Trafficking in Human Beings Research Paper

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Trafficking in human beings (THB) concerns the exploitation of vulnerable individuals for the purpose of financial profit. Victims of trafficking, women but also men and children, fall prey to different forms of exploitation, such as forced labor or services, slavery, servitude, or the removal of organs. However, the most frequently reported type of trafficking is the one that results in the exploitation of women in the sex industry. This contribution focuses particularly on this type of trafficking.

The concept of THB came into use in the early twentieth century in connection with white slavery, a term then referring to forced or fraudulent recruitment of women and girls for prostitution. Currently THB refers to a broader phenomenon that can be approached from different perspectives, for example, as a public order problem, a migration issue, a criminal justice issue, a violation of human rights, or a combination thereof.

Usually the trafficking process is distinguished in three phases: the recruitment of victims, their transportation, and the eventual exploitation. These phases are reflected in the most widely shared definition of THB, the definition in article 3 of the United Nations Protocol to prevent, suppress, and punish trafficking in persons, especially women and children:

Trafficking in persons shall mean the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labor or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.

This definition, although widely shared, has also been heavily criticized. It answered some of the difficult questions that were raised. It became, for example, clear that not only women and girls but also boys and even men can be trafficked and that THB is not restricted to the purpose of forced prostitution. However, because the definition in the protocol describes a process involving several actions and outcomes which themselves are not clearly defined, there is still dispute about what falls under its umbrella.

Furthermore, in practice, it is difficult to distinguish THB from the smuggling of persons. In fact, assisted illegal immigration may precede exploitation, as some smuggled illegal immigrants end up as victims of trafficking later on. Lured with bogus offers of employment, these migrants fate only becomes clear when they are gradually forced to do other work than they had agreed upon or under very different circumstances than expected. The most obvious difference between the two phenomena is that human smuggling primarily relates to illegal immigration and the violation of immigration laws, whereas human trafficking, which often but not necessarily involves border crossing, implies exploitation, and the violation of an individuals’ human rights.

Until the endorsement of the UN Trafficking Protocol, the response to THB was exclusively human rights based. Human rights law nowadays remains important to ensure the protection of the rights of victims of trafficking, but a different perspective was necessary in order to realize the current level of global attention and resources to combat contemporary exploitation (Gallagher 2010). Since the shift in perspective and the protocol, several regional treaties and treaty-like instruments on trafficking have been developed, dealing with issues like criminalization, international cooperation, and the protection of victims. In addition, 80 countries have implemented a comprehensive anti-trafficking act, 64 countries have provisions in their penal codes criminalizing all forms of trafficking, 22 have provisions criminalizing some forms of THB, and only 2 countries have no such laws. Furthermore, 58 countries have a National Plan of Action (NPA) to deal with THB, and 12 have NPAs that target human right violations related to THB (Protection Project 2012). Attention to the phenomenon of THB has grown significantly, and numerous activities to combat THB and deal with its victims have been implemented but little is known about which interventions are the most effective in preventing human trafficking, protecting victims, and prosecuting traffickers.

This contribution presents information about traffickers and their modus operandi, a description of some of the many policies and interventions dealing with THB. Furthermore, limitations of the amply available research on this topic are discussed, followed by the findings of a systematic review that underline these limitations, and a conclusion.

Traffickers And Their Modus Operandi

Individual Characteristics Of Perpetrators

Information about the background of individual traffickers is mainly based on national statistics concerning those who have been prosecuted and convicted. Most are males in their mid-20s or mid-30s, but women, who are traditionally regarded as victims, are also involved in recruitment, organizing the trafficking process, and controlling victims. The percentage of women involved differs per nationality of convicted perpetrators. Some perpetrators recruit or exploit fellow countrymen. Already present migrant networks can help newcomers with their start in the new country, by assisting in finding shelter or work, but newcomers also are an easy prey for malicious fellow countrymen.

