Profiling human traffickers
For a universally condemned crime, not much is known about individuals involved in human trafficking. That said, available information shows that traffickers often do not fit common perceptions. They come from different social backgrounds, are of different nationalities and age, and can be women as much as men.
"We have to remember that some of the reasons for becoming a human trafficker, or a victim, might be very much the same", notifies Kristiina Kangaspunta, Chief of the Anti-Human Trafficking Unit in UNODC. "Poverty, inequality and unemployment impact on both traffickers and victims".
From recruitment to exploitation, many actors come into contact with trafficked victims. A common belief is that traffickers are predominantly men. In fact, "many criminal groups include women traffickers either at the recruitment, transportation, or even exploitation stage", informs Kangaspunta. Women are often involved in the recruitment of victims where gender and age contribute to quickly establishing trust with vulnerable persons.
Traffickers are also not always adults. People of different ages are involved; although recruiters are often older than those they recruit. They can more easily manipulate and ultimately recruit a younger person. On the other hand many children are forcibly recruited as child soldiers by other children. Either way, recruiters are extremely skilled at gaining the trust of victims and are often selected because of their appeal to potential victims.
Some traffickers are former victims themselves. Motivations include fear of violence by the exploiter or an improvement in circumstances. The victim is 'promoted' within the trafficking enterprise and is given responsibility to control other victims. In some instances, victims become involved in trafficking to pay off debts with their exploiter. Once they have done so, they continue with the illegal activity to make money.
Given that almost every country is either an origin, transit or destination country, traffickers are of any nationality. Recruitment of victims is significantly easier where the recruiter speaks the same language or comes from the same culture. Many organised criminal groups in diaspora communities have been shown to maintain strong ethnic links with their countries of origin, and to exploit these to their advantage.
Trafficking is conducted through informal low-level groups, as much as highly organised international networks. In some situations, whole families collaborate in the crime. Such arrangements can exist across borders. Even more horrifying, the exploitation of family members and acquaintances is not uncommon in some countries.
In terms of international networks, not much is known about the way they operate. "There are indications that groups involved in trafficking are very often also involved in smuggling of migrants as transportation methods are the same", informs Kangaspunta. "Specifically in areas where the drug trade is active, people are exploited for both trafficking and drug smuggling."
How traffickers became involved in this crime or who they are outside of being traffickers remains unclear. It is however known that their motive is always financial. Some want to grow rich while others are struggling to make a living. Recruiters often come from the same disadvantaged social and economic background as those they recruit.
While some traffickers have criminal histories, not all do. In fact, many involved in the different stages of trafficking are professionals who use their trade to support their criminal activity. Some studies show that before becoming traffickers, most individuals had a strong link to the industry into which they ultimately supplied victims.
Despite international efforts to eradicate trafficking, there are very few convictions of traffickers, states Kangaspunta. Increased data on how people come to commit this crime, their respective role in trafficking networks, and a better understanding of trafficking modus operandi would help efforts to identify and prosecute traffickers, and protect potential victims.
Source: United Nations Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking.