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Acknowledgement of Country 

This Guide was developed at the University of Technology Sydney, and we pay our respects to the Gadigal and Guring-gai people of the Eora Nation upon whose lands and waters we work. We acknowledge them as the traditional owners and custodians of knowledge for this place, and extend our respect to their Elders past, present, and emerging. We know that this Guide will be used by frontline workers throughout Australia and we extend our respects to all traditional owners of land. 

About the Guide 

This Guide is designed for any frontline worker or community member in Australia who is seeking practical guidance on how to identify and respond to individuals affected by forced marriage. To promote good practice across diverse sectors and professions, we have developed a set of practice principles that are intended to guide readers from a wide range of backgrounds through a variety of situations. While some learnings may be applicable to international contexts, it is intended to be an introductory guide for forced marriage in the Australian context. 

Current version published in July 2024.

Copyright © Anti-Slavery Australia, University of Technology Sydney 2024

Section 1: Background

a. Introduction to forced marriage

The practice of forced marriage is widespread – seen across cultures, religions, nationalities, and societies. In 2021, it was estimated that 49.6 million people were living in situations of modern slavery around the world. 22 million of these were living in forced marriages, and 27.6 million in forced labour. [1] Over the last decade, there has been a growing global movement towards recognising and treating forced marriage as a human rights abuse, and a form of gender-based violence, child abuse and modern slavery. The practice is a breach of two fundamental human rights: the right to freely and voluntarily choose one’s marriage partner, and the right to be free of slavery. [2]

Many are surprised to learn that forced marriages happen in Australia. Yet since its criminalisation in 2013, forced marriage has become and remained Australia’s most identified and reported form of modern slavery, with over 500 reports investigated by the AFP. This represents just the surface of the issue; forced marriage is known to be significantly underreported. [3]

The impacts of forced marriage on individuals, their families and communities are often severe, and can be lifelong. This is partly why it is so important to raise awareness of forced marriage, and to increase its identification and self-identification for those experiencing it – so that children, young people and adults affected are supported through what is usually a deeply challenging and isolating experience. 

b. Insights from frontline workers

This Guide was created in recognition of the key role frontline workers can play in supporting people at risk of and affected by forced marriage. We use the term ‘frontline worker’ to describe those working in community-facing professions across a wide variety of sectors, such as health, youth work, domestic and family violence, migrant and refugee support, education, and faith leadership.

In a recent study of people affected by forced marriage, the majority interviewed reported that they approached third parties for assistance when seeking help – including law enforcement agencies, medical professionals, schools, and social services. [4] It is clear that the frontline worker has a critical role, and sometimes a unique opportunity, to assist those affected.

However, there is a lack of clear guidance for frontline workers about what forced marriage is, the support available and how to access it, and about effective models of holistic support.  In recent consultations with frontline workers, it was commonly reported that forced marriage is a prominent issue in these sectors, yet is not well understood.

Frontline workers observed a lack of awareness of forced marriage across their professions and of the supports available. They described a lack of confidence in identifying and responding to forced marriage in their sectors, including knowing how to ask the right questions and supporting people and children at-risk with safety planning. Many observed that forced marriage can be dismissed and stereotyped as a ‘cultural, family or personal’ problem. Frontline workers also noted additional barriers to providing adequate holistic support, including limited time and resources.

c. The purpose of this Guide

This Guide is designed for any frontline worker or community member who is seeking practical guidance on how to identify and respond to cases of forced marriage in Australia. After reading this Guide, frontline workers will:

  1. Understand what forced marriage is in its social and legal context.  

  2. Be able to distinguish forced marriage from other types of marriage.  

  3. Recognise how forced marriage intersects with other forms of gender-based violence, family and domestic violence, and modern slavery.  

  4. Be able to raise awareness and challenge common misconceptions about forced marriage in Australia.  

  5. Develop understanding of common underlying drivers of forced marriage.  

  6. Understand good practice principles when identifying and responding to forced marriage, and how to apply these in practice.  

  7. Be informed and sensitive when assessing and identifying forced marriage.  

  8. Know how to recognise when a situation is time-sensitive, and when it raises safety concerns.

  9. Know how to coordinate support and refer people affected by forced marriage to appropriate support.  

  10. Be aware of the key referral agencies for people affected by forced marriage in Australia. 

Keeping up-to-date: There can sometimes be significant policy changes around forced marriage, including in the supports available. We update this Guide on a regular basis, but if you are supporting someone affected by forced marriage, we encourage you to contact My Blue Sky / Anti-Slavery Australia for up-to-date advice and information.

d. About My Blue Sky and Anti-Slavery Australia

My Blue Sky is Australia’s national service dedicated to providing information, support, and legal advice to people in or at risk of forced marriages. My Blue Sky is run by Anti-Slavery Australia (ASA), a non-profit legal, research and policy centre at the University of Technology Sydney. Since 2003, ASA has provided specialist legal advice to people experiencing all forms of modern slavery, including forced marriage; carried out leading research and advocacy informed by the experiences of our clients; and delivered education and training on modern slavery to students, educators, community, government, and businesses across Australia.  

ASA provides training and education on forced marriage to many groups, including frontline professionals in a variety of sectors. Since the Modern Slavery Act 2018 (Cth) came into effect, ASA also provides training to the business sector concerning the risk of modern slavery in their supply chains and operations. 

Find out more about what My Blue Sky does for people affected by forced marriage in Section 6 (a).

Find out more about what Anti-Slavery Australia does for people affected by modern slavery in Australia visit antislavery.org.au.

Interested in our other resources?

Section 2: About forced marriage

Any person working with communities across Australia may come across instances of forced marriage, whether they recognise it or not. It is important for frontline workers to be aware of forced marriage from both a social and legal perspective. This is vital to effectively supporting people at risk of or affected by forced marriage.  

a. What is forced marriage?

Forced marriage is a human rights abuse, a form of gender-based violence, and a form of modern slavery. When involving children, it is a form of child abuse.  

Under Australian law, a forced marriage happens when one or both parties are married (under law or in a religious or cultural ceremony), without freely and fully consenting because of threats, coercion or deception. This includes when a person does not understand the nature and effect of a marriage, due to their mental capacity or age. In Australia, all marriages involving a child under 16 years of age are illegal and considered a forced marriage, regardless of whether there is ‘consent’.  

It is important to note that the legal definition of forced marriage only concerns the time of the marriage and does not capture the full experience of people affected. There is a growing recognition that people affected can experience a broader continuum of coercion and abuse, both before and after a forced marriage – and that those affected should be supported holistically, and at all stages. Coercive behaviour such as emotional, physical, and psychological abuse can begin before a forced marriage takes place, and often co-occurs with other forms of abuse such as family and honour-based violence. Once a forced marriage takes place, a person may continue to experience coercion and abuse, such as being prevented from ending or leaving the marriage, family and domestic violence, and other forms of modern slavery, such as forced labour or domestic servitude.

For many reasons, people affected by forced marriage may not identify with the term ‘forced marriage’. [5] Many people may think of ‘force’ as something inherently physical or violent. If they have been forced into marriage through emotional and psychological coercion and abuse, they may not believe this could be considered 'forced'. People affected may also feel shame and guilt about their situation. They may consider their situation as ‘normal’ and believe they have no other choice, particularly if they are still a child and/or their siblings, peers or parents went through the same experience. In addition, the compounding effects of abuse and trauma can make it difficult to do things like clearly think and make decisions, regulate emotions, and assess one’s own safety. [6]

The role of the frontline worker is to identify any indicators of forced marriage, create a safe environment to speak about it, listen without passing judgement, and provide affected persons with information and referrals to specialist services as needed.

“They make it in a way where you have the option, but you don’t have the option... at the end of the day, you can’t say no.”

Woman who has experienced forced marriage [7]

b. What is the difference between arranged marriage and forced marriage?

Although forced and arranged marriages are fundamentally different, people often confuse the two.

Those affected by forced marriage may consider their situation as ‘arranged’ when in fact it is forced, often due to normalisation of the practice and/or the impacts of psychological and emotional abuse. For those from a background in which arranged marriages are not practised, they may believe that arranged marriages are somehow illegitimate, or that they are similar to forced marriages.  

Arranged marriage is in fact a widely practiced and lawful form of marriage in Australia. Arranged marriage may typically involve introductions by family members or others – but each party has the right to accept or reject the marriage arrangement, without fear of negative consequences. Like any marriage however, an arranged marriage can become a forced marriage where this right is abused – that is where one or both parties are pressured or made to go ahead with a marriage without their free and full consent.

Additionally, the distinction between when freely-given consent ends and coercion begins is sometimes unclear for those facing marriage.  There can be a ‘grey area’ that leaves people feeling confused, distressed and unsure. It is important to know that, if you encounter someone in this position, this does not change how you should advise and help them – you can still inform them of their rights and options, make appropriate referrals and respect their decisions.   

c. Who does forced marriage affect in Australia?

A forced marriage can happen to anyone, of any gender, sexuality, age, cultural background or nationality. However, consistent with global trends, in Australia, forced marriage most commonly affects young women and girls. A significant amount of those impacted are Australian citizens, but it also affects permanent residents, temporary visa holders and people without a visa, whilst in Australia or overseas.  

While there is little data on forced marriage in Australia, we know that children and young people forced into marriage make up a substantial percentage of reported cases: between 2020-21, 51% of forced marriage reports made to the Australian Federal Police (AFP) involved people under the age of 18 years. [8]

“I think these are the topics that no one wants to talk about, they’re putting it in the too hard basket.”

Woman who has experienced forced marriage [9]

d. Who is involved in a forced marriage?

Forced marriages are often initiated by one or more members of a person’s family or cultural, faith or community group. However, there is no ‘typical’ forced marriage, and no ‘typical’ person who forces another person into marriage.

When the wider family or community is involved in a forced marriage, it is important to understand the immense pressures that this can place on the people affected. Making decisions that are considered against the interests, wishes or values of the wider group can result in severe and even life-threatening repercussions, such as ostracisation from the family and community, stigma, and even violence.  

Both forcing someone into marriage and knowingly aiding a forced marriage are crimes under Australian law. Currently, if there is a conviction in a court of law, the court is able to sentence those involved to:  

  • up to 7 years’ imprisonment for forcing an adult into marriage (18 and over) 

  • up to 9 years’ imprisonment for forcing a child into marriage (under 18) 

  • up to 25 years’ imprisonment if a child is taken overseas for the purpose of the marriage, as this may be a child-trafficking offence.

Illustration depicting family and community pressures to marry:

e. What are the drivers and motivations for forced marriage?

You may come across complex motivations for why someone may be forced into marriage. To help you be aware of how and why forced marriages can happen, read below about some of the driving factors. Please note that this is not an exhaustive list and other factors can be at play in forced marriage cases. 

