Who Are the Traffickers?

A Belgian police official, quoted in one of the chapters in the DCAF report on police counter-trafficking challenges, described how traffickers operated in his country:

“In the past, the Albanians were the main pimps and traffickers of women for sexual exploitation in Belgium. They used violence frequently and their crimes had high social impact … [Therefore,] they quickly attracted international attention. The police focused extensively on the suspicious Albanians. Now, the offenders have learned from their mistakes. For various types of activities they make use of Belgian or Dutch women who look more innocent than the tough Albanians. The Albanian pimps and traffickers live in one city while the Dutch or Belgian “madams”—appointed by the traffickers to control the prostitutes—live in another. The Albanians come occasionally to check their business and to collect the money while the “madams” act as the main pimps. Since Albanians are involved in multi-crimes, they also use the same madams, or other women with EU passports as drug couriers. The women drive the cars and transport cocaine from Belgium and Netherlands to Italy. The police are less suspicious of blond Belgian girls than of Albanian men driving frequently to Italy.”

This brief narrative describes the business of human trafficking in today’s world.  The modern-day trafficker, according to the DCAF report, will most likely share many of these characteristics:

  • They are most often part of loosely-defined and structured groups who form alliances with other groups to manage human trafficking networks;
  • Often, the traffickers supplement their business with illicit drug deals and other crimes;
  • They work easily across national borders, often in plain sight of police and border guards;
  • They are nimble and adopt quickly to any actual or perceived actions by law enforcement that would threaten their business.

Trafficking, like slavery itself, is not a new phenomenon.  As a profit-generating (albeit morally repugnant) enterprise, human trafficking became a flourishing black market business in the 19th and early 20th centuries even as governments formally abolished slavery throughout most of the world.  What defines slavery today is that the per unit costs of the goods — human beings — has continued to decline.  Men, women and children have become inexpensive commodities, bought, sold and discarded like sneakers and plastic dinnerware.  Demand for labor — the cheaper the better — knows no national boundary or cultural limitation.  Profits can make trafficking quite lucrative, and with apparently rising demand and low risks, there’s no shortage of “entrepreneurs” looking to get into the business.

Today, networks of traffickers cover the globe in constantly changing, fluid arrangements.  Ever vigilant to capitalize on opportunities, helped along by strategic bribes of police and border guards and fraudulent travel documents, traffickers roam the world looking for vulnerable populations.  They were busy in the aftermath of the South Asian tsunami, sweeping up suddenly orphaned children and they are hard at work in Haiti today, according the UNICEF and other relief agencies. Human trafficking operators, captilizing on every opportunity, often augment their business with illicit drug trades and body organ trafficking.

Of course, not everyone engaged in trafficking is a member of a crime gang.  Trafficking also arises from extreme poverty and is seen, heartbreakingly, in families selling their children because they can’t afford to raise them. This is a source of ongoing supply for experienced traffickers, which explains why trafficking has increased in step with collapsing national economies.  Organized trafficking operators, often with police complicity, are known to prey on desperate parents by promising to arrange good paying jobs for their children or an opportunity to learn a trade or craft.  Untold thousands of vulnerable children have disappeared via the promise of a better life.

According to the DCAF report, the nations of Southeast Asia represent the major countries of origin of trafficking victims, while the major destination nations are — no surprise — the relatively prosperous countries of northern Europe, the UK and the U.S. and Canada.  While organized gangs (especially in Russia and eastern Europe) are a major criminal presence in trafficking, far more common are smaller, less formally structured groups that form syndicates specializing in particular kinds of slavery — sex, child labor, agricultural work. Trafficking expert John Picarelli (quoted in the DCAF report) says these networks follow three basic models:

“The first are small trafficking groups comprised mainly of a handful of entrepreneurial individuals. Second are cooperatives comprised of individuals, small groups and even criminal organisations that combine specialised skills to form larger trafficking syndicates. Last are situations where one large criminal organisation controls all aspects of a trafficking network.”

While some headway is being made in penetrating and breaking up trafficking cartels, the DCAF report says serious progress will only happen when law enforcement agencies begin working in concert, such as through sharing intelligence and offering best practice training. Despite some glimmers of progress,  Most national and local police appear locked in the mindset that trafficking is primarily a border control or immigration issue, best solved by catching and deporting individuals who either got into the country illegally, don’t have the proper ID, or who have been caught in a crime.  Looking beyond the situation of a violation (soliciting for sex, for example) to investigate who the people involved are and how they got into trouble is still the exception in police work, the DCAF report says.  And if police aren’t trained — or interested — in pursuing trafficking situations, there will be fewer prosecutions, which will increase pressure on law enforcement to shift focus and resources to crimes that are not as difficult to solve.  This cycle, the DCAF experts write, is difficult to break, and won’t likely happen until nations and governments — and their law enforcement agencies — decide that trafficking in humans is a top priority crime.

Next:  how police corruption compounds the trauma of human trafficking.

source: http://freedomcenter.org/freedom-forum/index.php/2010/02/data-human-trafficking/


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