This content contains information some readers may find distressing as it refers to information about family, domestic and sexual violence. If the information presented raises any issues for you, or someone you know, contact 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732. See also Find support for a list of support services.

Family, domestic and sexual violence Home

Types of violence


Modern slavery

Topic last updated: | See what’s been updated

Family, domestic and sexual violence include many forms of violence that cause lasting harm to people, including some that are considered forms of modern slavery. Modern slavery can involve violence, abuse and/or exploitation in family and domestic settings, for example, in cases of forced marriage and domestic servitude. This topic page presents the available data on forms of modern slavery that may be considered in this context.

What is modern slavery?

Modern slavery involves serious exploitation of people for personal or commercial gain (ASA 2022a). Modern slavery is an umbrella term used to collectively refer to human trafficking, slavery and slavery-like practices (AGD 2020).

Modern slavery can include:

  • slavery
  • human trafficking
  • forced labour
  • servitude
  • sexual exploitation
  • debt bondage
  • forced marriage
  • deceptive recruitment
  • the worst forms of child labour (see Box 1 for full definitions) (AGD n.d.b).

Each of these practices is distinct but similar in that they involve a person’s personal freedom and autonomy being taken away and threatened through coercion, deception and/or force and are criminal offences in Australia. Many of these practices are also defined individually in international law (JSCFADT 2017).

Harmful practices such as sub-standard working conditions or underpayment of workers are not included in the definition of modern slavery. However, they may also be present in situations that involve modern slavery (AGD n.d.b).

Some forms of modern slavery can occur in domestic and family settings and involve family members and/or intimate partners.

What do we know about modern slavery?

Modern slavery is not restricted by borders as it can involve the movement of people between countries or exploitation of people online. Combatting modern slavery requires international collaboration between Australia and other countries (AGD 2020). For this reason and due to limited national data, global statistics and trends are discussed in this section (see Box 2).

It is difficult to estimate the prevalence of all forms of modern slavery. Estimates rely on recorded cases from support services, law enforcement agencies and/or surveys. Recorded cases are thought to be reduced due to both the difficulty in escaping modern slavery and barriers to reporting, such as mistrust in authorities and fear of persecution or deportation (Lyneham et al. 2019).

In 2021, global estimates suggest there were about 49.6 million people in modern slavery on any given day, with:

  • about 27.6 million in forced labour (including commercial sexual exploitation)
  • about 22.0 million in forced marriage (ILO et al. 2022).

Compared with 2016, there has been a global increase in estimates for both forced labour (of 2.7 million) and forced marriage (of 6.6 million). This increase is thought to be, in part, due to the widespread socio-economic instability caused by the COVID-19 pandemic including greater unemployment, debts and poverty (ILO et al. 2022).

It is possible for people to experience multiple overlapping forms of modern slavery. For example, someone may be trafficked, be forced to marry and be subjected to forced labour (ILO et al. 2022).

All forms of modern slavery involve the exploitation of people who are at risk of being disadvantaged for a range of reasons including:

  • discrimination and marginalisation, including gender inequality
  • poverty, underemployment and unemployment
  • displacement, including through natural disasters or conflict
  • migration status
  • insufficient legal protections
  • lack of education, opportunities and access to resources (AGD 2020).

Forced labour and sexual exploitation

Of the estimated 27.6 million people in forced labour worldwide in 2021, there were about 11.8 million females and 15.8 million males:

  • Over 1 in 5 (about 6.3 million) victim-survivors of forced labour were in forced commercial sexual exploitation.
  • About 3.3 million children were victim-survivors of forced labour, of whom over half (52% or 1.7 million) were in commercial sexual exploitation.
  • Most victim-survivors of forced commercial sexual exploitation were girls or women (78% or 4.9 million) (ILO et al. 2022).

People in forced labour, who were not involved in commercial sexual exploitation, were in sectors such as manufacturing, construction, agriculture and domestic work (ILO et al. 2022). Victim-survivors in these sectors, particularly in domestic work, may also experience physical and sexual violence (Moore 2019).

In Australia, cases of forced labour occur in similar sectors to those identified worldwide, including domestic work, the sex industry, agriculture and construction. Many of these industries rely on migrant workers who enter Australia on temporary visas and are particularly at risk of exploitation in forced labour. Some known cases of sexual exploitation in Australia have involved women that migrated to Australia, mainly from Asia, and to a lesser extent Eastern Europe and Africa, that were forced into commercial sex, and may have been deceived about working arrangements and/or manipulated through illegal drugs and inflated or unexpected debts. Known cases of domestic servitude in Australia mainly involve women. These cases have involved false promises of legitimate work or marriage and coercion through used or threatened violence, stolen identity documents, and/or restricted access to information and communication (US Department of State 2021; Walk Free 2023).

