Mention the word ‘slavery’ and the first thing that comes to our minds is a bygone episode of history with people being rounded up in chains , put up for sale and compelled to pry, dig, quarry and work in the fields. A thing of the past, people say, no longer an issue in our cozy, modern, 21st century world. But while it is no new information that slavery is far from abolished, it is surprising how often one of its gravest, most dangerous forms – human trafficking – is underestimated and overlooked.
This phenomenon is not confined to specific countries, nor is it an issue of minor proportions we, ordinary citizens, can just forget about and let the police handle. It is a highly-mutative form of crime that adapts and adjusts to changing economic and social circumstances – a global, transnational issue of such gravity states cannot deal with alone. With profits of dozens of billions of euros every year enjoyed by the perpetrators, is it a wonder that it has become such an attractive, global, uncontrollable and terrifyingly colossal form of crime?
In a study conducted by the International Labor Organization, there were 20.9 million victims of human trafficking between 2002 and 2011, with around 5.5 million children among them. According to the 2010 report of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, 79% of victims of human trafficking were subject to sexual exploitation, and 22% of the victims were children.
Victims often end up being trafficked as a result of false, illegitimate recruitment through, for example, fraudulent advertisements or announcements, and are especially recruited, transported and exploited under disguises such as hostesses, ‘artistes’, agricultural workers…etc. The Rantsev incident, which drew international attention and sparked considerable outrage against the Cypriot authorities, concerned such a disguise where Rantseva, the victim, was defectively recruited as an ‘artiste’ in a cabaret in Cyrpus, where she was exploited and eventually committed suicide. It is therefore important to look into the employment conditions and circumstances of a suspected person or situation.
The Commission has published a set of guidelines on how ordinary citizens can identify potential victims of human trafficking they come across (Especially at borders). For example, victims often live in their workplace, where in fact they are confined, be that a brothel, restaurant or any other establishment, which is usually anything but accessible or transparent. Barred windows, locked doors, an isolated location – these are all indicators to the average civilian that it’s time to call the cops. Malnutrition, poor personal hygiene, and bruises or other signs of violence or rape are other obvious signs of trafficking. However, such obvious marks may not be present, and therefore other, more subtle signs become crucial. Victims will often be seen in a less than comfortable air with their traffickers, and will usually not hold their own identity or travel documents, and will have little to no pocket money.
The fight against human trafficking is not limited to any specific country. According to the Commission, in the EU, for example, although most victims come from Romania, Bulgaria, Poland and Hungary, the perpetrators of the crime are all over the Union, located across all 28 member states. Traffickers can be anywhere, can victimize anyone, and the fight is not therefore law enforcement’s alone, but also belongs to civilians everywhere. Ordinary citizens can and should know, with the help of guidelines such as the one mentioned above, when to report the fishy, uncomfortable situation in front of them when they’re waiting in the passport queues, and when they’re travelling and crossing borders. They should be able to tell whether the person standing right next to them might be a victim of trafficking, and how they can report it, and contribute to the fight against this modern ‘slavery’. Maybe with the help of a little bit more contribution and activism from such ordinary citizens, national law enforcement, Europol, Interpol and other organizations and entities involved against trafficking can at last put an end to it, and ensure that we are all safe from those networks of bondage.