Trafficking And Organized Crime

Trafficking is often described as a crime perpetrated by ruthless criminal networks, and the above-mentioned “trafficking protocol” supplements the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (2000). Article 2a of this Convention defines an organized crime group as a structured group of three or more persons existing for a period of time and acting in concert with the aim of committing one or more serious crimes or offences established in accordance with this Covention, in order to obtain, directly or indirectly, a financial or other material benefit. A “structured group” is a group that is not randomly formed for the immediate commission of an offense and that does not need to have formally defined roles for its members, continuity of its membership or a developed structure (article 2c).

According to the US trafficking in persons (TIP) report 2012, organized crime and complex networks indeed contribute significantly to the trafficking of persons. The TIP report is a yearly comprehensive report by the US Department of State on efforts made by governments worldwide to combat THB.

Human trafficking networks are likely to be organized in small groups, which operate both independently and in cooperation with other crime groups. The interaction between groups is often connected to the provision of specific services such as the recruitment of victims in particular countries or areas or their transport to locations where (forced) prostitution takes place. Among other roles individuals take on are those of investors, debt collectors, and money launderers.

However, not only organized crime groups commit THB. It is known, for example, that within the European Union, the removal and relaxation of internal border controls provided opportunities for individual criminals and less sophisticated, smaller, or mid-level groups to operate across borders, and there are also individual perpetrators enriching themselves by exploiting other humans. The actual share of organized crime in THB worldwide is unknown.

In her study on THB in the Netherlands, Van Dijk (2002) distinguished three main forms of criminal cooperation: solo-offenders, self-supporting criminal groups, and criminal macro-networks. Solo-offenders force one or more individuals into prostitution. Self-supporting criminal groups control all phases in the trafficking process, from recruitment to prostitution. They do not have established contacts with other offenders or criminal groups involved in human trafficking. The main suspects are often in charge of brothels or sex clubs, relying on personal contacts to recruit and transport victims. Criminal macro-networks include solo-offenders as well as criminal groups, clustered by geographical proximity, family ties, friendships, commercial circuits, or similarity in criminal activities. The characteristics of organized trafficking groups are related to the perpetrators’ nationality/ethnicity and the region in which they operate.

Shelley characterized organized trafficking groups in five different ideal typical “business models,” linked to specific geographical areas and modus operandi. These are (1) the post-Soviet national resource model (women recruited in source countries are trafficked for prostitution), (2) the Chinese and Chinese-Tai trade and development model (smuggling and trafficking men for labor exploitation and to a lesser extent women for prostitution), (3) the US-Mexican trade supermarket model (smuggling large numbers of men and women, the women trafficked for forced prostitution), (4) the Balkanese violent entrepreneur model (women trafficked for prostitution by middlemen are controlled from bases in the Balkan), and (5) the traditional slavery with modern technology model (trafficking young women out of Nigeria and West Africa for prostitution, forcing compliance by using contracts and voodoo practices) (Aronowitz 2009).

Even THB cases in which organized crime and foreign criminal groups are involved often have a local component, sometimes referred to as “glocalization.” Criminals have to trust each other in order to be able to do business. Friends, relatives, or others with whom they have had good experiences are eligible as “partners in crime.”

The Recruitment Of Victims

Traffickers recruit their victims mostly in deprived, disadvantaged, or poorly integrated sectors of society, offering them employment abroad. Unemployment and low earnings are among the strongest push factors for victims. The Internet provides anonymous opportunities to recruit victims. Most migrate willingly, and many are aware of the fact that they will work in prostitution. Other victims have been promised jobs in the entertainment industry or as, for example, nannies or domestic servants. Outright abduction or selling into prostitution is rather the exception than the rule (Andrees 2008). This can also be concluded from data in the International Organization for Migration (IOM) Counter Trafficking Database. In 9.646 cases (who received assistance from 1999 to 2006), 60 % had been recruited via personal contacts (in 25 % of these cases by friends, relatives, or partners), and only nine victims had been kidnapped.