Family and community expectations 

Family and community have been described as having an “unquestionable” role in forced marriages. [10] Marriages may be forced with the intention to strengthen a person’s connection to their culture and traditions, as a way of maintaining ties with the community, and continuing intergenerational practices and traditions – for both those getting married and their families. [11] Research has shown that people can feel enormous pressure to conform to what is expected of them from their community, including as a result of intergenerational trauma and abuse. This applies both to those who may facilitate a marriage, and those who may experience forced marriage. [12]

Rigid gender roles 

Forced marriage is seen more often in families and communities that are highly conservative and have strict expectations of behaviour. [13] This includes rigid gender roles: set ideas about how girls, women, boys and men are supposed to behave, and what they are supposed to do with their lives. In addition, there can be a perception that a woman needs a ‘guardian’ throughout her life: first in the form of parents, then husband. Forced marriages can be used as a way of shifting the ‘responsibility’ for that person away from the family and onto their husband.

'What’s best'  

Those involved in facilitating a marriage usually have a sense of guardianship and responsibility for that person, and may believe that they have a duty, and/or the right, to ‘protect’, ‘control’ or ‘determine’ their future, including through marriage.

People with disability may be particularly vulnerable to a marriage organised as ‘what’s best’ for them; research has shown some parents or guardians of people with disability may view marriage as a way of ensuring their child’s needs are taken care of when they can no longer care for them. [14] In these circumstances, it may also be intended to counteract social stigma and to have a ‘normalising’ effect.

A significant challenge in communicating around forced marriage is showing that what may be perceived to be in someone’s ‘best interests’ can have catastrophic consequences when a person is made to marry against their will. 

Wealth, poverty and insecurity 

Marriages are sometimes forced to keep property and wealth within a family, or with the incentive of the dowry that the family will gain through marriage. Forced marriages may also be pursued as a solution to a family’s financial stress, poverty, social insecurity, and/or as a means to gain residency or citizenship [15]. Forced marriages can also occur when social or civil structures are weakened, such as when there is an outbreak of war, and/or a breakdown of state authority or rule of law. In these instances forced marriages may be seen as a way of assisting relatives to emigrate to a safer country, to avoid a particular risk to a child, or for families to regain security. 

Honour and control  

Forced marriage can be a form of honour-based violence. It can be used as a way of preserving or restoring the honour of the family when a person has behaved in a way perceived as ‘shameful’, often related to gender, sexuality, disability, an unapproved relationship or acting against family and community values. If honour is compromised, then marriage may be perceived as a ‘correcting’ force. Furthermore, if someone leaves or attempts to leave a marriage, this may increase the risk of honour-based violence to those affected. 

“They think only they know what is best for their children, so they have the right to decide for them… I know my parents are coming from a caring position; however, they are unable to understand the damage they have done to me.”

Man who has experienced forced marriage [16]

f. What are the impacts of forced marriage?

Forced marriages can have a devastating impact on those affected. Whether a person is at risk of a forced marriage, is living in one, or has left one, it is critical that they receive support.

Impacts of being at risk of, avoiding, stopping or leaving a forced marriage

  • Increased risk to personal safety, including threats of harm or actual harm.

  • Risk of honour killing, or attempted honour killing.

  • Mental health difficulties, such as increased symptoms of trauma, anxiety, low moods, withdrawal and feelings of disconnection, helplessness, and hopelessness. 

  • Relationship with family can be damaged, and they may be isolated or ostracised.

  • May be threatened that, if they do not enter the marriage, another sibling will have to 'take their place'.

  • Damage to one’s relationship with their community, leading to social isolation, loss of culture and loss of social support networks.  

  • May be shunned or ostracised from their faith group.

  • Damage to one’s reputation. The stigma of divorce or leaving a marriage can be very strong. 

  • In some cultural or religious contexts, a husband can have the power to refuse divorce, and/or to demand a vast sum of money before agreeing to a divorce. 

  • In some cultural or religious contexts, a husband is believed to be owed custody of children.  

  • Accelerated push to independent living, for those who are not yet financially independent or who have not yet developed skills to live independently.

  • Risk of poverty, homelessness and destitution.

Impacts of experiencing a forced marriage

For those who are forced into marriage, the consequences can be catastrophic and lifelong.  Impacts of experiencing forced marriage can include:  

  • Loss of a childhood and an accelerated transition into adulthood. [17]

  • Greater risk of child abuse and exploitation, including sexual abuse.  

  • Risk of reproductive coercion (forced pregnancy, contraception, or abortion).  

  • Impact of having a child when one is not psychologically or physically ready. [18] Adolescent pregnancy results in a higher risk of mortality and health issues for the mother and child. [19]

  • May have received little or no education on sex, or sexual health, and be unaware of expectations for a sexual relationship within marriage. [20]

  • Risk of domestic and family violence in the marriage, from their partner and/or in-laws.

  • Risk of exploitation, domestic servitude, forced labour or trafficking within the marriage (see Section 2 (g) to learn more about these offences).

  • Mental health difficulties, such as anxiety, low mood, disconnection, helplessness, hopelessness, and risk of suicide and suicidal ideations. 

  • Risk of trauma-related symptoms, such as difficulties with memory, learning and communicating, emotional dysregulation, panic attacks, and difficulty in relationships. 

  • Loss of freedom and ability to pursue personal goals/dreams.

  • Denied or restricted education or employment opportunities, and increased risk of financial dependence on their partner and/or partner’s family. 

  • Potential mental health impacts on those who are not able to realise their gender and/or sexuality in the marriage. 

"A lot of girls are staying in the forced marriage because they don’t want to be a burden and live with their family and ruin their reputation in the community, and being judged every day, everywhere I go… and being judged for being divorced for the rest of my life, is it worth it? It’s hard, it’s really, really hard."

Woman who has experienced forced marriage [21]

g. What other forms of abuse intersect with forced marriage?

Like many experiences, forced marriage can overlap with other forms of abuse. The list below is not exhaustive but includes some of the most common intersecting issues. Being aware of these issues means you are better able to identify them and ensures that people affected can be better supported across the challenges they are facing. 

A note on language: Terms like 'forced marriage', 'modern slavery', 'domestic and family violence' and 'victim-survivor' may not reflect how people understand and perceive their experiences. It is important to ask questions, listen carefully and empower people to identify what they are experiencing in their own words.

Domestic and family violence (DFV) 

The term 'domestic and family violence' (DFV) combines the concepts of 'domestic violence' and 'family violence'. "Family violence includes harmful or violent behaviour that is used to control, threaten, force or dominate a family member through fear". [22] Domestic violence is the same concept, but involves people living in the same household that may not be family. DFV can include sexual, physical, emotional, psychological, financial, and spiritual forms of abuse, as well as threats to loved ones (including pets), damage to property and isolating someone from their family and friends. DFV can happen between intimate partners, between family members, in LGBTIQ+ relationships, to people with disability and to children.  

Rates of DFV across Australia are high. [23] Some entities and organisations, including the New South Wales, Victorian and South Australian Governments, have come to recognise the practice of forced marriage itself as a form of DFV. We know that there is substantial overlap between DFV and forced marriage, including "significant parallels between [their] drivers and impacts". [24] This includes the abuse commonly experienced within forced marriages, as well as people not feeling free to leave a marriage, and risking harm if they do.  

To learn more: Domestic and family violence | 1800RESPECT

“… a lot of the women that we've seen… think that abuse and domestic family violence is purely physical. [But] when we unpack everything else they've been going through, a lot of it is that coercive control... we spend a lot of time with the women unpacking that and helping them name it, because by them helping name it, it gives them back that sense of power and control for themselves.”

Family Violence Worker [25]

Child abuse and neglect 

The Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS) describes child abuse and neglect as “any behaviour by parents, caregivers, other adults or older adolescents that is outside the norms of conduct and entails a substantial risk of causing physical or emotional harm to a child or young person”. It is “a social and public health problem, as well as a children's rights issue in Australia”. [26]

Child abuse and neglect is categorised into five types: physical abuse, emotional abuse, neglect, sexual abuse, and exposure to family violence.  

To learn more: What is child abuse and neglect? | Child Family Community Australia (aifs.gov.au)

Exit trafficking 

Exit trafficking is a form of human trafficking, where a person forces, coerces, threatens, or deceives another person into leaving a country against their will. While human trafficking generally has the purpose of bringing someone to a country, exit trafficking has the purpose of removing someone from a country. There can be many motivations for exit trafficking. It is sometimes used as a tactic to ‘separate’ from a partner, and an attempt to ensure they can no longer live in or return to their country of residence at the time. In Australia, many cases of forced marriage involve exit trafficking. To learn more about what exit trafficking looks like, see Zara’s story

Forced labour 

Forced labour is when a person does not consider themselves free to stop working or to leave their place of work because of coercion, threat, or deception. This can occur within the context of a forced marriage facilitated by a spouse, their family or community, and it also occurs in commercial or other types of residential settings. To learn more about what forced labour looks like, see Tom’s story


Servitude is similar to forced labour in definition, but on a more severe level of exploitation. Servitude happens when a person does not consider themselves free to stop working or to leave their place of work (which may also be their home) because of coercion, threat or deception. The person is also significantly deprived of their personal freedom in aspects of their life inside and outside of work (for example, they may be told when they are allowed to eat, sleep or shower). To learn more about what servitude and trafficking can look like, see Maria’s story

Honour-based violence 

Sometimes called ‘honour-based abuse’, honour-based violence (HBV) is any act of violence that is triggered by “actual or perceived immoral behaviour which is deemed to have brought shame on the family”. [27] This can include falling in love with someone not approved by the family, refusing or attempting to avoid a forced marriage, being LGBTIQ+, or seeming too “westernised”. HBV can include threatening behaviour, assault, rape, kidnapping, abduction, forced abortion, female genital cutting (FGC)  and even murder.  It is likely that a person experiencing forced marriage is also experiencing HBV; internationally, forced marriage is increasingly being recognised as a form of honour-based violence.

To learn more: Forced Marriage and Honour Based Violence Charity – Halo Project

Dowry abuse 

‘Dowry’ is a practice referring to the gifting or exchanging of money, property or gifts as part of a marriage arrangement. Who gives and receives dowry can vary between cultures – it can be given from a woman’s family to her future husband, or from a man to the family of his future wife. Giving or receiving dowry is not a form of abuse.  

However, any act of coercion, violence or harassment associated with the giving or receiving of dowry at any time before, during or after marriage is a form of abuse. Dowry-related abuse commonly involves claims that dowry was not paid and coercive demands for further money or gifts from a person and their extended family. [28]

Section 3: Challenging Common Myths

“We need more education on forced marriage, we need to teach our parents, and we should change it. It’s not going to change for us, we have to do it ourselves.”

Woman facing forced marriage [29]

The myths and misconceptions surrounding forced marriage can have negative impacts on individuals, families, and communities. It is important to build our knowledge and correct our misconceptions, because:  

(1) our assumptions can blind us from accurately identifying forced marriages and creating safe spaces for disclosure.  

