Archived News /

16 September 2012

Trafficking in Southern and Eastern Europe-Rebecca Surtees

Trafficking in people in South-Eastern Europe is a complex and evolving industry and much has changed in recent years in how trafficking takes place.

Not only have traffickers’ profiles changed but so too have their strategies, behaviours and tactics. Traffickers are regularly responding and adapting to the social, economic and political arenas in which recruitment and trafficking take place, which makes it imperative that anti-trafficking actors are equipped with detailed and up-to-date information about traffickers and their activities. This requires increased attention to how different criminals and criminal organizations operate along the trafficking continuum and across time, informing us how to tackle this crime in an effective and strategic way. Trafficking in people in SEE is a serious and often violent crime and one that needs to be more proactively tackled and addressed in ways that reflect its status as an organized crime.

There is a need for careful and systematic analysis of the transnational crime phenomena in a transnational marketplace. Research can play an important role in better understanding and appreciating the actions of traffickers, by mobilizing methodologies that directly engage with traffickers and by carefully reviewing their activities. It is also vital to engage in detached analyses of human trafficking (as with other forms of trafficking and illicit markets) to enhance our understanding and capacity to react (Jamieson and Taylor 1999: 8; Levi and Maguire 2004: 398; Schloenhardt 1999: 228; Williams 1997: 147). Counter-trafficking law enforcement measures have not always adequately anticipated traffickers’ activities or adapted to changes in how trafficking occurs. As an example, in spite of the recognized shift in SEE from open-site prostitution (bars, restaurants) to more closed venues (private homes, escort agencies), law enforcement actors have been slow to develop alternative means of identification and investigation. Further, although different forms of trafficking were documented in SEE among adults and minors, identification methods continue to focus on the trafficking of adult women for sexual exploitation (Surtees 2005b, 2007b).

That being said, law enforcement efforts have increased and have become more strategic and proactive. Traditionally, bar raids have been a favoured identification strategy in the region, but law enforcement bodies are increasingly shifting from this reactive strategy to more proactive approaches, such as investigation and surveillance often coordinated between different cities and even different countries. Although this approach is more time consuming and may, in the short term, yield fewer criminals, in the longer term it is arguably more effective in apprehending and prosecuting perpetrators. Police experts stress that the larger number of perpetrators relative to the number of investigations represents a better quality of investigation. Rather than targeting local and low-level pimps, this strategy targets and seeks to dismantle the network itself. Also of note are law enforcement efforts in some transit countries to intercept traffickers before the act of trafficking is complete. Recently in Serbia the anti-trafficking police intercepted many potential victims en route to a trafficking situation, a proactive attempt to address trafficking in this transit and origin country.

Other innovative strategies must be increasingly developed and evaluated if human trafficking by organized criminal groups is to be effectively reduced and prevented. Current performance indicators for enforcement agencies may need substantial revision. Some seeming successes cannot be read directly. For example, the decrease in the number of organized crime groups may in some situations reflect a reduction in organized crime but in others indicate a consolidation and expansion of the power of one criminal group. Further, crime prevention success may have unintended consequences, with the disruption of organized crime leading not to an end to crime but rather to unorganized implementation. ‘Unorganized crime’ may undertake the same work with greater efficiency and have more negative impacts than organized crime, given the level of cooperation and bureaucracy of many crime groups. Disruption can also lead to greater levels of violence, at least in the short term, as other groups vie for position and influence (Levi and Maguire 2004: 399, 401). It will also be important not only to focus on current forms but also to try to anticipate some of the possible future ways that trafficking might develop (Levi and Maguire 2004: 397; Godson and Williams 2002).

Law enforcement will need to be increasingly flexible in its efforts to combat trafficking in people – identifying different profiles of victims, recognizing different types of exploitation, adjusting to the changing patterns of traffickers’ behaviour and even anticipating in what directions traffickers will focus in future. Traffickers in SEE have manifested both a level of professionalism and a level of adaptability that allow them to avoid detection and maximize profit, both of which serve to fortify their position further.

Anti-trafficking actors will need to be increasingly flexible in their own work, so as to adapt to changes in the way trafficking is organized from outside, into and through SEE, and from the region to countries outside.
Central to this endeavour is increased information about traffickers and their work, information that forms the basis of sound and better-informed counter-trafficking criminal investigations, operations and policy.