Vienna, Austria 10 March 2023 – The internet and digital platforms give human traffickers and migrant smugglers a variety of tools to find, control, and exploit victims; arrange for their transportation and lodging; publicize victims and attract potential customers; communicate with other offenders; and conceal criminal proceeds—all of which can be done more quickly, cheaply, and anonymously online. However, there is also much opportunity in the application of technology. The ability of law enforcement, the criminal justice system, and others to use technology in their responses can help in the fight to counter human trafficking and migrant smuggling.
The GLO.ACT Women's Network held a workshop for its members to better understand how technology might be used to both enable and counter trafficking in persons (TIP) on 9 March 2023. The session was held online via Zoom and joined by 36 (26 female/10 male) members of the GLO.ACT Women’s Network to increase overall knowledge and awareness of the influence of technology on TIP.
The workshop began with welcoming remarks from Dr Ibtisam Aziz, Chairperson of the GLO.ACT Women’s Network. Thereafter, two sessions titled ‘Cyber/online enabled TIP’ and ‘Technology as an opportunity’ were facilitated by UNODC Crime Research expert Giulia Serio and Director of Cyber, Investigations & Intelligence Jon Blake, MBCS, respectively. The sessions were complemented by question-and-answer sessions moderated by GLO.ACT Policy Support Officer Sabrina Knap and GLO.ACT Project Coordinator Aimée Comrie.
During her presentation, Ms Serio explained cyber-enabled TIP. She discussed recent trends and patterns, specifically as they relate to countries and regions partnered with the GLO.ACT initiative. She furthermore discussed emerging forms of exploitation reported worldwide, such as trafficking for forced criminality and trafficking of young men for exploitation in online scams. The number of cases involving internet technology to facilitate trafficking has increased since 2009.
Ms Serio highlighted examples of the challenges that practitioners face due to the use of technology by traffickers and the limitations of criminal justice institutions. In addition, she shared common strategies used by traffickers and presented cases of child trafficking. She emphasized how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected sexual exploitation by pushing it into less visible and less secure locations, making it more difficult to detect.
Ms Serio also shared that a recent study by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) found that there are currently 305 different technology tools and initiatives being used worldwide to fight against human trafficking, with a particular focus on combating forced labour and sexual exploitation and additionally, emphasizing the possible responses and robust obligations of online service providers to combat TIP.
Meanwhile, during his session, Mr Blake, a practitioner with more than twenty years of experience in cyber investigation, shared how to leverage technology in response to human trafficking, including by aiding investigations to shed light on the modus operandi of trafficking networks and enhancing prosecutions through digital evidence to alleviate the situation of victims in criminal proceedings.
During the workshop, Mr Blake said: ‘Digital investigation is not a “dark art” despite what the experts may tell you. It is just [an] investigation with some tech aspects.’ He shared that the “ABC” of investigations is not to assume anything, believe nobody, and challenge everything. He showcased various tools available to investigators and talked participants through an example of a human trafficking case where technology was an opportunity utilized.
The workshop was closed by GLO.ACT Communication and Strategy Specialist Emmanuelle Kunigk sharing information on upcoming Network activities.
The Global Action against Trafficking in Persons and the Smuggling of Migrants – Asia and the Middle East (GLO.ACT-Asia and the Middle East) is a four-year (2018-2022) joint initiative by the European Union (EU) and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) being implemented in partnership with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in up to five countries: Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (Afghanistan), Islamic Republic of Iran (I.R. of Iran), Republic of Iraq (Iraq), Islamic Republic of Pakistan (Pakistan). GLO.ACT-Bangladesh is a parallel initiative also financed by the EU and implemented with IOM.
The project builds on a global community of practice set in motion in GLO.ACT 2015-2019 and assists governmental authorities and civil society organizations in targeted, innovative, and demand-driven interventions: sustaining effective strategy and policy development, legislative review and harmonization, capability development, and regional and trans-regional cooperation. The project also provides direct assistance to victims of human trafficking and vulnerable migrants through the strengthening of identification, referral, and protection mechanisms. The project is fully committed to mainstreaming Human Rights and Gender Equality considerations across all of its activities.
The project is funded by the European Union.
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