GPs can spot slavery and prevent forced marriage

2 minute read

How can you tell a patient may be in this situation? New Australian guidance shows how to identify and respond.

Modern-day slavery takes many forms: forced marriage, debt bondage in a suburban family restaurant, domestic and sexual slavery are but a few.

According to Professor Jennifer Burn, this week’s guest, we’re kidding ourselves if we think this is not happening in Australia.

“It was estimated there were 15,000 people living in slavery in Australia in 2016,” she says. “And the Australian Institute of Criminology estimates that for every single person identified, there are four who are undetected.”

Professor Burn was the Interim Anti-Slavery Commissioner for NSW from 2018 to 2020 and is the director of Anti-Slavery Australia at University of Technology Sydney. She says doctors are well placed to identify slavery risks because they are used to assessing complex situations.

Professor Burn shares a story about how a GP helped prevent a forced marriage when a young woman was brought to a clinic with a family member who wanted to supervise the consultation.

“The doctor had a very fine antenna and thought that there might be something that the young person wanted to disclose,” Professor Burn says. “The doctor found a way to interview the young woman by themselves and the young person said that she was terrified that she was going to be taken overseas for marriage. She had overheard conversations on the phone. She knew that documents had been prepared.”

Doctors now have a guide for patients who are at risk of forced marriage and other types of slavery, which lists indicators, the effects of forced marriage and referral information.

GP Resources

Some resources:

My Blue Sky Frontline Worker Guide – Forced Marriage

Forced Marriage Community Pack – developed by the Australian Government in partnership with the National Roundtable on Human Trafficking and Slavery’s Communication and Awareness Working Group.

Free, self-paced online courses by UTS Open, University of Technology Sydney

You can listen and subscribe to the show by searching for “The Tea Room Medical Republic” in your favourite podcast player. 

This copy has been updated 2 November 2022 to correct the spelling of Professor Burn’s name.

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