An often used recruitment strategy is the so-called lover-boy method: after manipulating victims by faking love, they are gradually coerced or threatened into prostitution. Not all recruitments of foreign victims take place in countries of origin. Some victims are recruited in the country of destination, after having arrived there as undocumented migrants. They are vulnerable to exploitation, as they risk alien detention and expulsion.

Means Of Control

Once the exploitation has started, and victims are working in street prostitution, behind windows, in clubs, private homes, massage parlors, or as escorts, they have to be persuaded to keep “delivering.” The principle means of control are debt bondage, dislocation, and mobility (rotation of victims between different locations, sometimes across borders), as well as close monitoring, intimidation, and violence. Recently, however, perpetrators have started to use more subtle methods of control and share a small part of the profits with the victims, thus discouraging them from complaining to the authorities and making it more difficult to prove coercion. In cross-border trafficking, fuelling the victims’ fear of local authorities and the prospect of expulsion is a common control method.

Some Policies And Interventions In The Fight Against THB

Many different policies and interventions have been implemented to deal with THB. These partly depend on the perspectives with which THB is approached. Most are not specifically or not exclusively aimed at trafficking by organized crime groups.

Policies Dealing With Prostitution And The Sex Industry

Policies against human trafficking for sexual exploitation are often directly linked to policies dealing with prostitution and the sex industry. Among these are interventions to address the demand for commercial sexual services, including a variety of campaigns and educational programs to change men’s attitude and behavior towards buying sexual services, and so-called John Schools to educate buyers in order to prevent them from soliciting again. Shaming tactics, such as making the names of the males involved public, are also mentioned. According to this report, most men believe that criminal penalties would have a deterrent effect only if they believed they were at risk of being caught. However, in most countries this risk is rather minimal.

In many countries, prostitution is tolerated to some extent, though different forms of prostitution and exploitation are regulated or combated in different ways. In Sweden, however, prostitution is regarded as a form of violence, committed by men against women. In 1999, the purchase of sexual services became punishable by law, while the sale of such services was decriminalized. Since then street prostitution has been halved, while at the same time, it increased in Denmark and Norway. Internet prostitution increased in all three Scandinavian countries but on a larger scale in the neighboring countries, while the proportion of Swedish men reporting that they have purchased sexual services has decreased. However, some of these conclusions are based on estimates, and the effects of the law on trafficking, which is not the same as prostitution, remain unclear.

The Dutch authorities took a different approach. In 2000, after a policy of tolerance for many years, the general ban on brothels was lifted. Under certain conditions, making money out of voluntary prostitution by adult prostitutes was no longer prohibited, and brothels were legal if they complied with certain licensing conditions. The intention was to simultaneously act forcefully on prostitution of minors and illegal aliens, as well as involuntary prostitution. An extensive evaluation showed that this approach of location-bound prostitution produced some positive effects: business owners tend to comply with licensing conditions and the number of prostitutes without legal documents decreased. However, the position of prostitutes did not improve much, and pimps are still a common phenomenon. Furthermore, law enforcement investigations show that human trafficking still thrived behind the legal fac¸ade of regularization. The main reason is that the policy focused on business owners, whereas the exploitation of women is more often carried out by pimps.

In Finland, yet another position was taken: the law prohibits the buying of sex from a trafficking victim or from a subject of procurement. But will a client be able to know who is a victim, or who is being procured? And if so, will he act upon it? Some clients are willing to report on involuntary prostitution but most men who buy sex are aware of trafficking and exploitation, but this does not affect their behavior. A quarter of 103 London men who buy sex in the UK report having encountered a woman in the sex industry whom they believe was forced, but only five reported this to the police (Farley et al. 2009).

Policies Against Illegal Migration

Another way to combat human trafficking is to treat it as a form of illegal migration and increase border controls in destination and transit countries. Examples are exercising due diligence in regulating entry of foreigners, in order to identify individuals at risk, checking transit documents, and providing protection to suspected victims of trafficking in transit. However, this is easier said than done as much THB for sexual exploitation takes place over short distances within countries, and if borders are crossed, this frequently involves future victims who bear legal travel documents.

