BRUSSELS, Belgium—The first type of exploitation that comes to mind when most individuals think of human trafficking or modern day slavery is sex trafficking or forced labor. However, there are lesser-known types of human trafficking which are just as prevalent if not more prevalent in certain region of the world than the commonly recognized types of trafficking. Trafficking for forced criminal activity is the second most prevalent type of human trafficking in the United Kingdom and might possibly be the second most prevalent form of human trafficking in Europe. Human trafficking for sexual exploitation is the first most prevalent type.
Anti-Slavery International in cooperation with the RACE in Europe Project recently released a report detailing a two-year study conducted by the organizations concerning human trafficking for forced criminal exploitation in Europe. The report is titled, “Trafficking for Forced Criminal Activities and Begging in Europe.” It follows a smaller study conducted by both organizations focused on this type of human trafficking in the UK.
Trafficking for forced criminal activities refers to individuals that are forced by criminal networks to commit crimes. Forced criminal activities include, cannabis cultivation, cooking crystal meth, ATM theft, benefit fraud, drug smuggling and dealing, producing counterfeit DVDs and cigarettes, pickpocketing, and engaging fraud marriages and illegal adoption operations. Children are also often recruited and forced to beg on the streets.
The report conducted studies in several European countries such as the UK, Ireland and the Netherlands. In the UK the report found that of the 2,255 trafficking victims identified during the study, about 16 percent of them were forced to commit crimes. The majority of victims of forced criminality also came from countries outside of Europe such as Vietnam. Children are also disproportionately affected than adults. Approximately 96 percent of the victims identified in the UK came from Vietnam and 81 percent of victims were under the age of 18.
In Ireland, the study reported that the majority of victims were convicted by authorities for cannabis cultivation. Victims were also primarily Asian immigrants from either Vietnam or China. Due to a lack of awareness of forced criminal exploitation approximately 75 percent of those being sent to prison for cannabis cultivation in Ireland were victims of human trafficking. Children of Roma dissent were also more likely to fall prey to trafficking for forced criminal exploitation in Europe due to European society’s general maltreatment of the social group.
Victims of forced criminal exploitation are often at greater risk than victims of more well-known types of trafficking due to a lack of understanding and awareness of this type of trafficking. Victims are often much harder to identify and are frequently mistaken for criminals rather than victims of trafficking operations. Law enforcement officials in Europe are generally unaware of this type of trafficking and lack the knowledge to distinguish between victims and the actual criminals behind the operation.
Another problem is the fact that victims are often prosecuted for the crimes they were forced to commit rather than the masterminds behind the criminal operations. Those behind the operations are then often allowed to continue operating and avoid law enforcement agencies. Anti-Slavery International emphasizes that in order to most effectively tackle this issue, law enforcement agencies and policy-makers must “look for the crime behind the crime to uncover the real criminals.”
As a result of a lack of action to address forced criminal exploitation, criminal networks have been able to adapt their operations in order to more effectively hide and avoid being held accountable to the law. The report documents cases where criminal networks have even diversified their activities because they have been so successful at hiding their operations and using trafficked victims as scapegoats. One such example involves criminal organizations that utilize forced labor to operate both cannabis farms and methamphetamine production sites. When these operations are discovered the only people that police find are those forced to work the sites rather than the criminals that set them up in the first place.
Therefore, RACE in Europe and Anti-Slavery International hope to accomplish three main goals through the distribution of their report. First, they hope to raise greater awareness of human trafficking for forced criminal exploitation across all sectors of society. Second, they wish to provide information on how to train law enforcement to combat this issue. Last, they seek to build partnerships across the EU through which countries can share best practices for conducting investigations into forced criminal activities and support victims.
In recognition of these issues the EU Commission has issued a new directive regarding this type of trafficking. The new directive mandates that “Exploitation shall include, as a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labor or services, including begging, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude, or the exploitation of criminal activities.”
The EU Commission hopes that all member States will incorporate the Directive’s definition of trafficking into their national policies on human trafficking. Doing so the EU argues will allow law enforcement agencies and policy-makers to more effectively address this issue.
– Erin Sullivan