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Police officer understandings of human trafficking and awareness of anti-trafficking measures

Nathan Irwin (School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, Griffith University, Queensland, Australia)

Policing: An International Journal

ISSN: 1363-951X

Article publication date: 15 May 2017




The purpose of this paper is to explore the police officer understandings of human trafficking and their awareness of relevant anti-trafficking policy and legislation, and identify whether this awareness was confined to particular officer demographics.


The study utilised a mixed-methods design, drawing on data from an online survey of 87 police officers from an Australian state police agency.


Thematic analysis identified that, while the majority of participants held broad understandings of human trafficking consistent with the United Nations definition, a substantial number conflated the phenomenon with people smuggling. The majority of participants were also unaware of national anti-trafficking legislation and agency anti-trafficking policy, with constables significantly the least likely to be aware of these measures. Most of these officers, however, indicated they would take some form of case referral action in relation to a suspected case of trafficking, albeit across the sample these responses were inconsistent.

Practical implications

The findings underline the need for relevant training and concrete anti-trafficking policy within frontline agencies, which can facilitate the identification, investigation and referral of human trafficking cases.


While the Australian Federal Government’s response to human trafficking has been subject to ample critique, less attention has been paid to the supporting role played by state-level agencies and their frontline personnel. This paper demonstrates the practical barriers present within such agencies, identifying means to build a more effective response which may bolster the national anti-trafficking measures.



Irwin, N. (2017), "Police officer understandings of human trafficking and awareness of anti-trafficking measures", Policing: An International Journal, Vol. 40 No. 2, pp. 291-305.



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