Trafficking in human beings (THB) is a global problem and a thriving criminal industry that affects the lives of millions of children, women and men around the world who are trapped in a type of modern day slavery.
Today, Europol supports the first World Day against Trafficking in Persons, when the United Nations calls for the raising of awareness of the situation of victims of human trafficking and for an improved coordination of efforts to bring down the organised criminal groups involved.
Human trafficking is defined as the act of recruiting, transporting, transferring, harbouring or receiving a person through the use of force, fraud, deception or other means with the aim of exploiting them. It is not to be confused with illegal immigration or people smuggling, where facilitators help people to illegally enter, cross or reside in a country.
While the best-known form of human trafficking is for the purpose of sexual exploitation, many victims are trafficked for the purposes of forced labour, domestic servitude and more. A major problem in the EU are the growing number of cases involving trafficked adults and children who are forced into committing crimes like burglary and property crime, fraud and swindling, pick-pocketing, shoplifting, metal theft and street begging. Child trafficking is a particularly sensitive crime since it impacts the most vulnerable in society and these children can also endure sexual and labour exploitation. Homeless and orphaned children, or those from violent and abusive families, are at most risk of being trafficked.
The Internet is increasingly used to facilitate the trafficking process, to recruit victims and to advertise the services that the victims will be forced into providing. Criminal groups are reported to exploit young boys in this way on the sex market, offering the victim’s services through the Internet.
The majority of victims reported to Europol are European Union citizens that have been trafficked and exploited within the EU. They can fall into the hands of traffickers both in their own countries and abroad. 61% of the victims reported to Europol are women, 26% men and 13% are children.
Europol regularly supports EU law enforcement investigations to take down such criminal groups involved in THB and has seen a constant rise in these cases. This reflects not only an increased awareness of human trafficking, which translates into an increased number of cases, detected and victims identified, but also more extensive use of Europol support services to develop these cases at European level. In 2013, 2542 ongoing THB cases were referred to Europol for their support.
Greater freedom of movement and travel, low cost international transport and global communication links, combined with previously unavailable opportunities to work overseas and low self-confidence, are all contributory factors in the recruitment by traffickers of persons who would not normally be thought of as vulnerable. A common factor with many victims is that they are deceived by the criminal traffickers, usually via the promise of education, employment, good working conditions, a salary that does not exist - in general terms a better quality of life. Trafficked victims inevitably end up suffering sustained psychological and physical abuse from the start and can experience trauma long after they have been removed from the exploitative conditions.
The global forces of technology, increased human mobility and growing interconnections in the world economy, have brought many benefits to society but also carry a dark side that have caused dislocations in society and inspired new shifts in criminal activity, including human trafficking.
“Human trafficking is not only a grotesque violation of human rights, it is a lucrative crime for the traffickers,” says Rob Wainwright, Director of Europol. “We as law enforcement must better understand the nature of the crime that we are trying to confront – for example, labour exploitation and child trafficking are often undetected due to the lack of a proactive approach to look behind legal and other illegal activities.” He adds: “By working together, leveraging our power and increasing the operational priority given to investigating human trafficking, the police community and civil society can succeed in eradicating modern slavery.”
Europol continues to provide expertise and support to this priority crime area for the EU, and offers a range of operational capabilities to law enforcement authorities to help with their cross-border THB investigations.
Information and intelligence exchange between investigators operating in different countries is a key element in the fight against trafficking networks operating on transnational level. Europol can provide investigators with a secure platform for exchanging this information. However, Europol can provide a service that goes far beyond simple information exchange. Sophisticated intelligence analysis services can see single THB investigations developing beyond borders, to ultimately identify larger and interconnected trafficking networks. These services can also be deployed on the spot, where investigators can benefit from the full range of Europol operational capabilities on their territory.
Link to some of Europol’s recent work in combating trafficking in human beings (THB): https://www.europol.europa.eu/search/apachesolr_search/human%20trafficking