Cooperation In The Investigation And Prosecution Of Traffickers

Next to national policies regarding the attitude towards the sex industry and border protection, there are policies directed at the investigation of trafficking cases and the conviction of perpetrators. Cooperation is an important characteristic of this type of policies. It concerns cooperation between different actors within regions and municipalities as well as cross borders. In the Netherlands, for example, several investigative bodies cooperate with local authorities, victim assistance, and health care in a combined criminal and administrative approach, which also contains preventive measures. In order to gather enough evidence in cases in which victims do not cooperate in the investigation and in which it is difficult to conclude a case because it is one’s word (the victim’s) against another’s (the suspect’s), the Dutch police developed a proactive investigation technique. The method implies the piling of all established facts, from testimonies and telephone tapping to observed injuries in order to establish a body of evidence without using victim statements.

The fight against cross-border trafficking cases that involve foreign suspects requires cooperation with criminal investigators in other countries. Such cooperation takes place ad hoc as well as in the form of well-planned actions, in Europe called Joint Investigation Teams (JITs). The work in such teams is not always easy because of differences among countries in laws, jurisdiction, and priorities. Eurojust can help in solving jurisdiction problems that occur in the cooperation in the fight against cross-border criminality, among which trafficking cases.

Awareness Raising Campaigns, Training Material, Manuals, And Toolkits

Finally, the many campaigns and materials that have been developed for the various target groups who may fall prey to traffickers as well as for those who may come across victims of trafficking are worth mentioning. Among these are awareness raising campaigns to warn potential victims and manuals for professionals. Awareness raising campaigns include radio and television advertisements, educational school programs, and posters at airports informing incoming passengers of hotline numbers they could call should they become victims of THB. To strengthen the law enforcement response to THB, training materials or modules have been developed. The UN, for example, developed an “anti-human-trafficking manual for criminal justice practitioners,” and organizations like the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the International Trade Unions Confederation have developed training material about the way to handle indications of trafficking for Labor Inspectorates, unions, and employees (see, e.g., the manuals on the ILO site and the UNODC online “Toolkit to combat trafficking in persons”). Whenever a victim has been identified, protection and assistance have to be offered. Several of the above-mentioned manuals and toolkits offer handles in this matter.

Limitations In Research On THB

Scarcity Of Data

Because of the definition problems mentioned in the introduction, the criminal nature of THB, and the fact that victims rarely come forward with what has happened to them, accurate data on THB are scarce. Most often victims are discovered during police investigations of some sort of criminal activity, for example, during raids on locations where prostitution takes place.

Victims refrain from reporting to the police, some even after having been discovered, because they do not consider themselves victims but migrants whose journey went wrong, because they are embarrassed, they fear expulsion, or because they either fear their perpetrator or are emotionally attached to him. Notwithstanding the lack of accurate data, many figures are presented to map the scale of the phenomenon. Goodey (2008) describes how “guesstimates” are used for that purpose. Between the estimates, for which the computing methodology is rarely provided, and the number of identified victims exist huge differences.

Much has been written about initiatives to deal with trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation, but knowledge on “what works” is particularly limited. Although thorough evaluation is important, as evaluative knowledge on trafficking can be used to develop adequate prevention techniques or policies, this is scarce. The United States Government Accountability Office (GAO), for example, reviewed documents of 23 US government-funded anti-trafficking projects in Indonesia, Thailand, and Mexico. It revealed that 21 of the 23 projects included one or more monitoring elements, but only ten stated how performance was measured. The majority lacked a logic framework of monitoring that linked activities to goals, indicators, and targets (GAO 2007).

