Half of all human trafficking victims become repeat victims

Fifty per cent of all victims of human trafficking become repeat victims within seven years. This is the conclusion drawn by the National Rapporteur on Trafficking in Human Beings and Sexual Violence against Children, Herman Bolhaar, in the Human Trafficking Victims Monitoring Report 2016–2020. ‘We urgently need to offer victims better and more active protection to avoid a repetition of their ordeal – or worse,’ the National Rapporteur states.

In 2020, there were 984 reports of human trafficking in the Netherlands. The National Rapporteur repeated his concerns about the abuse suffered by the most vulnerable groups. These are minors, labour migrants and victims in migration flows. The COVID-19 pandemic and the measures taken against it have isolated them further, thus making them even more vulnerable.

Repeated victimisation

The Monitoring Report shows that 45% of victims of human trafficking fall victim to crime again within five years. Within seven years, that figure even climbs to 50%. In cases of repeated victimisation, these are often serious offences. Victims may once again suffer exploitation, or they are subjected to abuse, threats or sexual violence.

Support insufficiently meets victims’ needs

Victims of exploitation have widely diverse backgrounds and they often have complex problems. Both victims and offenders tend to be young. Research has shown that minors in particular are at risk of falling victim to crime again. To be able to offer them more adequate protection, both the support given to victims and the investigation and prosecution of offenders should focus more on the context of existing problems. ‘Whether victims receive the right support depends on such factors as residence status, place of residence and age. But the support should really be tailored to the victims’ needs,’ National Rapporteur Bolhaar argues.

Human trafficking is not a self-contained issue

Human trafficking and other forms of subversive crime are known to be closely linked. It has become increasingly clear in recent years that victimisation and offending in human trafficking can overlap. This accumulation of problems and the fact that experiencing human trafficking can have long-term disruptive consequences for victims make exploitation a major social problem. ‘The government has a responsibility to ensure active prevention, protection and suitable support. This Victims Monitoring Report shows that the Netherlands still falls short in this area,’ the National Rapporteur concludes.

Municipalities play a crucial role: focus on implementation

Municipalities are the government bodies in closest contact with their residents, which gives them a crucial role in preventing and tackling exploitation and providing support to victims. However, this is a joint responsibility: the Ministry of Justice and Security and the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport also have an important part to play. The National Rapporteur believes that implementation at the local level should take centre stage and should be improved, including through effective cooperation with and decision-making by the responsible bodies at the national level.

Coordination between the parties involved will allow for support that is tailored to the needs of victims, which is essential to prevent first-time and/or repeated victimisation and offending wherever possible. Because of the urgency of the problem, the National Rapporteur makes the following strong recommendation to the government: ‘provide municipalities and professionals with a long-term, sustainable framework in order to provide appropriate support to all presumed victims of human trafficking.’

Role of the internet and social media

The National Rapporteur previously highlighted the speed of technological developments, the opportunities these developments give to offenders, and hence the risk for victims that these developments entail. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the already sizeable role that the internet and social media play in our lives has only increased further. ‘We are currently not making full use of the possibilities that the internet and social media offer in terms of providing information and protection. This is an element that is lacking from our approach,’ Herman Bolhaar says. ‘We must not forget that both victims and offenders tend to be young people who are still developing. Victims are at risk of long-term trauma. We must strive to prevent the serious consequences for both victims and offenders as much as possible.’