Forced marriage

Of the estimated 22.0 million people in forced marriages worldwide in 2021, there were about 14.9 million females and 7.1 million males, with over half (52%) of the women and about 1 in 6 (17%) of the men forced into marriage before the age of 18. Globally, among people who reported on the circumstances of their forced marriage:

  • parents (73%) and other relatives (16%) were responsible for the majority of forced marriages
  • more than half (53%) experienced emotional threats or verbal abuse and around 1 in 5 (19%) experienced physical or sexual violence and threats of violence to force them into marriage (ILO et al. 2022).

Among all forms of modern slavery, forced marriage is the most commonly investigated form in Australia (Lyneham and Bricknell 2018).

Forced marriage in Australia has been associated with socially conservative communities that value traditional and strict gender and behavioural norms. In such communities, any perceived ‘difference’ such as aspirations for independent living, disability, suspected promiscuity, or homosexuality has been found to increase risk of forced marriage. However, the practice is not restricted to any one community and is not limited to any particular cultural group, religion or ethnicity. Anyone can be a victim regardless of age, gender or sexual orientation (Lyneham and Bricknell 2018; AGD n.d.a).

Forced marriage can involve expectations for dowry (transfer of assets such as money typically from a bride’s family to the bridegroom or their family) or other kinds of asset exchange that can be arranged in or outside Australia (SLCARC 2019). For a discussion of dowry and dowry abuse, see People from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.

People in forced marriages are particularly at risk of family, domestic and sexual violence including, but not limited to, physical, sexual, psychological and financial abuse; forced pregnancies and/or termination of pregnancies; domestic servitude; restricted autonomy and freedom of movement; and loss of access to education and employment (Lyneham and Bricknell 2018; ILO et al. 2022).

As with other forms of modern slavery, data are limited in Australia. Barriers to reporting that are specific to forced marriage can include:

  • reluctance to incriminate family members or themselves
  • fear of retribution, shame and ostracism from family and community when reporting a forced marriage
  • a lack of awareness or understanding of the seriousness of the crime and what the legal system and support services can do to help (for example, due to a disability)
  • language barriers (FECCA 2019; Lyneham and Bricknell 2018).

Human trafficking

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime analysed official global statistics on human trafficking cases between 2016–2018 to understand patterns in human trafficking. This research found that the majority of human trafficking victim-survivors were trafficked for sexual exploitation (50%) or other forms of forced labour (38%) (such as domestic work, construction, and agriculture):

  • Most detected victim-survivors were women (46%) or girls (19%). About 1 in 5 (20%) victim-survivors were men and about 1 in 6 (15%) were boys.
  • Most women (77%) and girls (72%) were trafficked for sexual exploitation and most men (67%) and boys (66%) for other forms of forced labour (UNODC 2021).

In Australia, recorded cases of human trafficking have involved both trafficking of people to Australia from overseas for exploitation in forced labour, including sexual exploitation, and trafficking within Australia between locations (IDC 2021; US Department of State 2021). Sex trafficking of migrant women account for the majority of prosecutions in Australia (CDPP n.d.; The Salvation Army 2017).

Support services for victim-survivors of modern slavery in Australia

Since 2004, the Support for Trafficked People Program (Support Program) has provided tailored support in Australia to victim-survivors and people at risk of modern slavery. The Support Program is delivered by the Australian Red Cross and meets victim–survivors’ basic needs, including food, safe accommodation, and support for mental and physical health and well-being. Additional support specific to people who are in, or at risk of, a forced marriage is available. People are referred to the Support Program by the Australian Federal Police (AFP) (DSS 2020).

Victim-survivors of modern slavery may also be supported by other non-government organisations, through a range of services, for example family violence services, emergency relief services and/or services specialising in support for modern slavery. Specialist services can provide various types of support for people experiencing or at risk of modern slavery including:

  • free and confidential legal, migration and referral services and advice, for example, from Anti-Slavery Australia for modern slavery in general and from My Blue Sky for forced marriage specifically (ASA 2022a, 2022b)
  • accommodation, outreach support, case management and assistance to client families in countries of origin, which can be provided by The Salvation Army Safe House (The Salvation Army 2014).

What do the data tell us?

The AFP responds to and investigates reports of modern slavery in Australia. In 2022–23, there were about 340 reports of modern slavery in Australia (AFP 2023). The five most reported crime types were:

  • forced marriage (90 reports)
  • sexual servitude and exploitation (73)
  • forced labour (43)
  • trafficking in persons (38)
  • exit trafficking (a person coercing, forcing or threatening another to leave Australia against their will) (30) (AFP 2023).