Limited Scope Of And Methodological Fallacies In Trafficking Research

Most publications on THB are primarily descriptive, for example, describing the hardship of or social assistance to victims. Others mainly aim at collecting numbers to define the scale of the phenomenon. Few, if any, interventions are accompanied by evaluation research to assess their impact and cost-effectiveness and not much systematic data collections exist. There has been relatively little independent research – research carried out by others than the ones who developed or delivered the counter trafficking initiative – to evaluate and assess the effectiveness of counter trafficking policies, programs, and interventions. This can be problematic since organizations evaluating their own initiative may have explicit or implicit political or practical agendas that influence their conclusions, for instance, by selecting or disposing of certain information.

Another frequently encountered restriction in the research on THB is the lack of large samples. This is often due to the limited access to victims and perpetrators. Using a variety of methods on small samples can produce illuminating results but often preference is given to a single method such as either interviews or questionnaires. Furthermore, much of what is known comes from just one source, such as governmental statistics, data that reflect the legal framework and enforcement strategies in a country rather than the actual scope of the problem, or victims who have been or are being assisted. As a result, (reliable) knowledge on effectiveness of interventions in this area is scarce. In the meanwhile, anti-THB interventions can cause collateral damage, for example, by putting restrictions on women’s migration or travel.

The Need To Know More

Because of the severity of the crime, the impact on its victims – some are severely traumatized by what they went through – and the possible collateral damage of anti-THB measures, it is important to gain more insight into the working and effectiveness of anti-trafficking strategies and interventions. This was the reason to undertake a review to assess the presently available evidence on the effects of interventions that aim to prevent and suppress this type of crime (Van der Laan et al. 2010).

A Systematic Review

Objectives Of The Review, Research Questions, And Method

The review aimed at contributing to a more evidence-based approach in the prevention and suppression of cross-border THB for the purpose of sexual exploitation. The questions to be answered were as follows: Which anti-THB strategies were evaluated ina way that is rigorous enough to determine their effect, and what are the outcomes of these (quasi-)experimental studies? Only studies focusing on cross-border trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation were reviewed. The focus was on cross-border trafficking because internal trafficking was not (yet) or just recently recognized in many countries. Furthermore, the review was limited to trafficking for prostitution or sexual exploitation, in any form there is. Trafficking for forced labor or services, slavery, servitude, or the removal of organs was kept out of consideration.

All eligible evaluation studies in the abovementioned field were categorized according to the Maryland Scientific Methods Scale (SMS), in order to assess the strength of the evidence (Sherman et al. 2002). The studies dealt with initiatives targeting individual perpetrators and criminal groups as well as vulnerable individuals and professionals in the field of anti-THB. Studies exclusively regarding victim assistance, the reintegration of victims, or arrangements for their legal status were excluded. Eligible studies in nine European languages, either published or unpublished, from the year 2000 up to the end of June 2009 were reviewed. For the broad search strategy, including the databases that have been searched and the key words used, see

Main Results

The search resulted in 144 potentially eligible studies. These concerned interventions of a primarily preventive nature, suppressive interventions (mostly regarding legislation and prosecution) or were of a combined preventive/ suppressive nature. In 48 studies no specific initiative was described. Most studies were in the field of sexual exploitation or concerned more than one type of exploitation. The target group varied and consisted of both adults and children, focusing on women and children, but studies on programs that were especially developed for minors were found as well. After a more extensive examination, not one study was found to be applicable to be included in the review since they could not be qualified as (quasi)-experimental study.

Four studies qualified in most respects (they concerned interventions developed for prevention or suppression of cross-border THB for the purpose of sexual exploitation), except for using pre-and post-measures and a control group (corresponding with level 1 or 2 on the SMS). In the following these studies will be described briefly in order to give an idea of the kind of interventions being evaluated and the limitations in the evaluation designs used.

