Investigation and prosecution of human trafficking and slavery in Australia

Samantha Lyneham1

1Australian Institute of Criminology

The investigation and prosecution of human trafficking and slavery cases is challenging. On average, 40 percent of countries secure fewer than 10 convictions per year, including 15 percent of countries that secure no convictions (UNODC 2016). Conviction rates are similarly low in Australia. As at 30 June 2019, 24 offenders were convicted. Over the same time, 462 victims were identified by the Australian Federal Police. Although Australia’s response to human trafficking and slavery is centred on a strong criminal justice response, little is known about why there appears to be a high rate of attrition of cases as they progress through the criminal justice system.

This paper presents analyses of quantitative data from the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions and the Australian Federal Police related to human trafficking and slavery cases, defendants and offences to chart the movement and attrition of Australian cases. This is supplemented by qualitative data from interviews conducted with criminal justice actors to identify the particular challenges that police and prosecutors face when investigating, prosecuting and attempting to secure a conviction. The paper describes which types of exploitation are more likely to be charged, prosecuted and proven in court, as well as attrition rates overall and for each phase of the criminal justice process.

Keywords: human trafficking, prosecution, attrition


For over a decade, Samantha has led research across a range of modern slavery issues including forced marriage, forced labour, child exploitation, criminal justice participation and attrition, and evaluation of Australia’s policy and legal response. In 2019, she produced the first estimate of the number of modern slavery victims in Australia. Internationally, Samantha has collaborated with the UNODC to produce an Issues Paper on forced marriage, and with statistical experts to accurately quantify victimisation. She is completing a PhD at the University of New South Wales to better understand issues of consent and coercion in cases of forced marriage.


Dec 08 2021