(2) they are often rooted in prejudices and stereotypes that negatively affect already marginalised communities. 

Below are some key facts you should know about forced marriage.

Forced marriage happens in Australia, to Australians. 

Forced marriages happen in Australia, and in fact, most known forced marriage cases within Australia involve Australian citizens. It also happens to permanent residents and non-citizens in Australia, including those taken to Australia for the purpose of a forced marriage.  

Forced marriage can be practiced in western countries and households.

Forced marriage happens across all cultures, nationalities, and religions. This can and does include every country in the western world. The key drivers of forced marriage may vary given the context within which it occurs, including gender inequality, social conservatism, poverty, and the impacts of insecurity. 

Forced marriage is not inherent to any one culture, religion, or country/region.

 Forced marriage is not exclusively practiced by any particular cultural group, religion or ethnicity. In fact, forced marriage is reported in communities all over the world. However, forced marriage is seen more frequently in families and communities characterised by highly socially conservative and patriarchal values, strict rules around behaviour, [30] and a tendency to put the needs of the group before the individual. [31]

No major religion condones forced marriage. 

Forced marriage is not condoned or endorsed by any of the major religions or faiths.

Forced marriage disproportionately affects young women and girls, but it can also affect people of any age, sexuality or gender. 

Although most reported cases of forced marriage involve young women and girls, it also affects women of all ages, men, boys and people with diverse genders, sexualities and bodies. Viewing forced marriage exclusively as a female issue means that males and people with diverse genders and sexualities may be even less likely to be identified, to self-identify as experiencing forced marriage, or to seek help.

There are many kinds of marriage, and all are valid so long as there is consent.

There are different meanings, values and customs attached to marriage across cultures and religions, and for each individual. The key question in any marriage arrangement is always whether the marrying parties do, and are able to, freely and fully consent.

Arranged marriages require consent, whereas forced marriages occur without consent.  

Forced marriages and arranged marriages are different, and the terms should not be confused or used interchangeably. Forced marriages are where one or both parties do not consent to the marriage. 

In arranged marriages, marriage partners have typically been introduced by the families or a third party – but both partners have the right to accept or reject the marriage arrangement, freely consenting without fear of something bad happening if they were to say no.  

However, it is possible for an arranged marriage to become a forced marriage – if one or both parties are pressured to go ahead with the marriage when no longer freely consenting.  

Forced marriage can happen without physical violence, ‘obvious’ coercion or abuse.  

Under Australian law, a forced marriage occurs whenever someone is threatened, coerced, or deceived into entering a marriage. This can include when familial pressures are so extreme, and social conditioning so entrenched, that a person may be psychologically or emotionally coerced or tricked into agreeing to the marriage. 

Coercion can include using or making threats of physical violence. However, while research is limited and it is difficult to draw conclusions, it is thought that many or most forced marriages may not involve physical violence. [32]

Even if the parties verbally agree to the marriage, it can still be a forced marriage. 

A valid marriage requires both parties to give their consent freely and fully. Even if a person consents to a marriage, their consent may be rendered invalid by coercion, threat and/or deception. 

In addition, a person may not be able to give free and full consent due to their age or mental incapacity. A person under 16 years of age cannot legally consent to a marriage (this means that all marriages involving a person under 16 are forced marriages, regardless of verbal consent). 

Forced marriage can overlap with other forms of abuse. 

Those experiencing forced marriage often experience other forms of abuse, including domestic and family violence: see Section 2 (g).

Frontline workers can help. 

Frontline workers can help by: learning to identify forced marriages, creating safe spaces for forced marriages to be disclosed, and linking those at risk to help, information and support.  

It is not the frontline worker’s role to determine what forced marriage is, nor to intervene within families. Attempts to intervene within families can risk the safety of the at-risk person. If a person is in immediate danger, please call Triple Zero (000). 

Regardless of residency status, a person at risk of or experiencing forced marriage can get help and support.  

Whether someone is an Australian citizen, permanent resident, temporary visa holder, or without a visa – there are support options available. If someone is in Australia and fears facing a forced marriage overseas, they can claim protection in Australia. We recommend getting legal and migration advice and assistance.  

Section 4: Good Practice Principles

As a frontline worker, it is likely that you face diverse and complex situations on a day-to-day basis – some of which you may not have come across before in either your personal or professional life. In these situations, there is often not much time to pause and reflect; and it is common for us to respond based on the attitudes and beliefs that we are not always conscious of holding.  

The following good practice principles have been developed to help guide you through complex situations involving potential or actual forced marriage. They are designed to be quick reference points when engaging with communities on the ground. The principles have been refined in collaboration with a range of stakeholders across sectors, as well as people with lived experience, and conform to standards of good practice in most community and health sectors:  

1. Know your role and practise self-care

The term self-care describes activities that “preserve and maintain one’s physical, emotional and mental health, [and involves an] ongoing commitment to look after yourself through helpful behaviours that protect your health during periods of stress”. [33]

Working with people affected by forced marriage can be incredibly challenging and is often emotionally charged. There may not be enough time or resources available for frontline workers to respond to the situations they face, which can mean being confronted with challenging situations and having to make difficult decisions. These situations can sometimes leave frontline workers experiencing a feeling of helplessness.

It is important to know that you cannot singlehandedly ‘solve’ a forced marriage, but you can refer people affected to appropriate support. My Blue Sky welcomes you to reach out for advice on the situation. Knowing your limits also means taking care of your own needs and understanding what self-care strategies work for you.

How does this work in practice?

  • Understand what your role is, including what is within and what is outside of your control.  

  • Remember that you do not have to be alone in supporting this person; in fact, you should not be. If in any doubt, always seek help and advice.

  • Do not hesitate to refer out to other agencies who may be better placed to help with certain needs (with informed consent). To learn more about holistic support, see Section 6 (f).

  • Collaborate with other organisations and experts in the field (for support on specific cases, gain the consent of the person you are supporting or present de-identified information).

  • Use self-care strategies to help you take care of your physical, emotional and mental health. To learn what self-care looks like for you, you can explore Life in Mind’s A guide to self-care.

  • Be aware of signs of vicarious trauma and burnout, and seek support. You can find a quick introduction to what vicarious trauma and burnout look like here: Vicarious trauma and burnout | Safe and Equal. To learn more about vicarious trauma, burnout and compassion fatigue, you can use the Australian Children Foundation’s Practice Guide: Secondary Traumatic Stress and Staff Wellbeing.

  • Regularly take time to reflect on your work with people, which involves exploring your own thoughts, feelings and actions about specific cases, and about your role in general.  

  • Consider using your workplace’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP), if available. 

  • Debriefing with a colleague or supervisor can be helpful (in a way that de-identifies the person). Your organisation may also wish to arrange for structured debriefing after assisting with a situation of forced marriage.

2. Be culturally sensitive and self-aware

Being culturally sensitive starts with being aware of your own values and beliefs, and being aware of assumptions and biases that you might hold. It also involves making genuine attempts to learn about how other people see the world – their beliefs, values and practices, and what they mean to them. Marriage holds different meanings to different people, cultures, and religions; these are all valid so long as there is consent.  

It is important to remember that multiple and intersecting experiences should be considered when identifying and responding to forced marriage, including one’s gender, class, ethnic and cultural background, location, religion, disability, sexual orientation, residency status and more. [34]

In some cases, this can mean referring to or involving services that provide specialised assistance to particular communities.  

Unfortunately, myths and assumptions that incorrectly link certain cultures to forced marriage are common. These can have damaging consequences, including making people feel unsafe or more reluctant to disclose their situation or seek help. Assumptions and biases may also prevent you from identifying a situation as a forced marriage if it does not fit your preconceived ideas. The presence of power imbalances, discrimination and stigma experienced by diverse communities may add to barriers to seeking help – but when we take these barriers into account, it can inform the best ways of helping that person.  

How does this work in practice? 

  • Be proactive about minimising cultural misunderstandings to prevent the negative impacts that this can have on people being supported. If you work closely with a particular community or cultural group that is different to your own, you can learn from them about their culture and practices, and read more to help inform and deepen your perspective.

  • Ensure that you always use accredited interpreters (see Section 6 (c)).

  • Be aware that cultural differences exist, without passing judgement. This includes being aware that there are many different traditions and customs surrounding marriage, and different community expectations. 

  • Understand that there are differences even within cultures and religions, and that no two experiences or situations are the same, even if they are based in the same overarching culture or religion. 

  • Be self-aware and reflect on your own biases and assumptions. This includes being aware that biases hinder the ability to effectively understand a person and their situation. 

  • Participate in cultural competence training if you have the opportunity. 

  • Challenge damaging myths with communities and within the workplace about forced marriage, its causes, and who it affects (see Section 3).

3. Support recovery through a trauma-informed approach

Trauma can be defined as events that “overwhelm the ordinary systems of care that give people a sense of control, connection, and meaning”. [35] Trauma can result from an isolated incident, or from multiple traumatic events (known as complex trauma); it can be experienced over an extended period of time in a “cumulative effect of emotional abuse”. [36] Whether one experiences, avoids, leaves, or is at risk of a forced marriage, it can be a deeply traumatic experience. Forced marriage can also occur in the context of intergenerational or collective trauma, for example in families and communities experiencing extreme pressures such as forced displacement, grief, loss, poverty, and social exclusion.

An effective trauma-informed approach to supporting recovery starts by prioritising and taking the time, if possible, to establish a supportive relationship built on trust. This means carefully listening in a respectful and non-judgemental way, and letting the person lead the conversation so that they feel respected and safe to open up. Being trauma-informed means understanding what trauma looks like for the person you are supporting, including how it may affect their memory; their ability to make decisions, concentrate, communicate and relate with others; and their physical and mental health.

People experience trauma differently, and it is important to recognise that one’s cultural background can inform the way that one experiences, expresses and processes their trauma. Having a greater understanding of trauma and respecting the person’s agency will enable you to support their recovery more effectively and minimise re-traumatisation. Throughout your support, it is also important to model trust and boundaries by being consistent in your approach, being accountable to what you say and not making promises that you cannot keep.

How does this work in practice? 

  • Minimise the retelling of stories of traumatic events, as it can be re-traumatising. This can be done through improving information-sharing between services if the person agrees to this, as well as taking detailed notes (the priority is to be present within the meeting, so if you find that note-taking removes from your ability to be present, you can also take detailed notes after meetings).

  • Avoid unnecessary questioning on highly sensitive or potentially traumatising topics – if you do not need to know it for your role or for referrals, then you can leave the door open to discuss these things but not demand answers. 

  • Display belief when the person discloses their story. Validate, affirm, and normalise their responses to trauma, including their thoughts, feelings and actions. 

  • Know that trauma is expressed differently by different people. To learn more about trauma, see Understanding trauma by the Blue Knot Foundation.

