The Current Situation

Europe is a key destination for victims of human trafficking, with victims imported from all over the globe.

Sexual Exploitation

Trafficking for sexual exploitation is the most common form of trafficking. Victims are moved in and around the EU, both across borders and internally, and are exploited in all environments. The active rotation of women forced into prostitution is aimed not only at maximising the profit by supplying new ‘faces’ to clients and by exploring new markets, but also at avoiding victims establishing relationships and, consequently, avoiding law enforcement detection.

A key development has been a move away from the use of the traditional red light districts in built-up urban areas to semi urban and rural areas. The use of private accommodation for purchased sex activities is another trend which makes it more difficult for law enforcement to detect trafficking related offences.

Recent investigations confirm that the proportion of female offenders involved in trafficking for sexual exploitation is increasing. Although normally involved in the recruitment process and likely to be former victims of trafficking, there are more and more examples of women controlling victims and organising the business operation. This modus operandi is especially relevant in respect of Nigerian sponsored trafficking where the role of a ‘madam’ or female supervisor is integral.

EU national victims of trafficking victims are recruited with false promises of free housing and well paid jobs or groomed abroad with the method of “lover boy”, with promise of a better life and marriage. Many of the victims are minors. The criminal groups operate within family networks and/or ethnic communities. They use contacts of these networks to recruit women from the same background for brothels or street prostitution. They usually have widespread contacts in Europe and the victims are exploited in more then one country. The victims can be transported from the origin country directly to the country of destination using low cost airlines, with tickets purchased by the traffickers or transported on land routes through several transit countries. Once in the country of destination the victims are provided with accommodation and transportation to the work place where they have to engage in prostitution. The victims are offered “protection” while practicing prostitution in brothels, bars, private flats or on the street and they are closely monitored by the members of the OCG.

Labour Exploitation

Labour exploitation in the EU is not a recent development. However, because it is largely a hidden crime which has traditionally not been a priority for law enforcement action, in general terms it has remained undetected. There has always been labour exploitation to some extent within the EU and this can be directly associated with the illegal labour market that exists in every MS. In many EU countries there will be significant links to and within established migrant communities; illegal migrants in particular are vulnerable to exploitation, due to their unlawful status.

Since the most recent expansions of the EU and the lifting of restrictions on employment in many MS, instances of situations which amount to forced labour3 have increased. The traffickers involved specifically seek to target their own nationals for exploitation and recent cases have highlighted the involvement of not only Poles, Lithuanians, Romanians and Bulgarians but also Portuguese and British nationals in trafficking their countrymen.

Typical examples of the industries and areas where victims of trafficking for labour exploitation will be found are:

  • Agricultural/farming sector;
  • Construction industry;
  • Service sector/HORECA4;
  • Manufacturing sector;
  • Domestic service.

Cases of trafficking for forced labour are difficult to identify, in part because exploited workers are often reluctant to identify themselves as victims, preferring to work in poor conditions rather than return to their home countries, and because there is a lack of definition at EU level of the degree of exploitation serious enough to constitute a crime. Factor in a lack of awareness and the act of making the distinction between an employment dispute and a case of trafficking can result in a form of serious crime being dealt with as a local labour issue with possible negative consequences for the migrant/illegal worker.

Child Exploitation 

An increasing number of children are being trafficked throughout the EU. Current reporting indicates that social security, welfare and benefits systems are being targeted by traffickers using trafficked children to support and justify claims linked to family and housing benefits. This is in addition to the commission of street crime offences and the involvement of trafficked children in the production, manufacture and supply of controlled drugs. These are all instances of forced labour which are orchestrated by organised crime groups. These activities generate massive profits and very often the victim’s parents or other members of the family network are complicit in the trafficking of the child.

For organised trafficking groups, moving children across controlled borders is a straightforward activity. In many cases the victims often travel on genuine passports of non related adults. Where photographs of the children are included in the passport, due to the resemblance that young children have to each other, many non related children are not identified. Within the Schengen Travel Area, where routine and systematic border control no longer exists, it is almost impossible to identify a trafficked person, child or otherwise, in transit. 

Due to the ease with which minors can be moved across the EU, they are often sent from one country to another to exploit weaknesses in the systems or laws of other countries. This is also relevant when the child comes to the notice of competent authorities. The child will be immediately relocated and used in the new country or city to continue the revenue-making exercise and to reduce the risk to the traffickers.

3 The term “forced labour” is used in the Palermo Protocol as part of the definition of trafficking in relation to labour exploitation.
4 Business term referring to food service industry HOtel/REstaurant/CAfeteria

~ Excerpt from Trafficking in Human Beings in the European Union (Europol, 2011)