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Human Trafficking Under-Reported in Australia, Criminologists Say

This picture taken in Serang on March 17, 2010 shows Abraham Louhenapessy, also known as Captain Bram, being escorted prior to a trial. The notorious Indonesian people smuggler escaped with a fine rather than a jail sentence after a court on March 24, 20

New research shows the trafficking of workers into Australia is worse than previously thought. A study by the Australian Institute of Criminology delves into a shadowy world where many foreign migrants from Asia and Eastern Europe face abuse and sexual harassment.

Researchers from the Australian Institute of Criminology say there is a large discrepancy between the cases of human trafficking that reach Australia's criminal justice system and the number of crimes being committed against vulnerable migrants.

In a new report, the institute says that human trafficking and the criminal exploitation of foreign workers in Australia is under-reported. Victims come from a range of countries, including China, Thailand and South Korea, while others have traveled from India and Eastern Europe.

The survey states that there are "significant barriers" to reporting labor trafficking. Many migrant workers are afraid to go to the authorities and they face threats from employers.

Fiona David, a trafficking expert at the Australian Institute of Criminology, says it is often hard to tell when an offense has been committed.

"One of the issues with a crime such as labor trafficking is that the area is so gray. The lines between what is bad work and what is criminal exploitation can be very blurry," David says, "There are many ways that people can use those blurring of categories if you like to find ways to exploit people in ways that are very difficult to prove. So, this is a very murky world indeed."

As a result, prosecutions for human trafficking in Australia are rare, and the report says it is not clear how large the problem is. Many abused migrants enter the country legally, only to encounter abuses, such as withheld pay, once they start working. Some workers come to Australia illegally or under false pretenses.

Labor activists say there is a hidden army of foreign workers who are held against their will after being coerced or tricked into traveling to Australia.

The survey focused on industries that rely on manual labor, such as domestic workers, who are seen as particularly vulnerable to exploitation and sexual assault.

The United Nations estimates that human trafficking has become a $30 billion global industry.