As Europe marks anti-trafficking day, how is this most modern of crimes being tackled.
Human trafficking is a serious 21st Century issue. Termed ‘modern day slavery’ by EU commissioner Cecilia Malmström, in terms of illegal trade, it is second only to drug trafficking, pulling in an estimated US$ 31.6 billion a year.
The simplest tool to fight this crime is raising awareness. This is the role of anti-trafficking day which took place on the 18th of October for the fifth year running. Led by Myria Vassiliadou, the EU anti-trafficking coordinator, a conference was held in Warsaw to discuss the issue. The EU announced their aim of a pan European approach to trafficking as anti-trafficking laws have developed pragmatically and varied from country to country. In the year 2000 only eight European countries had such a criminal offence, now over 40 do.
Yet awareness of the diversity of the crime is low. Many people associate trafficking with women and young girls from Eastern Europe who have been promised a better life. Once they arrive they find they have an inflated ‘bondage debt’ to pay to the traffickers and are forced into prostitution or pornography to pay for their transport and accommodation. Indeed, it is estimated 80% of victims are women. Yet there is less awareness of vulnerable men who are forced into hard labour and the EU’s encouragement of a ‘gendered approach’ to fighting the crime may prove a disadvantage for these victims. Children are also trafficked for their organs or international adoption. There is also a lack of awareness of domestic trafficking. For example, there is a startling trend in the Netherlands where girls are coerced into prostitution by their older boyfriends. Victims don’t need to be moved across borders and these victims will fall through the net of the EU’s cross-border focused tactics.
Yet Europe has recognised the severity of the problem and in April 2011 adopted DIRECTIVE 2011/36/EU which called for a holistic, cohesive approach through raising awareness, investigating suspects through shared information and protecting victims once discovered.
In an attempt to raise awareness of the issue the definition of the offence has broadened to include illegal adoption or forced marriages and trafficking for the removal of organs and using victims for begging. The directive also widens liability to include those instigating, aiding, abetting or attempting to commit the offence. This aims to raise the number of prosecutions of traffickers.
EU institutions such as Europol (Europe’s Law Enforcement Agency) and FRONTEX (border security) will work with member states and global actors to share information about suspects. Schengen can be harnessed as a tool here. Although it is simple to attribute the ease of human trafficking to Schengen’s free borders, it must be remembered that Schengen is also a shared database of information about criminals and cross border activity.
A cohesive policy is important to ensure that the crime is treated severely everywhere and victims are treated and supported wherever they end up. The next big test for the continent may be the approaching London 2012 Olympics which is predicted to bring a large influx of trafficked victims. Demand for the services of prostitutes and cheap labour increases at big sports events. At the Athens Olympic Games in 2004, where prevention efforts were poor, the number of known human trafficking victims almost doubled. In anticipation of these events Europol should investigate suspects and make arrests before it’s too late for victims. Europol proved that, when used effectively, it can be a strong force such as its success in uncovering the world’s largest paedophile ring in March 2011.
To inform the public and consolidate information the EU has created a useful website which has EU wide trafficking statistics and policies as well as more information about the day.