Human trafficking offenders: often aged under 23

The National Rapporteur on Trafficking in Human Beings and Sexual Violence against Children is greatly concerned about the relatively young age of offenders with regard to sexual exploitation within the Netherlands. One third of these offenders is under 23 years of age at the time of the offence. Sexual exploitation within the Netherlands is the most common form of human trafficking. The National Rapporteur also noted the young age of criminal exploitation offenders: one fifth of these is under 23 years of age. These findings are contained in the Human Trafficking Offenders Monitoring Report published today. The Offenders Monitoring Report provides an insight into the offenders who commit the various forms of human trafficking and into the criminal justice approach between 2015 and 2019.

Preventing young people from becoming offenders

The young age of both victims and offenders is a negative highlight of not only this Offenders Monitoring Report, but also of the recently released Human Trafficking Victims Monitoring Report and the case study into sexual violence against young women in Amsterdam. For this reason, the National Rapporteur is recommending a specific focus on preventing people from becoming human trafficking offenders, particularly young people. National Rapporteur Herman Bolhaar: ‘I cannot emphasise enough how concerned I am by the fact that people are committing such serious offences at such an early age. We still know too little about the offenders and how and why they do what they do. As there are no victims without offenders, we need to step up our information-gathering efforts in this regard.’

Preventing offenders from reoffending

For the first time, the Monitoring Report incorporated Dutch Probation Service figures on the probation supervision of human trafficking offenders. Rehabilitation is key to preventing offenders from reoffending. Between 2015 and 2019, 25 of the 85 offenders convicted to a fully or partially non-suspended prison sentence were made subject to a probation supervision order each year. This number strikes National Rapporteur Herman Bolhaar as remarkable: ‘Human trafficking is a very serious offence. We should endeavour to find out why so few probation supervision orders are handed down for this group. It is important that we supervise these offenders closely, not least to prevent them from reoffending. This is particularly relevant given the young age of some of the offenders. We urgently require more information on the nature of the offenders, the problems that drive them to offend and the most suitable approach.’

Fewer suspects, more dismissals

After 2016, the number of identified suspects dropped from 285 in 2016 to 170 in 2019. At the same time, the number of reports of human trafficking rose from 575 in 2016 to 1,045 in 2019. Of the suspects who are arrested, 60% end up in front of a judge. The number of dismissals is increasing: while around 27% of cases were dropped in 2016, this number had risen to 41% in 2019. The conviction rate of suspects brought before the court is 90%.

Efforts to combat labour exploitation lagging behind

The number of convictions for labour exploitation is relatively low. In addition, offenders are given shorter sentences than offenders who commit other forms of human trafficking. Both the courts and society as a whole remain largely in the dark about where serious harm ends and labour exploitation begins. Given the number of vulnerable people on the labour market, this is a cause for concern. On the plus side, there is a growing awareness of the mechanisms that make employees and industries vulnerable to labour exploitation. It is vital to map out which employees and industries are particularly vulnerable and where they are located. The differences between regions and between municipalities may be considerable. A targeted local approach will make it possible to combat labour exploitation effectively.

Perseverance needed in terms of both ambitions and enforcement

National Rapporteur Herman Bolhaar: ‘My recent reports have consistently highlighted the urgency of the problem of young offenders and victims. There are no easy solutions to these complex issues. The characteristics of human trafficking are changing rapidly. On top of that, the problem is becoming less visible as it gradually moves online. An increasing number of administrators and authorities at the local, regional and national level now recognise the urgency of the problem. This has been a key development. In order to combat human trafficking effectively, we now need to step up our enforcement efforts with the support of the professionals who are actually in touch with young people. If we do not, these young people will ultimately pay the price – as will we as a society.’