  • Adjust your communication to support individuals, e.g. through active listening and normalising (see Section 5 (b)).

  • Be clear and consistent in your communication about options.

  • Respect and promote the person's agency and control during each phase of support, including their right to direct the work and to refuse support. 

  • If you have the option, keep up-to-date on trauma-informed practice through training and supervision. 

4. Promote choice and agency

Using a person-centred approach means being open to the perspective of the person you are supporting, treating the person as an equal partner, ensuring they have all the information they need to make informed decisions, and respecting the decisions they make.  

This approach means not assuming what a person does and does not need. For example, the criminal justice system is not the only avenue through which people affected by forced marriage can get support – and for various reasons, people may not want to go down this pathway. A person might have many areas of need, such as mental health or financial support, and addressing these needs may be more important for someone affected by forced marriage. We encourage taking a holistic and broad approach to helping meet someone’s needs. Practising active and empathetic listening is key to promoting choice and agency for someone impacted by forced marriage.  

How does this work in practice? 

  • View them as a person first and foremost (rather than as a victim, witness, service recipient etc.). 

  • Take time to understand the perspective, preferences, strengths and needs of a person, including their perspective on their family and community. 

  • Be led by the person's preferences and chosen needs. 

  • Be mindful that, in some cultures, decision-making about major life events is shared – this can mean that making significant decisions on one's own, led by one's individual needs, may feel unfamiliar and difficult for some.

  • Seek to understand the rights, entitlements, and options available for the individual and their circumstances. 

  • Ensure the person has access to all the information they need, in an accessible format, to make decisions about their care and support (e.g. not just what is available, but what to expect from services). 

  • Inform the person of the option to request access to documentation of conversations and meetings concerning them, if this is possible. 

  • Do not use the term ‘victim’ or any similar language in front of a person impacted by forced marriage – it can be disempowering. 

  • Recognise that terms like ‘forced marriage’, ‘modern slavery’, ‘family violence’, and ‘victim-survivor’ may not reflect how people perceive their experiences; people should be given the space to frame their experiences using the terms that they feel fit best.  

5. Be aware of and respect peoples' rights

Using a rights-based approach means understanding and sharing knowledge about the human rights we are all entitled to. This includes rights to legal advice, accommodation, food, safety, and education, as well as our rights around marriage itself. It means respecting the self-determination of the person.  

The right to choose your marriage partner with "free and full consent", and to not be forced into marriage, is set out in Article 23 (3) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966). The Covenant provides that everyone has the inherent right to life (Article 6), liberty and security (Article 9), and that no one should be held in slavery (Article 8). Since 2013, forced marriage has been recognised under Australian law as a form of slavery.

Not being able to freely choose who we marry is a breach of human rights and is against Australian and international law. Many do not realise that forced marriage is against the law, or a human rights violation – they do not realise they have the right to say no, and it is powerful to remind them of this.

How does this work in practice?  

  • Communicate clearly that every person has the basic human right to freely choose to enter a marriage, without fear of negative consequences if they were to say no. 

  • Let them know they have the right to legal advice and representation, and refer them to legal assistance if they wish.  

  • Assist with basic rights where possible (e.g. shelter, education, health, mental health etc.), including by referring out to other services.  

  • Respect confidentiality– people have a right to privacy; it is a matter of trust and can also be a matter of safety (see Principle 7 to learn more). However, if you have mandatory reporting obligations, it is important to follow them (see Principle 6 to learn more).  

  • Obtain informed consent (under most circumstances) – informed consent means that a person freely agrees to a course of action, after receiving all the information they need to make a decision. When you are assisting someone whose freedom and ability to control their own life have been undermined (as in forced marriage), it is more important than ever to respect their wishes and work with them, rather than making decisions for them.  

  • If you suspect a person may be unable to provide informed consent due to various reasons, such as mental incapacity, we recommend seeking legal advice. 

6. Recognise the rights and needs of children and young people

A child is defined as anyone under 18 years of age. In recent years, around half of reported cases of forced marriage have involved those under 18 years old. As one of the demographics most vulnerable to forced marriage, it is important to know how to respond to children and young people. Children have distinct rights and needs to adults, and responding effectively involves knowing what these rights and needs are, as well as helping them to be met. 

The rights of children 

Due to their stage of development, children and young people have distinct health and developmental needs and can be at greater risk of exploitation and abuse. When working with children affected by forced marriage, it is important to recognise the rights that are commonly affected. The Convention on the Rights of the Child sets out the following children’s rights: [37]

  • the right to life, and for their survival and development to be ensured to the greatest extent possible (Art 6), 

  • the right to express their views freely, and to have their views heard and considered (Art 12),   

  •  the right to have their best interests be the primary and guiding consideration, in all circumstances  (Art 3), 

  • if they have experienced neglect, exploitation or abuse, each child has the right to be helped towards their recovery and reintegration, in an environment that fosters their health, self-respect and dignity (Art 39). 

Managing safety and confidentiality  

When working with children and young people, it is important to understand what the mandatory reporting obligations are in your State or Territory. Building trust with children and young people also includes being transparent with them about the policy and procedures you are obligated to follow in your role. This helps to maintain trust when and if you do have to make a mandatory report about their situation.     

When a child or young person is at risk of forced marriage, consider their age and relative maturity, and listen to their wishes. You do not have to gain informed consent from a child to contact the authorities, and their safety and wellbeing must take priority. 

Find out about your mandatory reporting obligations here: https://aifs.gov.au/resources/resource-sheets/mandatory-reporting-child-abuse-and-neglect

Family involvement 

Working with children and young people can sometimes involve working alongside their parents, guardians or community members. However, if you believe a young pereson is at risk of forced marriage, it is important not to discuss this with their family or community members, even if they are not alleged to be involved. Do not attempt mediation within the family or with those forcing the marriage, especially if the child is living in the family home. However, if you or another professional are helping a child or young person create a safety plan, you can support them to nominate a trusted person or confidante as someone to be contacted under certain circumstances, such as in an emergency (see Section 6 (d) to learn about safety planning).

For those aged between 16-18 years old, parents or guardians have the power to give their consent to their child’s marriage and request that the court make an order permitting the marriage. As a result, this age group may be at risk of entering a legal marriage ceremony when they are not freely and fully consenting themselves. For a child or young person in this position, we strongly recommend seeking legal advice from My Blue Sky (02 9514 8115). 

Note on travel: Whether a person is over or under 18 years of age, if there is an imminent risk of them being taken overseas for the purposes of forced marriage, this is considered an extreme risk to their safety. We strongly recommend calling My Blue Sky (+612 9514 8115) or the AFP (131 237) for advice and assistance. See Section 6 (b) to learn more.

How does this work in practice?

  • Prioritise above all else the safety and wellbeing of children and young people.

  • Be aware of the mandatory reporting obligations unique to your State or Territory. If you are a mandatory reporter, you may be required to report physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, neglect and/or exposure to family violence; and the age for mandatory reporting also varies nationally between 16-18 years of age.

  • Do not try to mediate or intervene within the family or community, under any circumstances.

  • Respect that children and young people have the right to express their views, and to have those views heard and considered.

  • Treat any travel of the child for the purposes of marriage as an urgent safety matter, and respond accordingly.

  • Do not make promises that you cannot keep – if you are required to make mandatory reports, inform the child or young person about your obligations.

7. Prioritise safety, respect confidentiality

People can feel (or be) unsafe in different ways, and so helping someone to feel and be safe can take different forms (physical, material, emotional, psychological safety etc.). Listening to someone, and validating their experience, is a way of making someone feel safe. In the context of forced marriage, this can include identifying risks, such as whether someone is at risk of being taken overseas for the purpose of forced marriage.  

It is important to also be aware of the different safety standards between assisting adults and children. Please see Principle 6 to learn more.  

Privacy and confidentiality 

With the exception of situations where there is an imminent risk to a person’s safety, it is necessary to obtain informed consent before contacting police or other third parties on behalf of someone who is over 18 years old. However, if you are seeking advice on their situation, you can do this on their behalf without disclosing their identity or any identifying factors. Reports to the Australian Federal Police can also be made anonymously and kept in confidence.

It is important to maintain privacy and confidentiality with someone who is disclosing to you that they are affected by forced marriage – and not to share information with family or community members. Leaked information can present a real danger to someone affected by forced marriage. Ensure that you never disclose any information to anyone else unless the affected person has given clear permission for you to do so.  

How does this work in practice? 

  • Practice the ‘do no harm’ principle. Frontline workers can inadvertently cause harm by breaching obligations of confidentiality and privacy, by providing incorrect advice, or by retraumatising a person (see Principle 3)

  • Ensure that you do not promise services that cannot be delivered/ impose expectations on other services 

  • Gain the person’s informed consent before referring them to authorities or other services 

  • Be aware of the relevant mandatory reporting requirements in relation to children that apply in your state or territory 

  • Use accredited interpreters that are not family or community members – this is important for protecting the safety and confidentiality of the person at-risk 

  • Let the person know they can choose a support person they would like to have with them, for situations that they might find stressful (such as an interview or meeting) 

  • If appropriate, undertake safety planning, including exit planning (planning around leaving unsafe situations). See Section 6 (d) for more information on safety planning.  If you do not feel best placed to assist someone in completing a safety plan, you can refer them to complete one with the help of a support service, and/or a counsellor or social worker. To find options local to you, contact 1800-RESPECT  

  • Let them know that it is important to be mindful of travel plans being made for them (whether clearly for the purpose of marriage or not); in this case one should seek external advice from My Blue Sky or AFP  

  • If you have immediate concerns for your safety, the safety of another person, or there is an emergency, dial Triple Zero (000). You can also seek advice from the AFP or My Blue Sky.

Section 5: Identifying and screening for forced marriage

a. What are the indicators of forced marriage?

We have listed potential indicators of forced marriage here. It is important to note that each person’s experience of forced marriage is different, and these indicators do not necessarily apply to every situation. Many of these indicators are also shared by other social issues (for example, indicators of experiencing family violence, or a mental health issue).

