COVID-19 and Crime: Responding to Human Trafficking

Vienna (Austria) 14 December 2021 – The key findings and recommendations of a global study on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on human trafficking are now available in Arabic, Chinese, French, Russian, and Spanish.

The study, produced by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), assessed how frontline anti-human trafficking organizations responded to the challenges posed by the pandemic and provides guidelines on how to prepare for future crises.

"COVID hit hard, and we were unprepared. We had failed to take note of the effects on crime of those earlier epidemics that affected many regions such as SARS-1, Ebola and Zika. We should not make the same mistake again," says Ilias Chatzis, Chief of UNODC's Human Trafficking and Migrant Smuggling Section.

The global study, which is currently available in English, reports that measures to curb the spread of the virus increased the risk of trafficking, exposed victims to further exploitation and limited access to essential services for trafficking survivors.

Mr. Chatzis adds: "The pandemic has created global, unprecedented challenges. The repercussions are likely to be felt for years to come. Countries need to have strategies in place that enable them to continue to prevent and prosecute cases of human trafficking and support victims of this crime even during times of crisis."

UNODC's research indicates that as parts of the world came to a standstill, the business of human trafficking continued to thrive.

Traffickers took advantage of the global crisis, capitalizing on peoples' loss of income and the increased amount of time both adults and children were spending online.

"Human trafficking is a crime that can affect anyone, of any age and gender, and anywhere in the world," says Pascale Reinke-Schreiber, a UNODC Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Officer who led the research.

"The same applies to COVID-19, which continues to have an impact on our lives. This is why we believe it is important to share the knowledge gained in our research worldwide and in all main UN languages."

Experts and officials from the law enforcement and criminal justice sectors, as well as victim support organizations in over 50 countries contributed to the study.

The analysis showed that after the initial setbacks, frontline responders adapted to the pandemic and developed new initiatives to investigate and prosecute cases of trafficking and provide access to support services.

"The pandemic forced us to change some of the ways we work," explains Ms. Reinke-Schreiber.
"Support for the basic needs of survivors of human trafficking, such as food, rent, heating and Internet connection were prioritised."

"Online counselling was made available to survivors in remote areas, and coordination and exchange meetings between anti-trafficking agencies in different regions and countries took place virtually and more often."

In many countries, prosecutors and the judiciary initiated or increased the use of the electronic submission of documents, remote victim and witness testimonies or online hearings to facilitate the adjudication of cases.

"We should not lose sight of these good examples after the pandemic is over and make them an integral part of anti-trafficking measures. We hope that the main findings and recommendations of our study in six languages will contribute to such efforts," concludes Pascale Reinke-Schreiber.


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