This module is a resource for lecturers  




This Module addresses the challenges inherent in implementing an effective criminal justice response to trafficking in persons. The often organized and transnational nature of the crime increases the complexity of criminal justice responses. Difficulties in investigation and prosecution are further compounded by the frequent inability or unwillingness of victims to testify against their traffickers. This may be due to, inter alia, trauma caused by the trafficking experience, injury, fear of reprisal, fear of criminal justice processes, or a lack language skills. In some cases, the complicity of corrupt law enforcement and government officials presents additional challenges. As a result, only a small proportion of the total number of trafficking offenders are prosecuted each year, a situation which does little to impede the activity of those involved in trafficking of persons.

Nevertheless, trafficking in persons is a crime and prosecution is the only lawful means by which traffickers can be apprehended and punished and their trafficking activities stopped. Prosecution of traffickers has the potential to contribute to effective prevention of trafficking in persons: the timely conviction and punishment of one group of offenders ideally deters others from engaging in the crime. It also signals denunciation of trafficking by States and the desire to protect persons at risk of the crime. More general crime prevention measures, such as strengthening at-risk communities, are also integral. Fundamentally, the rights and protection needs of victims must also be taken into account in criminal justice approaches. States have obligations under international law to uphold victims' rights and prevent secondary revictimization. Criminal justice measures cannot be implemented in ways that abrogate human rights.

This Module examines the criminal justice response to trafficking in persons. It begins by setting out relevant duties imposed by the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children. It then outlines the role of the criminal justice system, in particular its ability to prevent trafficking in persons from occurring. Key actors in the criminal justice process are then described, including police, prosecutors, defence lawyers and judges, followed by a section examining sentencing of offenders. Next, the Module examines the current low levels of prosecutions and convictions of traffickers and sets out a number of challenges to an effective criminal justice response. The centrality of the rights of victims and witnesses is also emphasised, together with the necessary link between criminal justice and human rights approaches to combatting trafficking in persons. The Module concludes by looking at some potential ways forward to improve the criminal justice response to trafficking in persons.


Learning outcomes

  • Analyse the criminal justice-related duties imposed on States by the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children.
  • Emphasise the importance of prosecution as a prevention strategy.
  • Understand the factors behind low levels of prosecutions and convictions in trafficking cases.
  • Understand the challenges to an effective criminal justice response.
  • Identify the rights of victims and witness with respect to accessing justice and protection.
  • Understand the roles of certain criminal justice actors (police, prosecutors, judges).

As explained in the Possible Class Structure, it is proposed to start the lecture by screening the short film Human trafficking in Europe - domestic servitude (approx. 4 minutes) by the European Commission. Afterwards, lecturers are encouraged to move to Exercise 1.

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