Combating human trafficking: more attention needed for minors, the prostitution sector and new forms of exploitation

The Netherlands is performing relatively well in terms of combating human trafficking, with a steadily growing number of organizations joining the effort. Nevertheless, as the Dutch Rapporteur’s latest annual report shows, there are still some areas of concern. In her recommendations, the National Rapporteur, Corinne Dettmeijer, pinpoints three subjects that need to be addressed with the greatest urgency: victims, the prostitution sector and new forms of human trafficking. The Rapporteur refers to the need for the government to do more to protect victims, and one group in particular: Dutch girls who are victims of trafficking. There are serious concerns about this category of victims. Steps are needed to reduce the vulnerability of the prostitution sector to human trafficking and the clients must be made to realise that they have a responsibility. Finally, greater vigilance is required on the part of the government with respect to new forms of human trafficking outside the sex industry.

More human trafficking identified thanks to investment in training

The police and the Public Prosecution Service cannot tackle human trafficking alone. The phenomenon only becomes visible by piecing together all the signs from the various parties involved. Over the last few years, a growing number of organizations have endeavoured to raise awareness of the phenomenon and provide training in recognizing those signs. The results of those efforts are reflected in the number of victims and suspects that have been identified. Whereas in the past employees of these organizations did not recognize situations as human trafficking, now they do. The Royal Dutch Marechaussee is identifying and reporting more victims. On average, the Repatriation & Departure Service identifies 35 victims of human trafficking during the return procedure every year.

Establish a national referral mechanism for victims

Victims of human trafficking are entitled to protection and help. It is therefore essential for every agency to know what it should do from the moment that a victim is discovered up to and including the provision of after-care. The Rapporteur’s research reveals that victims still face a great many procedural obstacles and pitfalls after they have been identified. Criminal proceedings, the immigration procedure or an aspect such as the payment of interpreters can all give rise to uncertainty. There is no comprehensive document setting out the tasks of agencies in these processes in the Netherlands. To prevent victims from being victimized again, but this time by the system, a national referral mechanism is needed. This document, with binding descriptions of the tasks of the various agencies, can be seen as a roadmap for the protection of victims.

Better identification and protection of Dutch underage victims is needed

A persistent area of concern is the recognition and protection of Dutch underage victims of human trafficking, often referred to as ‘loverboy victims’. The use of that term, which is interpreted in various ways by social workers, leads to victims not always being recognized in youth care institutions. “Victims of loverboys are victims of human trafficking, and must be seen as such,” says Dettmeijer. The help and treatment they receive should therefore be appropriate to victims of human trafficking – not to girls suffering problems of adolescence. That would reduce the risk of revictimization. The under-reporting of underage victims means that the actual number of underage victims is probably higher than the registered figure of roughly 200, which is why the Rapporteur calls for youth care institutions to be required to report possible victims.

A less vulnerable prostitution sector: uniform policy and responsible clients

Prostitution is not synonymous with human trafficking. However, the sector is susceptible to human trafficking. Although the new law on prostitution represents a positive step towards a uniform policy, the further implementation of the policy on prostitution will depend heavily on cooperation between municipalities. Supervision and enforcement are crucial in that respect. A specific aspect of municipal policy should be to adopt measures designed to strengthen the position of prostitutes. Their negotiating position in relation to operators of sex businesses is generally weak; it is difficult for them to open a bank account or take out a loan. Clients also have a responsibility in terms of reducing the vulnerability of the sector. There are situations where a client knows or should reasonably suspect that a prostitute is a victim of human trafficking, for example because of the way in which he establishes contact with the prostitute, from information shared on websites about prostitution, or because of the situation in which he finds the woman. The Rapporteur recommends the insertion of a new article in the Dutch Criminal Code explicitly criminalizing the client in these types of cases.

New forms of exploitation

Not enough attention is devoted to exploitation outside the sex industry. This form of human trafficking is often wrongly regarded as a ‘less serious’ class of human trafficking and not as a form of subversive crime. Completed police investigations are shelved and seldom lead to trial. Only one case led to a judgment by the district court in 2012. There is also a lack of alertness to new manifestations of human trafficking, such as victims being forced to beg, to sell street papers or to claim social benefits. This raises new concerns. Training is needed to foster greater vigilance against these new forms of exploitation.