Award to conduct the first comprehensive and comparative analysis of the exploitation of foreign sex workers and trafficking in persons – especially women and children – in Australia and Canada.