What is Human Trafficking?

Human Trafficking

Human trafficking is an issue that is often unspoken of, with victims overlooked, unseen or unrecognised.

It is complex, with many victims left powerless and unable to escape their situation, separated from their support networks and sometimes not able to speak the language of the place they have been trafficked to.

Trafficking often has an international element, this is where victims are brought into the UK/Ireland from another country for the purpose of being exploited. Equally, victims can be taken out of the UK/Ireland to be exploited abroad.

However, trafficking can also be purely domestic, where British or Irish nationals are coerced into exploitation within their own country. Crossing country borders is not “required” for victims of trafficking to be classed as such.

"Trafficking in persons shall mean the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control of another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or removal of organs."

The Palermo Protocol Definition

Put simply, human trafficking is the movement of people for profit. Trafficking victims are bought and sold, moved around, and forced to do whatever is demanded of them, or face emotional and physical abuse, often with threats made against their family and loved ones. The UN estimates that the 45 million slaves in the world are often kept in unimaginable conditions, and if they have been coerced or smuggled from another country their passport and documentation can be taken from them upon arrival, making it impossible for them to leave or seek help. They are often denied education, medical treatment, basic social interaction, and other access to the outside world.

Victims of human trafficking and modern day slavery are coerced, forced, or tricked into compliance, through a grooming process similar to other forms of abuse and exploitation. They are unable to leave their situation, as they have been threatened, abused or lied to.

Types of Human Trafficking

There are five main types of human trafficking, though often victims will experience more than one. Trafficking in all forms can leave victims with emotional and physical trauma.

Sexual Exploitation

Sexual Exploitation victims are forced to perform sexual acts against their will. This can be through forced prostitution where traffickers profit from the abuse of their victims. Victims may also be exploited to produce content for porn websites. Sexual exploitation may begin with grooming, sometimes called “the boyfriend model,” where the victim is initially led to believe they are in a relationship with the trafficker. At some later stage, the victim is coerced, tricked, or forced into sexual acts with the perpetrator and others. This can evolve to domestic or international trafficking, depending on the trafficker.

Alternatively, victims can be misled through false job adverts, which promise work in hospitality or customer service. When the victim accepts the job, they are then forced into sex work, often after having travelled and given their identity documents to their trafficker.   

Victims of sexual exploitation may not realise that they are being abused, as they have been groomed by their perpetrator into believing the abuse is normal. They are not free to choose, as their compliance is enforced through bribery, trickery, or threats.   The misconception is that only women and children are trafficked for sexual exploitation, but men are targeted as well.

Forced Labour

Forced labour victims undertake manual labour tasks that include but are not limited to:

  •       farm work
  •       fruit and vegetable picking
  •       construction, mining
  •       work in the hospitality sector
  •       factory work (textiles or manufacturing and packaging industries).

Victims are forced to work long hours in poor and dangerous conditions, often deprived of adequate sleep or food. If they are paid at all, most or all of their wages must be handed over to their traffickers to cover “housing,” which in some instances can be multiple victims in one caravan with a lack of basic necessities such as water or electricity.

Migrant workers are often targeted for forced labour, due to having reduced support networks, perhaps limited understanding of the language, and less thorough understanding of their rights. Equally, those who are experiencing poverty or lack of opportunities can be particularly vulnerable. However, as with all forms of trafficking, anyone can be a victim of forced labour.

Alternatively, victims can be misled through false job adverts, which promise work in hospitality or customer service. When the victim accepts the job, they are then forced into sex work, often after having travelled and given their identity documents to their trafficker. 

Domestic Servitude

Victims of domestic servitude are forced to clean, cook, do laundry and look after children, with lots of tasks within private households. If they are paid it is very little, or they may be “paid in kind”, with wages reduced or taken to cover the cost of food and accommodation. These victims do not have freedom of movement; they may be permitted to run errands but are supervised when doing them. Those who are exploited in this way may be children who have been promised an education in the UK, or people who have limited opportunities at home.

Victims of domestic servitude are not provided with workers’ rights by their employers, such as contracts, minimum wage payments, holidays or benefits. The abuse they suffer is often hidden from view, as the nature of domestic servitude isolates them and keeps them from support services.

Women and children are the most common victims of domestic servitude: the International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimates that 80% of victims are women and girls. However, men are also targeted for domestic servitude, and it is important to recognise that anyone can be a victim of this type of exploitation.

Forced Criminality

Criminal exploitation is where victims are forced, coerced, or threatened into committing crime for the benefit of others. It can involve, but is not limited to:

  •       bag-snatching
  •       pickpocketing
  •       ATM theft
  •       selling of counterfeit goods
  •       cultivating cannabis
  •       county lines (drug running/smuggling)
  •       begging
  •       financial exploitation (benefit fraud)

Any financial gain is taken by the trafficker, with victims possibly receiving a small “reward” for their actions. Criminal exploitation is a particularly underreported form of trafficking, as victims are fearful of being prosecuted. Often, they will be threatened by their perpetrators, and many do end up with criminal records. Children, drug users and those who experience poverty are vulnerable to criminal exploitation, as the promise of money or drugs will be an attractive “hook”, making it easier for perpetrators to exploit them.  Once involved in crime it can be difficult to leave the situation, as threats of violence or reporting them to authorities are effective means of control.

Organ Harvesting

Organ harvesting is a growing and very lucrative market. Victims may be kidnapped and forced to give up an organ; others may be duped into believing they need an operation so an organ can be removed and sold. In the worst cases victims are murdered so the required organs can be removed, and traffickers can profit from their sale on the black market.

Poor victims are often coerced into “selling” an organ, with large sums of money being promised in exchange. However, once they have undergone organ removal, they do not receive their payment, or it is substantially less than first promised. Victims of organ harvesting are often subjected to botched or inexpert operations, leaving them with long-lasting physical damage and emotional trauma. As selling organs is illegal in many countries, victims can be too afraid to report their ordeal, as they don’t want to be prosecuted for their part in the process.

Help us make a difference