Human traffickers are criminals who exploit other human beings in order to make money. Profit is the human trafficker’s single goal for exploiting other humans.

Human traffickers act as different ‘links’ in the trafficking chain. Their actions may include one or more of the following:

recruitment    transportation    transfer   harbouring    receiving of trafficked persons

Commercial Sexual Exploitation: The following story is intended to illustrate the links in the human trafficking chain for commercial sexual exploitation. Irene* is from Nigeria. Her initial recruiter, a woman, was known to others in the local community. She had heard that Irene wanted to travel in order to earn money. She lied to Irene about of work in a beauty salon, knowing she would be used for commercial sexual exploitation. The trafficker convinced Irene to come to Europe by plane. The ‘recruiter’ was paid for her role.

The flight landed in the capital city, and the next person, a driver who met her at the airport, the next person in the trafficker chain was waiting to meet her. He knew that Irene would soon be sexually exploited to make money. The driver was paid for his role.

He drove her out of the major city, to a more remote town. She was forced to share a locked room with four other victims of human trafficking. The landlord knew that the five young women would be used in the sex industry to make money for the trafficker. He harboured the women and when needed, he drove them to different apartments and clubs. He landlord/minder was paid for his role.

After some months the women were suddenly driven to a different major city. They had all been sold to another trafficker. A woman then met the girls, kept them under her control and forced them to earn money through selling sexual services outside a hotel. When the girls came back home, she kept all the money. All these traffickers were aware of the fact that they were money from their role in the trafficking chain. They are all criminals.

* Names have been changed

Human traffickers lure their victims by using charm, lies and deception, promising a better life and opportunities to make money. These promises are false. Victims of human trafficking, having placed their trust in the traffickers,  soon discover that those promises of a ‘better life” or “good wages” were lies.

 Traffickers may become the “lover” or the legal spouse of a victim.

This too is based on false reality. The intention is not romantic but to make money. The victim may be sold off or used for labour or sexual exploitation.

The truth is that these victim have become objects to be traded, abused, threatened, beaten, tortured, raped and sometimes killed – all so that the human trafficker can make money.

In some cases, human traffickers use abduction as a means to procure their “commodity.” Having successfully obtained their victim, the trafficker then uses physical and psychological threats, humiliation, beatings, sleep-deprivation and malnutrition to maintain control. IN general, however, despite movies and TV series, abduction is NOT the means of recruitment. Grooming and persistent building of a ‘true friendship’ to gain trust and then control is usually carried out.

Ways of coercing the victim include one or all of the following:

Psychological entrapment. Traffickers target victims who are vulnerable. Charm, promises of money, affection, attention, romantic love, a place to feel ‘included’. 

Passport or identity document is taken – especially in the case of cross border/international human trafficking. The trafficker immediately has control over the physical movement of the victim with threats such as “Well, now you don’t have your passport – if the police catch or if you run to the police you’ll be arrested/imprisoned/deported.” The trafficker manipulates their victim to believe that he or she is the criminal. This is wrong. The trafficker is the criminal.

 Debt Bondage. Victims are told that they must now earn their freedom back. “I paid for your ticket, and now I’m paying for your rent and food. YOU OWE ME.” A young woman from Africa forced to provide sexual services to clients in a major European city, must “pay back” her trafficker approximately 60,000 -80,000 Euros before she buy her freedom.

This ‘bondage repayment’ may take years. For a victim who is forced to work in the sex industry, this may mean servicing thousands of clients. If a person is forced to have sex, he or she is experiencing being raped. This means that to earn back his/her freedom a young boy or girl or a woman may suffer rape thousands of times before she is no longer under the control of the human trafficker.

Threats of violence to family members ‘back home.’ The trafficking network is highly organized and personal knowledge of their victim is used to intimidate and control. “We know all about you. We know where your little sister lives, your mother, your father. If you run away, you can be very sure they will get hurt. It’s just one phone call away.”

 Human traffickers are both men and women. In fact, when recruiting the victim, a woman trafficker may appear more ‘trustworthy’ than a male – especially in the case of recruiting children or young women for the forced sexual exploitation. “Of course we’ll look after her. She’ll have lovely things and meet nice people.” These words of hope might sound so honest to a desperately poor parent wanting the best for their child. It is also the case that their culture may “justify” selling their child so that debts can be paid off or the family can be supported for a limited period of time.

Human traffickers may be linked to highly-organized international criminal networks, they may be involved in smaller domestic networks, they may be part of a ‘family business’ or they may operate very small scale, virtually on their own. They may be the owner of a business such as a bar, a club, a massage parlour, a factory, an orchard or a farm. While these businesses may be legitimate, the profits generated might be dependent on the exploitation of victims of human trafficking.

Human traffickers may transport their victims across international borders or they may stay within the same country, city or town. The trafficker may physically accompany the victim or they may set up a situation where the victim, having begun their journey is unable to ‘just turn around and go back.’ At times they are given just a name and a phone number of the next person (the next trafficker in the trafficking chain) they will meet, without knowing where they are or what route of the journey will take.

Lack of orientation, fear, limited knowledge of the country of destination and constant abuse leads to situation where traffickers can maintain such power over the victims. Only through the actions of free members of civil society can protection be provided for victims who are living trapped, demoralized, abused, and ‘camouflaged’ within our immediate communities, but under the control of the human trafficker.

Published by The NO Project