Doctors detect slavery and prevent forced marriage

Modern day slavery has many guises. 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. And the Australian Institute of Criminology, estimates that for every single person identified, there are four who are under undetected,” she says. 

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. 

She 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. 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,” Professor Burn said. 

Doctors now have a guide for patients who are at risk of forced marriage and other types of slavery.  

“The frontline workers guide is terrific because it's got a list of indicators, a list of the effects of forced marriage, referral information and it's readily accessible,” Professor Burn says. 

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