Specific Indicators

  • Siblings or family members have themselves experienced a forced marriage

  • If under 18 years old and wearing an engagement ring, and/or there is the sudden announcement of their engagement

  • A person expressing fear, anxiety or distress about an engagement or marriage (or appearing fearful, anxious, or distressed)

  • An upcoming family trip that appears to cause fear, anxiety, or distress

  • Failure to return from an overseas trip

  • A person expressing that they don’t believe that they have the final choice over who they marry

Changes in a person at risk

  • Changes in mood, being angry or being unable to regulate emotions

  • Loss of motivation, low energy, no emotional expression, appearing to be spaced out or hunched over as though trying to be ‘invisible’

  • Increases in depression, anxiety, fatigue, panic attacks, difficulty sleeping and other existing mental health conditions, such as eating disorders

  • Withdrawal or stopping communication with friends and social groups

  • Appearing to be on ‘high alert’, jumpy, easily startled, agitated or irritable

  • Engaging in harmful behaviours such as substance abuse, self-harm, or other behaviours that are out of character

  • Declining performance at school, university, or work

  • Extended, unexplained or sudden absence or withdrawal from school, university, or work

  • Running away from home, or attempts to run away

  • Attempted suicide and/or suicidal ideation

  • An early or unwanted pregnancy (this can pre-empt a forced marriage or occur during a forced marriage)

  • Signs of physical or sexual injury

Signs of coercive and controlling behaviour related to forced marriage

  • Chaperoned or monitored by relatives or community members when outside of the home

  • Restrictions on socialising outside of accepted groups

  • May be generally isolated from peers and appear to not have strong social connections

  • Family or guardian exert significant or even ‘unilateral’ control over the person’s life and choices, in aspects large or small

  • Present with strong fear or anxiety about strictly adhering to particular rules, practices, traditions and other cultural norms

  • Access to mobile phone or internet is limited, monitored, or forbidden

  • Self-harm or suicide of siblings, or other family members

  • History of family violence or abuse within the family

  • History of female genital cutting (FGC) within the family

b. How to explore whether someone is at risk?

If you have noticed specific indicators of forced marriage, we recommend directly asking the person if they are feeling unsafe, and if they fear being made to marry someone else. It is particularly important to do this in order to gauge how time-sensitive a situation is, and whether this person might need immediate assistance.

However, there may be situations where you have noticed some non-specific indicators and this may need to be explored further: in these circumstances, you can open up a conversation and give this person an opportunity to speak about their situation.

This section has been developed to help you explore whether someone may be affected by forced marriage, when no imminent risk can be identified. It is designed for three situations: 

  1. A person may disclose or indicate that they are at risk of forced marriage: this section then takes you through to next steps.  

  2. A person may express concerns about a forced marriage that could take place in the future. In these situations, you then have an opportunity to help this person learn about their options.  

  3. Lastly, these questions allow you to ‘leave the door open’ for them to discuss something important with you at another time. If possible, maintain contact with the person and continue to check in with them.  

If you routinely complete screening or risk assessments as part of your work, you may wish to incorporate forced marriage into existing screening, safety and risk assessment tools.

There is support available: If you feel unsure or would like help, seek advice or collaborate with a dedicated staff member, such as a social worker, counsellor or psychologist that is available in your workplace. Remember, if you are unsure about anything, you can always contact us at My Blue Sky.

Confidentiality: Make sure that you speak to someone in a confidential space and do not involve family or other community members, unless they have explicitly requested a support person, because a breach of privacy can present a real risk to the person’s safety. Make sure to explain your privacy, confidentiality and mandatory reporting obligations. 

Empathy and respect: Demonstrating genuine empathy and respect is a powerful signal that you are open to hearing what the at-risk person has to say and will take their concerns seriously. Body language, facial expressions and tone of voice, as well as compassionate and kind language, are ways to communicate empathy. Even though their experience may be unfamiliar to you, the underlying emotions are universal. 

Accessibility: Make it clear who the person can reach out to talk to (whether this is you, someone else in your team, or My Blue Sky), and how. Ensure consistency of communication and follow-ups, especially if there are staffing changes. If you need to use an interpreter, please see Section 6 (c).

- Useful questions for starting a conversation

This is not a formal risk assessment, but a tool to help open up a conversation with and support someone who may be affected by forced marriage.

These questions are informed by the indicators of forced marriage in Section 5 (a) and are provided in three categories:  

  1. Wellbeing-focused questions: to explore wellbeing, ability to make decisions, and ability to be independent (in ways large and small).  

  2. Marriage-focused questions: to explore family dynamics, values, expectations and pressure around marriage itself. 

  3. Safety-focused questions: to gauge the person's safety from forced marriage and other harms.

While there are often common points in the experience of forced marriage, it is important to keep in mind that each person and situation is unique. One person’s situation may not fit neatly into the common risk factors explored in the Wellbeing-focused questions – for example, a person may live independently and feel free in their decision-making, but still find themselves at risk of forced marriage. In this case, moving to Safety-focused questions is appropriate.    

It may not always be possible, but if you can, it’s helpful to take the time to build a relationship with the person over multiple meetings. This helps to show the person that they can trust you and you are a safe person to talk to. 

1. Wellbeing-focused questions

These are informal, open-ended questions that are intended to shed light on a person’s day-to-day living and wellbeing, as well as their autonomy and agency over their own life. These questions are useful if someone is exhibiting some signs of forced marriage risk, as they allow you to explore this further with them. 

Day-to-day living 

  • I am interested in what a usual day looks like for you 

  • You seem to like _______ / are interested in ________, I am curious to know about other things that you are interested in or you do for fun – can you tell me about those? 

  • What do you usually do on the weekends?  

  • Some people have spoken to me how others having control over things like their mobile phone affects them. Is this something you’ve ever experienced? 

  • Are you close to your family? Are they very traditional? Do you always agree with your family / Are you allowed to disagree with them?  

  • We all have times when we need someone to talk to, to share very personal things with. Do you have someone that you can speak to if you are worried? If you feel upset about something, or want to share something private? 

  • I was wondering about how you imagine your future and what you might choose to do down the track?  


  • How would you go about making a big life decision? And who might you talk them through with?    

  • How are decisions made in your family / community? Who do you think makes the key / important decisions?  

  • If you and your parents (or guardian) want different things, how do you deal with this? Do you talk about it, ignore it, argue about it?  

  • If you are unhappy with a decision made on your behalf, by family, guardian, or community, what do you do? Or what do you feel you could do about it?  

2. Marriage-focused questions

We provide these questions to explore the dynamics around marriage-related decisions within families, and to help gauge whether a person may be experiencing pressure and/or coercion into marriage. This can be particularly useful in situations where you have an ongoing relationship with someone, and you have noticed indicators, but have not identified any 'specific' or strong indicators.

Remember that if you are unsure whether someone may be at risk, we recommend reaching out to My Blue Sky for advice.

  •  How is marriage talked about in your family? 

  •  Have your family ever spoken about you getting married?

  • Have you previously said no to a marriage proposal? What happened?

  • Do you feel that there are expectations or pressure for you to get married?

  • Do you feel like you will get to choose your future partner? Does anyone else have a say?

  • If you have siblings, are any of them married? Do you believe your sibling felt happy with this decision, and that they felt free to choose or say no if they wished to?

  • What does 'choice' mean, or look like, to you and your sibling?

3. Safety-focused questions

We recommend asking 'Safety' questions if you are noticing specific indicators and you believe there is a high risk of forced marriage. This is particularly important if that risk is time-sensitive. If they are at imminent risk of forced marriage, it is imperative to find out when and where this is likely to take place, and to seek immediate assistance.

  • Do you feel unsafe in any way?

  • Do you fear or suspect that you might be made to marry someone even if you don't want to?

  • Do you think a marriage could be organised without your knowledge, or approval?

  • If you do not (get married, go overseas, attend the event) do you believe your safety would be at risk in any way? Would your relationships be affected in any way? What are you concerned will happen?

  • If you do not (get married, go overseas, attend the event) are you concerned that the safety of your loved ones, including siblings, might be at risk?

  • Is there a safe person for us/me to contact, someone that you trust, if we/I have concerns for your wellbeing?

When and Where 

70% of forced marriage reports between 2020-2021 involved someone being taken overseas to be married. [38] It is critical to find out if there is a real risk of a marriage taking place shortly – including, if possible, when and where it is expected to happen. The location is important because when someone is taken overseas for marriage, the supports available to them can become limited. It is far easier to help this person while they are still in Australia. If there is a chance that someone will be taken overseas for a marriage, we strongly recommend calling My Blue Sky (02 9514 8115) or AFP (131 237) for advice and assistance.

- Responses to disclosure

When someone discloses they are at risk of or are in a forced marriage, it is important to:  

  1. Thank them for telling you this and acknowledge it must be hard.  

  2. Validate their experience, and let them know you believe them.

  3. Let them know that they do not have to go through this alone. Inform them of the different kinds of support available, including legal advice, accommodation, healthcare, counselling, visa/migration assistance and financial assistance.  

What to say when someone discloses 

Here are some phrases that can help you to respond to a disclosure.  

Acknowledging the situation  

  • I understand that this situation would be difficult to manage. 

  • I can see you are feeling overwhelmed. 

  • I can see you are in pain. 

  • I can see you are scared. 

Normalising and empathising  

  • It is common to feel stressed and scared in this situation. 

  • What is happening right now is not your fault. 

  • It takes a lot of courage to talk about this.

  • You have a choice in your life decisions. 

  • You have rights as a woman/man/young person. 

  • I can see you are taking steps to keep yourself safe. 

  • I am hearing what you say, and I believe you.

“Tell her that she’s made the right decision for her at the right time – [whether she got] married, engaged, divorced – and remind her that it’s not actually her fault.”

 Woman who has experienced forced marriage [39]

Contacting My Blue Sky (02 9514 8115)

You can call My Blue Sky to access free and confidential legal assistance for a suspected forced marriage situation. All advice is provided at no charge and we will support the decisions of the caller and respect their privacy.

You do not have to be sure that a forced marriage is taking place before you call it is okay to be uncertain. It is appropriate to contact My Blue Sky whether:

  •        There is an imminent risk of forced marriage,

  •        A forced marriage has already happened (recently, or long ago), or

  •        There is concern a forced marriage may happen in the future – a person who believes they will face a forced marriage in the distant future can learn about their rights and options now, so that they can make more informed decisions down the track and feel better prepared.

You can learn more about My Blue Sky in Section 6 (a).

Please note that MBS Hotline hours are 9am-5pm Monday to Friday (Sydney time). In the context of a risk of forced marriage at short notice, contact the AFP (131 237), or if there is a risk to life or safety, contact the national emergency phone number Triple Zero (000). 

Section 6: Responding to forced marriage

This section outlines some key considerations for frontline workers when responding to a potential or actual forced marriage case. It is structured to provide information for time-sensitive situations first, before providing information around holistic support. This is not to imply that police involvement is necessary or recommended for each situation. Each situation is unique, and must be led by the preferences of the person affected.

a. My Blue Sky, Australian Federal Police and Australian Red Cross

Knowing what support is available, and how it can be accessed, is key to effectively responding to a forced marriage. Knowing the options can fundamentally impact what kind of help the at-risk person receives and can determine what they decide to do.   

Below we provide information about My Blue Sky, as well as key actors in the landscape of forced marriage support: the Australian Federal Police and the Australian Red Cross. We introduce the new Additional Referral Pathway (ARP), which allows people impacted by forced marriage and slavery to access supports without having to participate in a police investigation.