In 2020–21, of the 79 reports of forced marriage, about half (51%) involved people under the age of 18 and 70% related to marriage overseas. In response to almost 50% of the reports, disruption or intervention strategies were used that stopped the offence from occurring (AFP 2021a). There has not been a conviction for forced marriage since it became a criminal offence in 2013 (Lyneham and Bricknell 2018; Hildebrandt 2022).

  • For each recorded victim-survivor of modern slavery in Australia there are estimated to be 4 undetected victim-survivors

    Source: Estimating the dark figure of human trafficking and slavery victimisation in Australia

Recorded cases of modern slavery are likely to be an underestimate of the true prevalence of modern slavery in Australia (Lyneham et al. 2019).

The Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC) and Walk Free used a statistical technique based on existing data to estimate how many cases might be going undetected. This estimate suggests that between July 2015 and June 2017 there were between 1,300 and 1,900 victim-survivors of modern slavery in Australia (on average, about 3.3 victim-survivors per 100,000 people per year). This suggests that for each recorded victim-survivor of modern slavery there are about 4 undetected victim-survivors (Lyneham et al. 2019).

Has modern slavery in Australia changed over time?

  • In 2022–23, the Australian Federal Police (AFP) received more reports of modern slavery (about 340) than in any other financial year

    Source: AFP reports of human trafficking and slavery data

The number of reports of modern slavery that the AFP has received each year has generally increased over time, ranging from 70 in 2013–14 to about 340 in 2022–23 (Figure 1). Increases in reports may be related to an increase in awareness and/or ease of reporting rather than changes in the true number of modern slavery cases in Australia.

Figure 1: Reports of possible modern slavery made to the AFP, 2013–14 to 2022–23

Source: AFP reports of human trafficking and slavery data | Data source overview

  • Forced marriage

    has been the most reported form of modern slavery to the AFP in every year since 2015–16, with 90 reports in 2022–23

    Source: AFP reports of human trafficking and slavery data

Since forced marriage became a criminal offence in March 2013, reports to the AFP have generally increased, from 11 in 2013–14 to a high of 95 in 2018–19, with 90 in 2022–23. Since 2015–16, forced marriage has consistently been the most reported form of modern slavery in Australia (AFP 2021b, 2022b, 2023; IDC 2020, 2021).

Reports of other forms of modern slavery have varied year to year with the most reported types generally including sexual exploitation, labour exploitation and human trafficking (AFP 2021b, 2022b, 2023; IDC 2020, 2021).

What do data on support for victim-survivors of modern slavery show?

The majority of people who accessed the Support for Trafficked People Program between 2009 and 2019 identified as female (83% or 355).

Between 2009 and 2019, about 425 people were referred to the Support for Trafficked People Program (the Support Program) as victim-survivors of modern slavery and were provided with support, often over multiple calendar years. Among these people:

  • about 4 in 5 (83% or 355) identified as female and about 1 in 5 (17% or 71) identified as male
  • about 1 in 7 (14%) were under the age of 18
  • there were individuals from 48 different countries, with the highest proportions identifying as Australian (14%), Thai (13%) or Malaysian (8.2%)
  • the most common reasons for referral were sexual exploitation in commercial settings (30% or about 130), labour exploitation in commercial settings (27% or about 115) and forced marriage (25% or about 110) (Australian Red Cross 2019).

A higher proportion of people supported for forced marriage (about 110 people) compared with those supported for modern slavery (about 425) were:

  • female (98% compared with 83%)
  • from Australia (45% compared with 14%) 
  • under the age of 18 (44% compared with 14%) (Australian Red Cross 2019).

The number of people referred to, and supported by, the Support Program has generally increased over time, noting that a person is counted once in the calendar year they were referred and once in each year that they were supported. Since 2017, there has been a substantial increase in both people referred (from 38 people in 2017 to 75 in 2018 and 76 in 2019) and people supported (from 89 people in 2017 to about 135 in 2018 and 180 in 2019) (Figure 2).

Figure 2: People referred to and supported by the Support for Trafficked People Program, 2009–2019 

*:Does not represent full calendar year

Source: Australian Red Cross Support for Trafficked People Program data | Data source overview

It is important to note that Support Program data only relate to people who have been able and willing to engage with the AFP, were referred to the Support Program by the AFP and consented to accessing support. It does not represent all individuals affected by modern slavery in Australia.

Help is available for any person experiencing, or at risk of, modern slavery, see Find support.

  1. Previous page Stalking and surveillance