Effective measures against human trafficking on shaky ground

Young victims of sexual exploitation in the Netherlands are becoming less visible, while a coordinated approach is still lacking. It remains unclear whether the plans the government has presented so far will bring about the necessary improvements in the fight against human trafficking. This is endangering the protection of and support for human trafficking victims. These are the conclusions of the Human Trafficking Victims Monitoring Report 2014–2018, which was published today. National Rapporteur Herman Bolhaar: 'Addressing a serious and urgent problem like human trafficking requires more than just words. We owe it to the victims to offer them protection and bring the offenders to book.'

In recent years, the number of registered victims of human trafficking has almost halved, according to the report compiled by the National Rapporteur on Trafficking in Human Beings and Sexual Violence against Children. Whereas the Coordination Centre against Human Trafficking (CoMensha) received 1,255 reports in 2014, this number had dropped to 668 in 2018. This drop is the result of a reduction in the number of reports submitted by non-investigating bodies, such as care agencies. In the period 2014–2017, these bodies reported an average of 550 cases to CoMensha annually, compared to no more than 150 in 2018.

This is because changes to privacy legislation have prevented them from sharing data for registration without the victim's explicit consent. Bolhaar: 'The findings in this monitor demonstrate that it is high time to make changes to the current reporting and registration procedure.' The National Rapporteur highlights the possibilities offered by Statistics Netherlands (CBS) to address this issue.

Young victims of sexual exploitation becoming less visible

Of particular concern is the reduced visibility of victims of domestic sexual exploitation in 2018. An estimated 3,000 Dutch people fall victim to sexual exploitation each year, of whom around 1,300 are minors. However, there were only 132 Dutch victims of sexual exploitation in 2018, with a mere 29 concerning minors. This equates to a visibility of only 2–3% of Dutch under-age victims. 'The fact that under-age victims are becoming less visible is something I have reported before. It is unacceptable that the Dutch government has allowed the visibility of this vulnerable group of victims to deteriorate even further,' Bolhaar says. His recommendation to the government is to make fighting domestic sexual exploitation a top priority, with a particular focus on young people.

Urgent need for police to step up

In recent years, investments have been made in terms of reinstating capacity and introducing measures to improve police investigation into human trafficking. Nevertheless, the number of Dutch and European victims of sexual exploitation reported to the National Police has fallen dramatically for the fifth year in succession. The number of suspects who are the subject of a criminal investigation by the police has also dropped in recent years. This implies that the police are actually identifying and supporting these Dutch and European victims less and less. Bolhaar expresses grave concerns: 'Particularly when it comes to victims who are unable or unwilling to ask for help, the police need to stay alert and investigate their cases proactively. This requires identifying and solving bottlenecks in the police's approach, so that their performance in this area can be improved.'

Lack of coordination and monitoring

The government's Samen tegen mensenhandel (Together against human trafficking) programme, which was launched in November 2018, contains a great number of measures to step up the fight against human trafficking. According to Bolhaar, the programme fulfils an obligation on the part of the Netherlands to tackle serious crimes like human trafficking, but he sounds a critical note as well: 'To combat human trafficking effectively, the Netherlands requires a well-structured, coordinated approach with a focus on results. It needs to walk the walk as well as talk the talk.' Consequently, Bolhaar pleads for a drastic improvement in coordination and monitoring as regards the results of the fight against human trafficking, in close consultation with those on the front line. 'Professionals must be empowered to tackle the issue in earnest.'

Exploitation within migration flows

The police have observed a sharp increase in the number of African victims who wish to report human trafficking to the Dutch authorities. Often, these victims have already applied for asylum in another EU Member State and are therefore Dublin claimants. Their reports seldom lead to prosecution. Due to the large influx, the temporary residence arrangement for victims of human trafficking was recently adapted for this group. This change has major consequences for both the protection of these victims and the detection of the offenders. The next step is to obtain insights into the underlying causes of the problem. For this reason, the Rapporteur recommends an investigation into the causes of the increase.