My Blue Sky (MBS) 

My Blue Sky is Australia’s national service for people who are in a forced marriage or worried about being forced to marry. Free and confidential, MBS provides information, support, legal advice, and long-term assistance where appropriate. Callers are carefully listened to and talked through their legal options, and may be connected with other support services as needed. If the caller is at risk of forced marriage, they can receive legal assistance across a range of matters. Frontline workers who are concerned about a third party can also call MBS for advice and assistance.

Our legal team will carefully assess each caller’s situation. There are two eligibility criteria: 

  1. The legal team assesses that a forced marriage or other slavery offence has taken place, or may take place. If this is not the case, MBS will refer the caller to the services most appropriate to their situation.  

  2. The situation has an Australian connection – for example, involving Australians overseas, or an incident happening in Australia. When these connections are not present, our team directs them to a more appropriate service where possible.

    Contact details: 

Australian Federal Police (AFP) 

If the AFP suspects there is a reasonable likelihood that a person has experienced, is experiencing, or is about to experience a forced marriage, they are able to take the at-risk person to safety. Unless there is a risk of imminent danger, it is important to only refer a person to authorities when you have gained their informed consent (or otherwise in keeping with mandatory reporting requirements).

The AFP has the ability to request a visa for someone they believe has experienced slavery. The AFP is also one of the select organisations that can refer the at-risk person for up to 200 days of support from the Australian Red Cross (ARC). The person does not have to contribute to the AFP’s investigation to receive this support.

“I think the misconception is that when you say, ‘reach out to the police’, that they might think that we will rock up in a police car and in uniform… but what they are actually going to get is fully trained staff members like ourselves, that will handle the situation delicately, respectfully and also with their welfare in mind. So, we are very much a prevention-driven team and not a prosecution-driven team.”

Federal Agent, Australian Federal Police [40]

Important to know:  

  • As a federal offence, the AFP holds responsibility for investigating forced marriage.

  • Reports to the AFP can be made anonymously.

  • A common fear of people affected by forced marriage that stops them from seeking outside support is the risk that the people involved (often family or loved ones) will be punished or imprisoned. While a person should always seek legal advice about their own circumstances, it is important to know that, if a person decides to assist in a police investigation, they can change their mind at any time.

  • The AFP can arrange for a ‘border alert’ to be placed on a person’s passport, which means they will be separated from their travelling companions at the airport and spoken to. If the person does not want to leave the country, they need to tell the AFP this, as otherwise the AFP cannot prevent them from leaving the country (unless there are court orders in place; see Section 6 (b) to learn more).

“You don’t know who can help you, you’re scared to go to the police station to talk to them, because you don’t want your family to be in trouble – it’s not an easy situation at all.”

Woman facing forced marriage [41]

A person informed of their options may still not want to speak with police. The best you can do is communicate to them the options available so that they can make a fully informed decision, and try to link them with other forms of holistic support. You can call My Blue Sky for assistance or advice on referral options.

Contact details:

Australian Red Cross and the Support for Trafficked People Program

The Red Cross is the service provider for the Support for Trafficked People Program (STPP), which supports people affected by trafficking, slavery or forced marriage offences in Australia, or involving Australians. People who are at risk of being forced into marriage, or who have already been forced into marriage may be eligible for support.

Usually, people experiencing forced marriage will be offered up to 200 days during which they will receive unconditional support through the STPP, which may be extended depending on the circumstances.

The Red Cross has supplied this graphic to illustrate the areas in which the STPP provides support to clients, whether directly or through referral:

Contact details for the Red Cross STPP team:  

New pathways to support through the Additional Referral Pathway (ARP)

Previously, only the AFP were able to refer people to the Support for Trafficked People Program. As of 23 July 2024, this power has been extended to other organisations through the Additional Referral Pathway. Any of the six organisations below can assess a person’s eligibility for the STPP, and can refer them to the program directly:

  • Anti-Slavery Australia (including My Blue Sky)

  • Australian Federal Police

  • Salvation Army

  • Australian Muslim Women’s Centre for Human Rights

  • Project Respect, or

  • Scarlet Alliance. 

Contact details for ASA's Additional Referral Pathway line:  

  • Phone: 0400 8318 84

      ASA’s ARP line is available from 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday (Sydney time).

Important to know – how visa status affects eligibility:

The STPP is eligible for Australian citizens, residents and those who hold a valid visa, including a temporary visa. We strongly encourage people without visas who have experienced trafficking or forced marriage to contact ASA so that we can assist you in regulating your residency status and accessing support.

Alternatively, the AFP can nominate victim-survivors for a visa, but this necessarily involves contact with the AFP. Some victim-survivors may be reluctant to speak with police or to participate in an investigation.

b. Differences in responding to adults and children in cases of overseas travel (exit trafficking)

Exit trafficking is a form of human trafficking, where a person forces, coerces, threatens, or deceives another person into leaving a country against their will. It is commonly seen in reported cases of forced marriage.  

Safeguarding adults against trafficking

In general, an adult cannot be prevented from leaving the country if they wish to depart. However, in the context of forced marriage, the AFP can arrange for a ‘border alert’ to be placed on a person’s passport. This means that, if they are taken to the airport, they will be stopped by the AFP, separated from their travelling companions, and questioned in private. The AFP will ask the person whether they wish to travel, or if they are being taken against their will. If the person does not want to leave the country, at this point it is very important for them to tell the AFP that they do not want to leave: the AFP cannot prevent the travel if they are not told that there is a problem.

If a person discloses to the AFP that they do not want to leave the country, they can then be separated from their travelling companions if desired (this may be a safety matter). The AFP may refer them to the Support for Trafficked People Program, and they can then receive practical supports including accommodation. An investigation may take place, but only if the affected person wishes for this to go ahead. To learn more about what happens when engaging with the AFP and supports available, see Section 6 (a).

In the event that someone is taken abroad for a forced marriage, Consular Services provided by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) take on the main role in assisting Australian citizens who are trying to return to Australia. DFAT often work alongside AFP and MBS in assisting those who have been exit trafficked. Consular Services are contactable on a 24-hour emergency hotlines (see details in Section 8).

Safeguarding children and young people from trafficking

If a person is under the age of 18, there are measures that can be taken to prevent them from travelling outside Australia.

It is possible to make an urgent application to a family law court that would prevent an under 18-year-old from being taken outside of the country (the Family Law Courts’ National Enquiry Centre can be reached on 1300 352 000). A parent, grandparent, the child themselves, or a person “concerned with the care, welfare or development of the child” can make this application. Once this application is filed, that person can then make request to the AFP to place the child's name on the AFP Family Law Watchlist. However, this is a complex legal process involving multiple steps – in these cases we strongly advise seeking immediate legal advice and assistance. For particularly time-sensitive matters, contact the AFP directly.

Go to Principle 6 to find out more about how to assist this demographic.

c. What should I consider when using an interpreter?

If the person at risk speaks English as a second language, you can check with them whether they would like to use an interpreter. Do not use a family or community member as an interpreter. The number of interpreters available for any one language can vary greatly, depending on the size of the community speaking that language in Australia. Some may feel safe and anonymous in disclosing information through an interpreting service, but others may have a reasonable concern that they will be identified by the interpreter.  

A safe and anonymous interpreting experience can be ensured in a few different ways:  

  • The interpreter can attend over the phone, rather than in person.  

  • To help ensure anonymity, you can also request a phone interpreter from a different State or Territory. 

  • Prior to the call, advise the person that they can choose to change interpreters if they have any concerns. To do this during the call, they can raise their hand to let you know they would like to have the microphone muted. They then have a chance to express their concerns, including the wish to change interpreters. Changing interpreters can be necessary if the interpreter is not translating properly – including if they selectively translate what the client is saying, or are expressing their own views on the situation.  

  • Prior to the call, you can also confirm to the at-risk person that their name, and the names of anyone else being discussed, will not be mentioned in the translated conversation (and remember to stick to this). 

  • Ask whether they would like an interpreter of the same gender, as this may make them feel more comfortable and safer in the call. 

  • Ask whether they would like a trusted support person with them. 

Translating and Interpreting Service (TIS) National: TIS National is a free-based interpreting service. You can connect to an interpreter without notice by calling 131 450. Bookings can also be made in advance for interpreters over the phone and on-site.

d. Safety planning

“I didn’t know until I experienced it myself… I was thinking, “Okay you could go to the police and stay there”, but now I understand it’s very difficult with the family… you’re in the middle of a dark room, you don’t know what to do, where to go, you don’t know how to get help, everything is scary.”

Woman facing forced marriage [42]

After a disclosure, consider exploring with the at-risk person the benefits of preparing a safety plan. A safety plan is developed in collaboration with someone to address their safety concerns and reduce risks of harm.

A forced marriage-specific safety plan template is provided here: Forced Marriage Safety Plan (homeaffairs.gov.au)

The safety plan walks the reader through identifying threats to their safety in their situation, how they can respond to these risks, who they can call, and where they can go. Threats to safety can include risks to a person's emotional, physical, mental and physical wellbeing, as well as risks to their relationships with family, culture, faith and identity. The plan should be person-centred, culturally sensitive and trauma informed. You should start by understanding what the person at-risk considers as a safety concern or issue.

If you do not feel best placed to assist someone in completing a safety plan, remember that you can refer to an organisation like My Blue Sky for help in developing this. You can also refer them to complete a forced marriage safety plan with the help of other support services. To find options local to you, contact 1800RESPECT.

Here are some prompts to help you explore potential risks to safety with someone:

  • What does safety mean to you or what does it look like in this current situation / right now?

  • I am curious to better understand what your current worry/worries is in your own words and how this impacts your safety?

  • I am wondering what life may look like moving forward now that we identified some worries?

  • Tell me more about how moving forward from this point impacts on your relationships.

  • What are some of the factors that cause the most difficulty for you in this situation?

  • What are things that make you or could make you feel safe in this situation?

  • Is there anything further you would like to share?

  • Is there anything further we can plan for?

  • If there is a history of this behaviour, previous threats to leave abroad?

  • How have you managed this previously? How have you managed this situation in the past?

Safety reminder: We strongly discourage making attempts to intervene within families, or attempts to mediate within families. Doing this is highly risky – at worst, it may jeopardise the safety of the at-risk person and may accelerate marriage and travel plans.

Basic safety planning considerations:

1.     Understand the concerns of the person at risk from their perspective.

2.     Explore the context and identify underlying issues of their safety concerns.

3.     Collaborate on strategies to address each underlying issue.

-        In each strategy developed, ensure that the person has the knowledge/awareness, resources, access, and support to act on them.

-        Ask whether there is a trusted person that you can contact if you have concerns for them.

-        Discuss safety concerns related to communication.

-        Make sure that they have emergency contact details, stored in a way that’s safest for them – e.g. written down, on their phone, etc. Emergency contact details can include services that meet their needs, such as accommodation, counselling, AFP.

