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Human trafficking

Joined-up intelligence can help tackle this crime, writes Joanne Taylor, Director of Public Security, SAS.



Human trafficking is thought to be the fastest-growing criminal activity in the world, involving millions of people annually and generating an annual turnover of billions of pounds.  The United Nations Crime-Fighting office reported recently that 2.4 million people across the globe are victims of human trafficking at any one time. And the UN Office on Drugs and Crime describes it as a global enterprise worth in the region of US$32 billion.The vast majority of human trafficking in the UK and much of Western Europe is victim-driven (where the victims pay to be brought into a country illegally). The other significant sub-set is slavery where an individual is captured and forced into trafficking against their will. Estimates suggest that there are currently at least 10,000 slaves in the UK alone. The actual figure may be even higher as there is common misconception that only foreign nationals are trafficked, and only into the UK.  


So human trafficking is not just a heinous crime, it is highly prevalent too. Despite this and despite the universal condemnation it attracts, there is little evidence that the UK’s criminal justice system is dealing with the problem effectively. Currently much of the judicial system has no involvement or responsibility for human trafficking and does not deploy resources in a co-ordinated manner to address it. Indeed, human trafficking is currently really only dealt with as a criminal matter. Yet it is clearly a problem that all parts of the criminal justice system should be taking increasingly seriously.  


Human trafficking is big business and it is primarily driven by large-scale organised crime. Despite this, we have so far not seen with respect to human trafficking, the kinds of large scale co-ordinated response efforts like that deployed to address terrorism or cybercrime. The efforts and budgets put aside to address what are viewed as serious threats to the UK seem somehow out of proportion with the lack of resources dedicated to human trafficking.  Cybercrime, for example, has dedicated agencies set up to address it together with a £650m budget. Is the argument that these types of crime somehow pose a more severe threat to UK PLC than human trafficking, or put more citizens at risk?  


One could argue that trafficking is one of the largest illegal industries in the UK and affects a much broader range of individuals directly than terrorism, for example, thereby warranting the kind of centralised co-ordinated, and well-funded counter measures deployed on other comparable criminal activities. The new National Crime Agency, on establishment in 2013, will reportedly have a key role in building on the existing arrangements for tackling human trafficking. The new agency is expected to target the organised criminal gangs involved in human trafficking and extend the counter measures in place today.  Unless a completely new approach to human trafficking is adopted, however, it may be more of a case of rebadging and re-organising – in other words more of a cosmetic change than a real attempt to get to grips with the problem.  




Unfortunately, while it is increasingly high-profile in the media and widely condemned in all civilised countries, human trafficking is a difficult problem to combat. The crime is typically covert and victims are notoriously unwilling to come forward with information. Equally, traffickers are employed and co-ordinated by serious and organised criminal networks, meaning that they are normally well-funded and organised to avoid detection. Today, in many countries, the number of traffickers caught and convicted remains low due to lack of training of law enforcement agency officials, corruption and poor anti-trafficking counter measures. So how can this problem be effectively addressed and how can crime-fighting agencies, in particular, more effectively tackle this growing threat?  


Their first priority should be getting an understanding of the whole story and achieving a holistic view through a strategic approach. Currently, trafficking is often detected as a side effect of other investigations – into drugs or prostitution or from information that is received unprompted – often from members of the public. If the authorities do not want to be accused of just paying ‘lip service’ to addressing the problem, they need to adopt a much more proactive approach to looking for intelligence specific to this activity. In both the resources put into tackling human trafficking and the sophistication of the approach, agencies typically fall well short of the way in which they tackle the terrorism problem. Given the size and scale of the challenge, this should not be allowed to continue, particularly when you consider that many more people in the UK are affected by human trafficking than by terrorism. 




So how can crime fighting agencies be more proactive in gathering the necessary information and intelligence to investigate further? And how can they address trafficking activity and the networks sustaining it, arrest the guilty and bring them to justice? A recommended approach would be to adopt the kind of techniques proving so successful in counter-terrorism measures. This would typically involve a combination of targeted intelligence gathering and the exploitation of technology.The first and most important priority is capturing relevant data in the most efficient and effective way possible.  Crime-fighting and investigative agencies need to identify how they are going to acquire the data, hold it, share it, and work with other agencies bringing in information across borders and from overseas. The process of then taking this data and turning it into effective intelligence is critical.


In tackling these challenges, agencies will need to have available to them systems that can help deliver information-gathering, information-sharing, and intelligence management. It is now widely acknowledged that effective information sharing between police forces and law enforcement agencies has a key role to play in enhancing the efficiency of criminal investigations. With respect to human trafficking, it can be crucial to unveiling patterns of the networks involved, routes used by the traffickers, methods, modes and financial flows. 


It is only through a centralised, co-ordinated approach that critical intelligence can be combined and analysed to start to link previously disparate information to understand the holistic view so essential to address trafficking modus operandi. By bringing together this valuable data, agencies will be able to put in place a combination of analytics and investigation to detect and to connect information on people and events throughout the entire intelligence lifecycle.


The whole picture 


Such is the complexity and scale of people trafficking networks, taking a holistic approach is critical here. Often, arresting one individual or uncovering one location where people trafficking is taking place will be just a tiny part of the process. People trafficking is big business and agencies investigating it will need to understand the entire interconnected network of people, places and funds, to truly crack the problem. Ultimately, a joined-up approach to intelligence will be vital if this serious and rapidly growing criminal activity is to be effectively tackled once and for all.


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