What we need to succeed in the fight against human trafficking

monique_esmerAuthor: Monique Emser
Research Associate, Department of Criminal and Medical Law, University of the Free State, South Africa

World Day of Social Justice – Ending human trafficking and forced labour: 20 February 2015

While there is evidence to suggest that some trafficking networks in South Africa are transnational, exhibiting professional and entrepreneurial business structures and methods of operation, reported cases of human trafficking in South Africa to date tend not to be affiliated with large, sophisticated criminal networks. Rather, they involve opportunistic individuals or families who are loosely coupled in temporary arrangements with criminal syndicates and co-conspirators in points of origin and transit.

Small-time traffickers and their co-conspirators often ‘piggy-back’ on existing criminal networks involved in migrant smuggling or drug trafficking, using established transportation routes to hide their activities. Highly organised trafficking networks, on the other hand, have evolved to such an extent that some even exhibit professional structures and employ legal companies as a front for their illegal activities.[1] It is this flexibility and mobility of organisation which makes trafficking networks so difficult to detect and dismantle.

If we are to succeed in the fight against trafficking more resources and capacity need to be invested in the prioritisation of this crime

Police practice in this regard remains largely reactive. In other words, police are alerted to the existence of a crime by a victim or witness. Arsovska and Janssens note that victim-led investigations do not always lead to the successful prosecution of offenders. This is more pronounced in human trafficking cases where the ‘need to quickly protect the victims affords little time for a proactive investigation aimed at obtaining more evidence.’[2]

Prosecutors in turn may be reluctant to prosecute cases where the victim is classified as not being a credible witness or where victims withdraw their cooperation in the investigation or trail. It is for this reason that investigation and prosecution of human trafficking cases should not solely rely on victims’ statements.

Human trafficking investigations must be proactive and be based on solid intelligence. This requires more resources and capacity to conduct such investigations into hidden crimes. At present, very little is known about human trafficking networks and affiliated structures in South Africa; who the traffickers and their co-conspirators are; or what the various human trafficking markets and sites of exploitation look like and where they are situated. Tools such as the LexisNexis Human Trafficking Awareness Index, launched in 2013, strive to fill this gap in knowledge management surrounding the prevalence of human trafficking in South Africa and the African region.

Current law enforcement counter-trafficking strategies are not evidence-based and as a result reliant on reactive investigative principles. The detection of new cases of human trafficking and disruption of trafficking networks is therefore low because we lack the resources and capacity needed to do so. We are failing the victims.

If we are to succeed in the fight against trafficking, more resources and capacity need to be invested in the prioritisation of this crime. In addition, law enforcement strategies ‘should reflect the geographical, structural and commercial components of human trafficking.’[3] To effectively address human trafficking,[4] law enforcement and counter-trafficking practitioners need to:

  • Develop a unique combination of investigative skills (incorporating a proactive, intelligence-led approach);
  • Research the structural manifestations of human trafficking locally and wider linkages to develop evidence-based strategies. Geo-spatial and knowledge mapping could be important tools in this regard;
  • Analyse local knowledge of potential trafficking venues that intersect with legitimate businesses (such as workers in the sex industry, massage parlours, brothels, travel agencies, domestic labour, truck stops, agriculture, mining, construction, fishing, sweatshop factories, restaurants and janitorial labourers);
  • Understand the issues which make victims particularly vulnerable and be sensitised to social contexts in which trafficking takes place (in order to avoid revictimisation when victims are assisted);
  • Familiarise themselves with socio-cultural practices of key groups operating in the region and how this might affect issues of recruitment, coercion and control of victims, inability to cooperate with investigations, and thus enable practitioners to better assist and protect victims;
  • Keep abreast of the ever changing victim recruitment methods and forms of trafficking and raise awareness about these operational methods;
  • Keep track of regional and international trafficking trends and patterns, risk factors and (illicit) migration routes;
  • Understand problems of stereotyping and discriminatory policing;
  • Protect victims by training law enforcement, and counter-trafficking practitioners, to detect victims in high risk and atypical sectors;
  • Reduce corruption at all levels (a long-term, multidimensional strategy is required);
  • Engage civil society to provide information and act on suspected cases of trafficking in a responsible manner;
  • Formalise interagency cooperation and coordination through the national and provincial task teams (and ensure knowledge/information sharing), as well as at the regional and international level which is essential in the fight against complex transnational trafficking networks[5]; and
  • Above all – implement counter-trafficking policies.

[1]Jana Arsovska andStefJanssens, ‘Human Trafficking & Policing: Good & Bad Practices’, in Cornelius Friesendorf (Ed.), Strategies Against Human Trafficking: The Role of the Security Sector, Study Group Information, National Defence Academy and Austrian Ministry of Defence and Sports, September (2009): 197.

[2]Ibid., 171.

[3]Ibid., 198.

[4]These suggestions are adapted from a number of sources, inter alia, Jana Arsovska andStefJanssens, ‘Human Trafficking & Policing: Good & Bad Practices’, in Cornelius Friesendorf (Ed.), Strategies Against Human Trafficking: The Role of the Security Sector, Study Group Information, National Defence Academy and Austrian Ministry of Defence and Sports, September 2009; Amy Farrell, Jack McDevitt, Stephanie Fahy, ‘Understanding and Improving Law Enforcement Responses to Human Trafficking: Final Report’, December 2008; Phyllis J. Newton, Timothy M. Mulcahy, and Susan E. Martin, ‘Finding Victims of Human Trafficking’, NORC Final Report, October 2008.

[5]‘Issues of distrust, competition, political interference, and red tape should be addressed to improve law enforcement cooperation.’ Jana Arsovska andStefJanssens, ‘Human Trafficking & Policing: Good & Bad Practices’, in Cornelius Friesendorf (Ed.), Strategies Against Human Trafficking: The Role of the Security Sector, Study Group Information, National Defence Academy and Austrian Ministry of Defence and Sports, September (2009): 209.

About the Author:
This is the third in a series of three related opinion pieces written by Monique Emser, PhD, who wrote this in her personal capacity. She is an expert on human trafficking in South Africa. She works as a research associate with the Department of Criminal and Medical Law at the University of the Free State, as well as a member of the KwaZulu-Natal Human Trafficking, Prostitution, Pornography and Brothels Task Team. She also wrote the first two LexisNexis Human Trafficking Awareness Index™ reports available at www.lexisnexis.co.za/ruleoflaw



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s