4.     Acknowledge and recognise the strengths of the person at risk.

5.     Ensure the person feels they have ownership of the plan, and that they recall and understand the plan.

6.     Check-in with the person at risk at agreed times to review the plan, and include other trusted support people in this process where appropriate.

e. Know about people's options and rights

As a frontline worker, you can identify someone who is at-risk of forced marriage and help them in accessing support they need. If you have encountered someone who is concerned about being forced into marriage in their future with no impending plans, it is a good opportunity to remind them of their rights and options, provide them with information, and consider referring them to advice and assistance to meet their specific needs. While we encourage you to refer to Section 4's Good Practice Principles for guidance in this, we outline 3 key considerations here for quick reference.

“I think frontline workers should understand that the people seeking support have thought a thousand times before making that first call.”

Woman who has experienced forced marriage [43]

Residency status:  
Whether someone is an Australian citizen, permanent resident, temporary visa holder, or without a visa – there are support options available. If someone is not a citizen or permanent resident but is residing in Australia and fears facing a forced marriage overseas, they can claim protection in Australia. If facing a forced marriage in Australia there are also supports available, including those outlined in Section 6 (a). In all cases we recommend getting legal and migration advice and assistance.  

Respecting decisions:  
If the person appears unhappy about getting married, but still considers that they have a duty to go ahead with the marriage, please do not judge them and respect their position. However, please also let them know that they can still get legal advice on their situation in a completely anonymous way, now or at any time in future. Please let them know of the supports available. 

Contacting My Blue Sky:  
For any advice or concerns, the person can contact My Blue Sky – there does not have to be an impending risk of marriage. They can receive confidential access to expertise on forced marriage and on their options.  

A note on safety as a priority: If someone is being taken overseas imminently, urgent action is required including obtaining legal advice and contacting the Australia Federal Police on 131 AFP (131 237).

If someone is in immediate danger, dial Triple Zero (000). You do not need to have a person's consent to call 000 in a crisis situation.

f. Holistic support

What ‘help’ looks like can be quite broad and take many forms, and above all it depends on the needs and wishes of the person. The criminal justice system is only one avenue, and for various reasons people may choose not to go down this pathway. Whether or not they participate in the criminal justice process, safety and support should be accessible to those experiencing or at-risk of forced marriage. [44]

It is likely that one person, or one organisation, will not have the resources and expertise to meet every need of a person at risk of or experiencing a forced marriage. While you are supporting them in your own area of expertise, you can also consider whether they have other needs that could be best met through other services.

Options for help can vary widely across Australian states and territories. For guidance on services available, we recommend contacting 1800-RESPECT (1800 737 732),  who have a state-by-state directory of services covering a range of needs including those outlined above.

g. Tips for good practice: Do’s and Don’ts 

Provided below is a summary of key points to keep in mind if you have identified a person at risk of forced marriage, designed for quick reference.   


  • Assume it is ‘someone else’s problem’ or a ‘family matter’. 

  • Assume it is in line with a particular cultural or religious practice.  

  • Feel guilty or ashamed if you don’t have the expertise to navigate next steps.  

  • Commit to handling this on your own: it is a challenging and high-stakes situation. You can seek help and assistance.  

  • Attempt to stage an intervention between the parties or attempt to discuss the situation with the alleged perpetrator yourself.  

  • Attempt to mediate between the parties.  

  • Breach the person’s privacy unless you have a mandatory reporting obligation.  

  • Provide the person with legal or migration advice unless you are qualified to do so.  

  • Refer a person at risk of forced marriage to authorities without gaining their informed consent (unless they are in a situation of imminent danger or you have a mandatory reporting obligation).    


  • Be empathetic.  

  • Let them know that they have the right not to be married if they do not want to.  

  • Help them to be informed about their options and let them know support and help is available. This advice does not change if the situation seems ‘ambiguous’ between being pressured to marry or being forced. 

  • Communicate clearly, identifying your scope of practice as well as limitations of your role. 

  • Respect the decisions of the person, even if you disagree with them. 

  • Be patient. It takes time to build trust and open up. 

  • Consider different challenges this person might be facing and refer out appropriately (with informed consent).  

  • Let them know that legal and migration expertise is available: provide them with the number of My Blue Sky for confidential, free advice. Assure them they are not even required to provide their name.   

  • Seek advice from My Blue Sky yourself on what to do if you are unsure.  

  • Consider whether this person would benefit from culturally appropriate services.  

  • Check if they would prefer an interpreter if English is their second language. 

Section 7: Learning tools – Stories of forced marriage

Every individual case of forced marriage is different, and there are often multiple factors involved. We present three stories below with questions to help you reflect on the different challenges presented by forced marriage. You could use these stories and questions on your own, or in a group discussion in your workplace. 

When reading these stories, answer the following questions on your own, or in a group discussion in your workplace:  

  1. What are the factors that might indicate the person is at risk of a forced marriage? 

  2. What pressures may a person be feeling and experiencing? 

  3. What are some of the key considerations that a frontline worker should take into account in this situation? (Refer to Section 4 when answering this question)

  4. What could the support person say to start a conversation, and encourage the person to disclose what they are feeling/what has been happening for them? (Refer to Section 5 when answering this question)

  5. What do you think the support person could do or say to help in this situation? (Refer to Section 5 and Section 6 when answering this question)

  6. What information/resources would be important for the person to be aware of in this situation? 

Story 1 - 'Anna'

Anna is a 20-year-old woman living with her family in Melbourne. Lately she has been going out more with friends and spending less time with her family. Her parents express to her that they are concerned that she is abandoning her community and is becoming “out of control”.  

They tell Anna that they have some “exciting news” – a wealthy man from their community has agreed to marry her. Anna is shocked because she’s never met this man before and has never had any serious conversations with her parents about marriage. She tells them she does not want to get married, especially to someone she does not know. Her parents become upset and tell her she is being selfish and ungrateful. They threaten to disown her if she does not agree to the marriage.  

News about Anna’s engagement spreads throughout her community. Everyone congratulates Anna, telling her that this is a good match, and she should be happy. Anna isn’t convinced, but she feels like she has no choice in the matter. Each time Anna tries to talk with her parents about it, they get angrier with her, to the point that Anna begins to fear that they may physically hurt her. They begin monitoring her phone, internet usage and stop letting her leave the house without a chaperone. Anna decides to confide in a local faith leader about her situation; she has known him for a long time and feels she can trust him.

Story 2 - 'Brent'

Brent is a university student who has been dating his boyfriend in secret for two years. He lives at home with his parents, who are very traditional and conservative. Brent is afraid that he will ruin their reputation if anyone from their community finds out about his relationship. One day, Brent accidentally leaves his phone on the table and his parents see the text messages between him and his boyfriend. They confront Brent and start beating him, telling him he’s not a real man if he does not marry a woman. They arrange for him to meet a woman they chose for him and threaten to harm his boyfriend if he does not agree to marry her.

Brent’s parents begin monitoring his phone and forbid him from engaging in any social activities or going anywhere apart from his university classes. Brent does not know where to get help and is afraid that speaking up will get his parents in trouble. He skips one of his classes to attend an appointment with a student wellbeing officer, where he confides that he is being pressured by his parents into a relationship he does not want. He does not have the means to leave home and, even if he did, he is worried his parents will carry through with their threats of harming his boyfriend.

Story 3 - 'Leila'

Leila is 15 years old. She lives with her older brother and his family, as their parents passed away years ago. One day, Leila’s brother tells her that she is engaged to marry a man in Australia – a country she has never been to before. Her brother arranges for a birth certificate that states Leila is a few years older than she is. Leila does not feel ready for marriage, does not know this man, and does not want to be married to him. Leila’s brother tells her that it is time – this man is respectable and accomplished, he reminds her they have some extended family in Australia and says he cannot go on supporting her forever.

Leila feels an enormous sense of dread, but the wedding preparations are made, and in a few months the Australian man arrives at their doorstep. Leila feels extremely under pressure. This man has flown all this way to marry her, and her family have come together to celebrate her day, showering her with presents. Leila is afraid of objecting now and of disappointing everyone; she is sure that even if she did, the ceremony would still go ahead. Leila does not feel like she can do anything but marry this man.

Some months later, Leila and her new husband fly to Australia. From the beginning, Leila feels miserable in the marriage – her husband is very controlling and has a horrible temper. Leila also speaks little English and feels disconnected and isolated from her surroundings. She feels like she does not know anything about ‘how things work’ in Australia. She isn’t sure what rights she has, or if the law would protect a new migrant like her.

Eventually Leila persuades her husband that she should take English language classes, which she attends a few times a week. To the teacher, Leila seems like an enthusiastic and happy student. Yet over the semester, the teacher notices how Leila’s demeanour changes whenever her husband arrives to pick her up; the teacher sees his controlling behaviour and Leila’s fear. The teacher becomes very concerned when, in one class exercise, Leila mentions her age. The teacher suspects that Leila is in a deeply unhappy and possibly illegal marriage.

Section 8: National services and good practice tools

The following services all run nationally.  

Phone: 1800 737 732 

The National Sexual Assault, Domestic & Family Violence Counselling Service – providing confidential information, counselling and support. They have a nationwide service directory, including: family violence assistance, counselling, family & relationship advice, housing, community services, multicultural services, legal and financial help.  

Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety (ANROWS)
Phone: 02 8374 4000  

An independent, not-for-profit research organisation established to produce evidence to support the reduction of violence against women and their children. ANROWS supports practitioners working with women and children who experience violence, and men who use violence. However, they are not a direct service organisation and cannot provide emergency assistance, advice or referrals for women and their children experiencing violence.  

Blue Knot Foundation 
Phone: 1300 657 380  

Blue Knot Foundation is the National Centre of Excellence for Complex Trauma, which provides phone counselling for adult survivors of childhood trauma, their friends, family and the health care professionals who support them. Blue Knot aims to empower recovery and build resilience for adults impacted by complex trauma and build a trauma-informed community.  

Beyond Blue 
Phone: 1300 224 636 

Beyond Blue is a specialist mental health organisation that provides information and support to people experiencing mental health difficulties. Beyond Blue runs a national one-on-one hotline through which callers can speak with a counsellor any time day or night. Although callers are asked for their name and contact details, they can opt to remain anonymous. 

Consular Emergency Centre, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT)
Phone (within Australia): 1300 555 135
Phone (outside Australia): +61 2 6261 3305

If you, or someone you know, needs urgent help, emergency consular assistance is available 24 hours a day. This is for emergencies only; for general enquires, contact the Australian Embassy, High Commission or Consulate for the destination you are in, or contact DFAT online instead.

Family Law Courts 
Phone: 1300 352 000 (National Enquiry Centre) 

If assisting a parent seeking advice to prevent their child from being removed from Australia (including for the purposes of a forced marriage), it is possible to call the Family Law Courts’ National Enquiry Centre and ask to speak with a Duty Registrar to place the child’s name on the Watchlist. We encourage contacting the AFP for time-sensitive matters.

