Why arresting people won’t stop human trafficking

By Neil Giles, Director of The Centre of Intelligence-Led Prevention for STOP THE TRAFFIK

I first encountered human trafficking almost 40 years ago, but I didn’t recognise it for what it was. I was a young vice cop then. Twenty-eight years later, as a senior manager in National Law Enforcement and an expert in the field of Organised Crime, I heard about a STOP THE TRAFFIK presentation on the issue and knew my agency didn’t have this issue on their radar and that I needed to help change that.

Back then I thought it would be focused intelligence collection, swift arrest and effective prosecution that would render slavery unworkable in the UK and elsewhere. My journey over the last 10 years has taught me that this is a fallacy.

Why the solution is not prosecution 

The problem of human trafficking is all too large and amorphous for arrest and prosecution to stop it. The justice process and the rule of law are the bedrock of civil society. But I have learned that society cannot stop a crime through the work of the courts alone. 

Twelve years ago a handful of NGOs were working to combat human trafficking. Now thousands are. The vast majority are motivated and funded to rescue and rehabilitate the victims of trafficking, particularly the survivors of sex trafficking. It’s great work, but, the truth is that every rescue, in trafficking terms, creates a vacancy for the recruiters to fill.

The trafficking of people is a business. A global, agile enterprise driven by easy profit and low risks. It’s a $150 billion dollar business, that’s growing, and we need new innovative thinking if we are going to end this global affliction. We have to learn how to undermine the business model that is human trafficking, learn what methods effectively destabilise the industry of trafficking and then invest in those methods.

Why the solution is prevention

Effective prevention, by making this crime completely transparent to us all, is the long term answer to this problem and we are confident we have part of the solution; intelligence-led prevention.

At STOP THE TRAFFIK our mission is to undermine the model that sustains trafficking through the empowerment of those vulnerable to it. Our work over recent years and the partnerships we’ve developed has given us a great understanding of how and where trafficking occurs. Working with partners on the ground and utilising the capabilities of commercial partners we are changing situations for those who previously were easy targets for traffickers. We are on a journey to make the crime unsustainable, because without vulnerable individuals to target, trafficking cannot continue.

We know from our intelligence that certain business sectors and the finance industry are highly vulnerable to trafficking. We have the systems in place to continue to build that knowledge base and share it effectively with these sectors. By creating new alliances with business groups and the world of finance we can help them eradicate trafficker access to supply chains and break up the traffickers ability to move the proceeds of their crime in the widest sense. This new thinking needs to take root and grow.

Arrest, prosecution, rescue and rehabilitation are all necessary for the fight against human trafficking, however they alone are not sufficient. If we want to STOP THE TRAFFIK, we must invest in prevention and work together.  

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