Factors inhibiting the identification and investigation of human trafficking cases

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

Law enforcement efforts have failed to keep pace with the mutable phenomenon of human trafficking despite the fact that it is regarded as the fastest growing and second most profitable criminal enterprise after drug trafficking.

The biggest challenge facing law enforcement in human trafficking cases is finding victims and their traffickers in the first place, since human trafficking involves the movement and concealment of victims.

Victims of human trafficking often do not self-identify as such. There are numerous reasons for this. Some victims may have consciously engaged in illicit activities, such as undocumented migration into the Republic or engaging in sex work. In such cases, ‘victims are unlikely to report their victimisation to the police or seek help from service providers.’[1] Where trafficking occurs within diaspora communities, self-identification and reporting to the police are even lower.

Others are too traumatised by their experiences and remain in denial. Distrust of law enforcement, fear of retaliation by traffickers, a lack of understanding of basic rights, are further inhibiting factors in relation to victim cooperation and investigation.

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Human trafficking investigations and victim identification

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

The identification and investigation of human trafficking cases is perhaps one of the most challenging and complex activities facing law enforcement and prosecution in South Africa, and the African region.

Despite new laws, widespread awareness-raising, the formation of specialised multi-agency task teams, and training of key public officials, little inroads have been made in combating and preventing trafficking. Indeed, the number of reported cases and victims assisted remain low, while the prevalence of trafficking appears to be increasing. Human trafficking remains a hidden crime which obviates simple solutions.

Comprehensive and socially inclusive counter-trafficking legislation which is victim-centred is a vital component for effective counter-trafficking governance. While South African anti-trafficking legislation was signed into law in 2013, it is yet to commence. Human trafficking remains partially criminalised. Prosecution of the crime, and victim assistance, is reliant on a transitional and inchoate legal and policy framework. The slow pace to bring the new law into force has several implications for law enforcement, prosecutors and service providers who are beginning to confront the problem at both national and local levels.

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