Full Stop Australia 
Phone: 1800 385 578 

Full Stop Australia provides counselling for people whose lives have been impacted by violence and abuse, including FDV, sexual violence, and childhood sexual abuse. Options for counselling include in-person, over the phone, and online. They provide a series of helplines tailored to areas of assistance, including a specialised helpline for members of the LGBTIQ community. 

Kids Helpline 
Phone: 1800 55 1800 

Kids Helpline provides a phone, email and web counselling service for children and young people – 24 hours, 7 days a week. “At all times children and young people are supported and encouraged to have their voices heard, to seek justice and to access counselling and other support services in order to overcome the impacts of harm.” 

Phone: 13 11 14 

Lifeline is a national charity providing all Australians experiencing a personal crisis with access to 24-hour crisis support and suicide prevention services.  

National Relay Service 
Voice relay service: 1300 555 727  
TTY: 133 677 
SMS relay number: 0423 677 767 

National Relay Service provides support for people who are deaf, hard of hearing or speech impaired to communicate with family, friends and services over the phone and other options with the assistance of a relay officer - 24 hours, 7 days a week. The Access Hub is where you can find information about the relay service as well as other pages about services and communication options.  

Phone: 1800 184 527 (available 3pm to midnight, every day)  

QLife provides anonymous and free LGBTIQ peer support and referral for people across Australia wanting to talk about sexuality, identity, gender, bodies, feelings or relationships.   

Translating and Interpreting Service (TIS) National
Phone: 131 450 

The national translating and interpreting service.  

Victims Services, NSW Government
Phone: 1800 633 063

Provides counselling support for survivors of modern slavery and their families in NSW through the Victims Support Scheme, offering up to 22 sessions of counselling for free. It is not required that there is a charge or conviction for modern slavery.

Good practice tools  

Trauma Response Practice in Education – Online Training ($33 AUD), Australian Childhood Foundation 

Practice Guide – Secondary traumatic stress and staff well-being: Understanding compassion fatigue, vicarious trauma and burnout in therapeutic care, Australian Childhood Foundation 

Forced Marriage Safety Plan, Australian Government  

Factsheet 1: How do I put my child on the Family Law Watchlist?, Early Intervention Unit, Legal Aid NSW  https://www.legalaid.nsw.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0014/41243/FS1-Put-child-on-Family-Law-Watchlist.pdf

A guide to self-care, Life in Mind 


About the Frontline Worker Guide

The Frontline Worker Guide was developed as part of the 'Speak Now' project at Anti-Slavery Australia, University of Technology Sydney. The Speak Now project is made possible through funding from the Department of Social Services (DSS) under the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children 2010–2022. All content reflects the views of Anti-Slavery Australia, University of Technology Sydney, and does not represent the views of the Australian Government. 

This Guide has been written by Kathryn Clark [M. Development Studies (UNSW)], Speak Now coordinator, and Emma Burn [M. Crim (USyd)], researcher, with valuable contributions from the Speak Now team: Elsie Cheung, Sakina Hassani, Jane Jeffes, Rhianne Jeyakumar, Dr Jacqueline Nelson, and Frances Simmons. Jennifer Burn provided significant guidance, and Cassandra Bourke, Sandeep Dhillon, Sarah Di Giglio, Carolyn Liaw, and Isobel McGarity contributed their expertise.

The Frontline Worker Guide was developed through desk-based research of academic and community literature, as well as in-depth consultations with people with lived experience, community workers and subject matter experts. Its early drafts were subject to extensive consultation and review.

We are grateful to UTS Rapido for adapting the Guide for online usage, and to The Impact Institute for designing the graphics.

We would like to thank:

  • The people with lived experience whose input helped shape and inform this project. [45]

  • All the participants who attended focus group discussions, interviews, and meetings about the development of this resource and the Speak Now Project.  

  • The Speak Now Advisory Committee for their generous contribution.  

  • The Department of Social Services (DSS), who funded the Speak Now project through the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children 2010–2022

We thank the individuals and organisations who reviewed, contributed to, and helped to shape and strengthen this resource:

  • Australian Border Force

  • Detective Inspector Mary Bolton, Australian Federal Police

  • Susan Bradborn, HerSpace Ltd

  • Department of Social Services 

  • Roxan Fabiano, HerSpace Ltd

  • Lina Garcia-Daza, Australian Red Cross  

  • Mariajose Gomez-Zaldivar, HerSpace Ltd

  • Dr Carol Kaplanian 

  • Samantha Lyneham

  • Kudzayi Nhatarikwa,  Australian Red Cross

  • Detective A/Inspector Luke Perritt, Australian Federal Police

  • Ally Pettitt  

  • Neeraja Sanmuhanathan, PhD (Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Counselling Service, Community Health SLHD) 

  • Heejin Kim Sawaki, HerSpace Ltd

  • Anjali Sengupta, HerSpace Ltd

  • Grace Wong

  • Maggie Yie-Quach 

In developing this Guide, we have been inspired by the invaluable and pioneering research and resources developed by: 

  • The Australian Muslim Women’s Centre for Human Rights (AMWCHR). 

  • The Australian Red Cross. 

  • Agincourt Community Services Association (ACSA), Canada.   

  • The South Asian Legal Clinic of Ontario (SALCO), Canada.  

  • The Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC).  

  • Centre for Multicultural Youth (CMY).  

  • The British Government’s Forced Marriage Unit (FMU). 

  • The Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Councils of Australia (FECCA).  

  • The Lighthouse Foundation.

  • The Scottish Government’s Office of Communities and Third Sector.

Suggested citation

To cite this Guide, please use:

Anti-Slavery Australia, University of Technology Sydney, Frontline Worker Guide: Identifying and Responding to Forced Marriage in Australia (July 2022)


[1] International Labour Organization (ILO), Walk Free Foundation, and International Organization for Migration (IOM), Global Estimates of Modern Slavery: Forced Labour and Forced Marriage (2022).

[2] United Nations, Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948).

[3] Samantha Lyneham and Samantha Bricknell, Australian Institute of Criminology, When saying no is not an option: Forced marriage in Australia and New Zealand (2018).

[4] Lyneham and Bricknell (2018) x.

[5] Australian Muslim Women’s Centre for Human Rights, Child and forced marriage: A guide for professionals working with the Muslim community (2019).

[6] StoneRidge Centers, ‘How Do These Brain Changes Affect Our Day-To-Day Lives?’, How Emotional Trauma Changes the Brain. Accessed 30 June 2022. https://stoneridgecenters.com/how-emotional-trauma-changes-the-brain/.

[7] Interviewee 1.

[8] Commonwealth of Australia, Australian Federal Police Annual Report 2020-21 (2021) 58.

[9] Interviewee 1.

[10] Carolina Villacampa, Forced marriage as a lived experience: Victims’ voices, International Review of Victimology 2020, Vol. 26(3) (2020) 355.

[11] Australian Red Cross, Community Voices, Stories and Strategies (2019) 7.

[12] Australian Red Cross (2019).

[13] Lyneham and Bricknell (2018) 22.

[14] HM Government, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Forced Marriage Unit, Forced Marriage and Learning Disabilities: Multi-Agency Practice Guidelines (2010) 13.

[15] Australian Red Cross (2019) 7.

[16] Interviewee 2.

[17] Georgia Prattis et al, ‘Marrying Young: An exploratory study of young Muslim women’s decision-making around early marriage’, Australian Muslim Women’s Centre for Human Rights (2019); Charlotte Powell, ‘Early and Forced Marriage Therapeutic Program: An evaluative study’ (2020), Internal Lighthouse Foundation report: unpublished.

[18] Prattis et al (2019).

[19] Prattis et al (2019).

[20] Prattis et al (2019).

[21] Interviewee 1.

[22] Victoria State Government, Safer Communities: Family Violence. Accessed 1 May 2022: https://www.justice.vic.gov.au/safer-communities/protecting-children-and-families/family-violence.

[23] Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Family, domestic and sexual violence (2021). Accessed 1 May 2022: https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/australias-welfare/family-domestic-and-sexual-violence.

[24] Laura Vidal, Opportunities to respond to forced marriage within Australia’s domestic and family violence framework (Issues Paper), Good Shepherd Australia New Zealand (2019) 5.

[25] Family Violence Focus Group Discussions.

[26] Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS), CFCA Resource Sheet (2014). Accessed 24 April 2022: https://aifs.gov.au/cfca/publications/effects-child-abuse-and-neglect-children-and-adolescents

[27] Halo Project Charity, United Kingdom. Accessed 15 March 2022: https://www.haloproject.org.uk/

[28] Department of Social Services, Dowry Abuse Factsheet (2019). Accessed 15 March 2022: https://www.dss.gov.au/women-publications-articles-reducing-violence/dowry-abuse-factsheet  

[29] Interviewee 2.

[30] Lyneham and Bricknell (2018).

[31] Fauzia Shariff, ‘Towards a Transformative Paradigm in the UK Response to Forced Marriage: Excavating Community Engagement and Subjectivising Agency’, (2012) Social & Legal Studies 21(4) 549–565.

[32] Carolina Villacampa, ‘Forced marriage as a lived experience: Victims’ voices’, International Review of Victimology (2020) Vol. 26(3) (2020) 350.

[33] Life in Mind Australia, A guide to self-care, 2. Accessed May 25 2022: https://lifeinmindaustralia.imgix.net/assets/src/user-uploads/Life-in-Mind-Self-care.pdf

[34] Victorian Government, ‘Figure 6: Intersectionality of Social Status and Identity, Discrimination and Oppression, and Social Systems and Structure’, Intersectionality and Family Violence. Adapted from the Equality Institute 2017, and Our Watch 2017. Accessed 10 April 2022: https://www.vic.gov.au/victorian-family-violence-data-collection-framework/intersectionality-and-family-violence

[35] Judith Lewis Herman, Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence – From Domestic Abuse to Political Terror, New York: Basic Books (1992) 33.

[36] Frances Simmons and Grace Wong, ‘Learning from Lived Experience: Australia’s Legal Response to Forced Marriage’, UNSW Law Journal Vol. 44 (4) 1642.

[37] United Nations Treaty Series, Convention on the rights of the child (1989) pp. 3-178.

[38] Commonwealth of Australia, Australian Federal Police Annual Report 2020-21 (2021) 58.

[39] Interviewee 1.

[40] Interview with Australian Federal Police, 12 May 2022.

[41] Interviewee 2. 

[42] Interviewee 2.

[43] Interviewee 4.

[44] Laura Vidal, Developing Innovative and Best Practice Solutions to Address Forced Marriage in Australia, Monash University (2017).

[45] This research was conducted in accordance with the terms of institutional ethics approval from the University of Technology Sydney Human Research Ethics Committee. All participants provided their informed consent to the interviews. Participants kindly gave their permission to include their de-identified comments within this Guide.