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Human Exploitation and Border Protection

Deputy Director: Mark de Crespigny

Top referring agencies:

  • State and territory police 43%
  • Australian Federal Police 37%
  • State and territory departments of corrections 13%
  • Australian Border Force 4%
  • Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment 1%

Referrals: 750

Matters on hand: 789

Matters managed:

  • Child exploitation
  • Trafficking in persons and slavery
  • People smuggling
  • Passport, visa and other migration fraud
  • Telecommunications offences
  • Communications offences
  • Aircraft and airport offences
  • Federal community policing


The Human Exploitation and Border Protection (HEBP) practice group prosecutes a wide variety of offence types including child exploitation offences, trafficking in persons and slavery, people smuggling, passport and migration offences, and offences committed by way of telecommunications services or computers.

A significant proportion of the work involves victims, including child victims. CDPP prosecutors in this area work closely with investigators and the CDPP’s Witness Assistance Service (WAS) to ensure that, in the course of dealing with this very challenging work, victims are consulted and are treated with courtesy, compassion, cultural sensitivity and respect for their dignity.

Trends in 2019–20 prosecutions

Prosecuting serious offending committed against children and adult victims of crime is a primary focus of the HEBP practice group. Very lengthy sentences imposed on several offenders this year for sustained and heinous sexual offences against children have emphasised the gravity of the harm involved in these cases.

The number of referrals for Commonwealth child sex offences has significantly increased. Last year we noted the trend towards these matters becoming more complex and this has continued. Several prosecutions have an unusually large number of child victims, others have involved persistent offending overseas over lengthy periods and in others, the volume and severity of child abuse material is notable. Offending increasingly occurs entirely on‑line and we have noticed the trend to prosecuting offences with large numbers of child victims contacted that way. The CDPP has shared its experiences with prosecutors overseas as they confront similar international offending.

These developments have led to a greater emphasis on digital forensics, mutual assistance requests and the amount of time allocated to dealing with vulnerable witnesses, both from an evidential point of view and providing support through our WAS.

This year has also been very significant for prosecutions for Human Trafficking and Slavery offences.

  • Slavery: Following a jury verdict, the offender was sentenced to over eight years imprisonment regarding two victims held and used as slaves.
  • Domestic trafficking in children: Offender sentenced for trafficking a 17 year old child for sex work around Australian cities with four years 10 months imprisonment for this offence as part of a total 11 year sentence for other sexual offences against other victims.
  • Human trafficking and forced labour: Appeals against conviction dismissed with sentence varied on appeal but overall terms of imprisonment remaining the same. This case involved forced labour by two offenders in a domestic setting involving coercion and abuse of power, with one of them also committing human trafficking.
  • Forced labour: Offender sentenced to a wholly suspended term of one year and six months imprisonment to be of good behaviour for three years for forced labour over eight months in a restaurant setting.
  • Forced marriage: Defendant was acquitted by a jury on a re‑trial on a charge of causing a person to enter into a forced marriage.

Prosecution services

Providing pre‑brief advice to investigative agencies continues to be a significant aspect of HEBP’s prosecution service. Early and timely advice is beneficial to both the CDPP and investigative agencies. Liaising with our partner agencies about emerging issues also enables us to focus our resources effectively.

With the COVID‑19 pandemic, HEBP moved quickly to prepare materials to assist with emergency requirements under the Biosecurity Act 2015 (Cth). We liaised with police from the Northern Territory, South Australia and Western Australia who may have been required to enforce the Remote Communities Direction.

Law reform

Our practice group continues to work closely with the Attorney‑General’s Department and the Department of Home Affairs regarding new legislation and the operation of existing laws.

Fundamental changes to the approach to sentencing Commonwealth child sex offenders was introduced by the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Sexual Crimes Against Children and Community Protection Measures) Act 2020 which received Assent on 22 June 2020. The Act also increased maximum penalties for many Commonwealth child sex offences, introduced changes to bail, introduced new offences and strengthened vulnerable witness protections. Deputy Director Mark de Crespigny appeared before the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee regarding this Bill and the practice group has provided information about the operation of the existing laws and those proposed by the Bill.

Acting on the recommendations of the Royal Commission on the Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, the Combatting Child Sexual Exploitation Legislation Amendment Act 2019 introduced new offences into the Criminal Code 2010 (Cth). Commonwealth officers with certain responsibilities to children in their care will be criminally liable for failing to protect a child at risk of a child sexual abuse offence or failing to report a child sexual abuse offence. The introduction of the new offence of possession or control of child abuse material sourced using a carriage service also ensured that this possession is captured under Commonwealth criminal law. Important changes to wording within legislation were introduced to reflect that all child pornography material offences involve the abuse of children.

Stakeholder engagement

HEBP continues to have close liaison relationships with the AFP and Australian Border Force (ABF). The practice group met regularly with investigators in regional offices and met quarterly at a national level.

We receive a high number of referrals from the state and territory police forces, particularly in relation to Commonwealth child sexual abuse offences. HEBP has a high level of interaction with police functions that specialise in those matters. In many jurisdictions the CDPP meets regularly with the Joint Anti‑Child Exploitation Team (JACET), a joint initiative between the AFP and state and territory police forces. HEBP provides practical assistance such as a Bail Guide to identify procedural changes brought by recent legislative change.

HEBP contributes to the Australian Government’s National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking and Slavery through involvement with government and civil society providing case studies and information from a prosecution perspective and through domestic and international training and engagement with investigators and prosecutors.

The CDPP continues to participate in a number of bodies involved in addressing human trafficking, including the National Roundtable on Human Trafficking and Slavery. The CDPP Human Trafficking Slavery Focus Group involving prosecutors from each jurisdiction allows information about issues and experiences from cases to be shared both within CDPP and to other stakeholders, where appropriate. This shared knowledge about the operation of the offence provisions and the vulnerable witness protections assists when providing information to policy makers about legislative reform. It also assists when providing input into government responses to parliamentary inquiries and international trafficking reports (US TIP, UNODC).

Finding a way forward with investigators of child abuse

The investigation, prosecution and sentencing of child abuse offenders pose many challenges. To enable the Court to assess the objective seriousness of the offending, the prosecution presents evidence about the crime and the impact of the offending on the victims and the harm this offending does to the whole community. In cases involving child abuse material, this involves an assessment of the degree of depravity of the material and the offender’s involvement with it. Investigators face the challenge of providing information for this assessment alongside their crucial task of identifying and assisting the children. The need to limit exposure of investigators to large quantities of this harmful content is an ongoing concern.

This year, the CDPP has engaged extensively with the AFP and Queensland Police as they move to an internationally based categorisation system for the assessment of child abuse material. Through the Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation (ACCCE) and direct liaison with specialist police, CDPP has provided information about how this investigative change can be achieved within the existing needs of the criminal justice system.

The CDPP has been actively involved in the Legal Dialogues organised by the ACCCE. These meetings, bringing investigative, policy and other relevant parties together, have significantly assisted in the development of approaches to these serious crimes.