A Closer Look At Four Studies

The first study (Association for Emancipation, Solidarity and Equality of Women 2006) concerned a qualitative evaluation of the economic and social stabilization program for potential victims of trafficking in the border regions of Former Yugoslavic Republic Macedonia. The main goal of this program was empowering these potential victims – vulnerable groups, especially women – by providing employment opportunities through skills training. Basic business training courses were organized aiming to develop knowledge on how to start and manage a small business and how to generate income. The study assessed the impact of the project on the beneficiaries, their families, and local stakeholders as far as socioeconomic position, quality of life, and vulnerability towards human trafficking are concerned. The study consisted of a posttest measure only (using questionnaires and interviews), there was no control or comparison group involved, and no empirical outcomes were reported.

The second study (Balanon and Barrameda 2007) evaluated the impact of the Young Men’s Camp in the Philippines, an intervention addressing the demand for sexual services. Its goal was to change the sexual attitudes and practices of boys and young men. The study contained pre-and posttests to assess changes in their knowledge and perceptions. Next to these assessments, there were follow-up activities, consisting of 1-day fora and workshops. It remained unknown whether the intervention focused only on cross-border trafficking.

The third study (Centre for Research on Environment Health and Population Activities 2004) included an evaluation of an awareness raising program in rural Nepal. The primary target group of the program was adolescent girls, and their peers, parents, and the community were the secondary focus group. This intervention educated the girls and aimed to prevent them from becoming victims of trafficking. The effects of the program were measured using interviews and surveys. The study contained a pre-and posttest measure without a comparison or control group. Outcome measures were the increase of awareness and knowledge on trafficking.

The fourth study (Hashash 2007) evaluated an Israelian prevention program aiming at raising awareness among the wider public and creating attitudinal and institutional change among decision makers and law enforcement personnel. Education on trafficking was achieved by distributing information, providing training, publicizing reports, using media advocacy, and giving lectures. The program intended to influence public policy and opinion. The researchers conducted a pre-and posttest using interviews and questionnaires. No control or comparison group was used.

Even though these studies were better designed compared to most of the studies in this field, they do not allow for firm conclusions regarding the effectiveness of the interventions concerned.

Conclusion And Discussion

Trafficking in human beings is a crime conducted by individuals as well as by smaller and larger organized crime groups. They recruit vulnerable victims – women, men, and children – mostly in deprived regions or sectors of society, in order to exploit them in the sex industry or in other economic areas. The perpetrators use different and more or less violent means of control, ranging from close monitoring and threats to outright violence.

The attention to THB has risen during the last two decades.

Most countries now have laws in place making trafficking punishable and protecting its victims. Many have National Action Plans to combat THB, and numerous policies and interventions to deal with THB have been developed. Depending on the perspective from which THB is approached, these policies and interventions range from addressing the demand for commercial sexual services, border protection, or improving the investigation of trafficking cases and the prosecution of its perpetrators. In addition, there are the awareness raising campaigns and manuals, toolkits, and training materials that have been developed for potential victims and for parties who may come across them.

For various reasons there is not much reliable data about THB. Still, some progress has been made. An increasing number of countries have trafficking data available, also thanks to the pressure to provide national trafficking data, for example, by the US government for its yearly TIP report. In addition, there have been several initiatives to collect data across countries in a uniform way, and guidelines for the collection of data have been published.

Still lacking is evaluation research on anti-trafficking initiatives that is methodologically rigorous enough to be able to reach substantive conclusions about the effectiveness of the present anti-trafficking initiatives. Many go without pretest measures and/or a control group. Improvements in research design are seriously needed. This does not have to be that difficult since individuals who do not participate in an intervention or who are on a waiting list can, for example, be treated as control group. Researchers, funding institutions, and policy makers should demand higher methodological standards of evaluation studies in order to gain knowledge on outcomes. This would enable them to better succeed in preventing and suppressing trafficking in human beings for the purpose of sexual exploitation. Partnerships can be sought in the area of politics and funding agencies.

Debates about the approach of THB, especially where it concerns THB for sexual exploitation, are currently often heated and clouded by generalizations and myths. Better research might also help to make these debates more evidence-based and more fruitful.


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