The government maintained efforts to protect victims. Authorities identified 38 potential victims (18 for sex trafficking and forced labor, and 20 for which the form of exploitation was unclear), compared with 36 in 2016. Authorities referred all 38 potential victims to the Australian government’s Support for Trafficked People Program (support program). The government also assisted 15 potential Australian trafficking victims abroad, four of whom were returned to Australia; the government provided two of those returned assistance under the support program. Authorities utilized a list of indicators to identify trafficking victims and refer them to services; the government collaborated with NGOs to update the list during the reporting period. However, authorities did not routinely screen for indicators of trafficking among vulnerable groups, and authorities often linked trafficking to migration. The government did not report screening for trafficking indicators among individuals smuggled via sea before forcing intercepted boats back outside of Australian territorial waters, or among refugees and asylum-seekers held in offshore detention centers, where they may have faced inadequate living conditions. Immigration authorities forcibly deported some asylum-seekers who may have been vulnerable to trafficking after returning to their home countries. Authorities identified most victims through the efforts of joint agencies, task forces, and cooperative action with foreign governments. Some victims may have been reluctant to communicate with law enforcement officers due to fear of detainment and deportation. The government did not ensure social service professionals were present during initial screening interviews, although procedures were in place for law enforcement officials to bring them in at their discretion. While the government consulted with civil society through the Senior Official’s Meeting of the National Roundtable on Human Trafficking and Slavery, NGOs noted a lack of collaboration on the ground in efforts to identify and screen for victims.
Authorities provided formally identified trafficking victims with accommodation, living expenses, legal advice, health services, vocational training, and counseling through a support program, for which the government continued to allocate approximately 1.7 million Australian dollars ($1.3 million). Only AFP had the legal authority to refer victims to the support program. NGOs reported the government denied access to or ceased provision of services to some victims who were unable or unwilling to participate in law enforcement investigations. In 2017, the government provided temporary stay visas to 13 foreign trafficking victims (33 in 2016), and granted permanent “referred stay” visas to eight victims (six in 2016) and their immediate family members, although some of these cases may have been forced marriage rather than trafficking. The government required victims to assist with an investigation or prosecution of a trafficking offense to obtain referred stay visas. Authorities provided witness assistance services to nine victims while they participated in prosecutions. The government did not have a centralized victim compensation system and victims relied on civil proceedings to access compensation. Some victims were detained, fined, or penalized for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being subjected to human trafficking; this was largely due to the lack of proper screening and the government’s requirement for victims to participate in viable investigations.