VI. Traffickers, Their Victims, and the People Who Buy Humans
Although worldwide data on offenders, victims, and customers are limited, the UNODC (2006) recently compiled a profile of both offenders and victims based on information provided by various law enforcement agencies, government reports, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), research reports, and media reports.
A. Offender Characteristics
A significant number of people who earn a living buying, transporting, and selling humans live and conduct their illegal business from the following list of countries (listed in descending order based on frequency of either criminal convictions or research findings from the sources listed above):
- Russian Federation
Surprisingly, human trafficking operations are not exclusively male-operated. There are schemes operated by both men and women, and there are also men-only and women-only operations. There are also husband-and-wife operations and sibling operations. It is not uncommon for traffickers to know their victims. In fact, most victims are deceived by the promise of a better life from acquaintances, neighbors, and even family members who then sell them into the sex trade. The U.S. Department of State (2008) indicates that recruitment of victims is sometimes done by spouses/boyfriends.
There is no requisite age to become a trafficker. Because of the large profits to be made, individuals as young as 15 years of age may be engaged in the sale of humans. In Latin and South America, for instance, it is not unusual for teens to set up an illegal business in the sale of other teens as well as children as young as 8 years of age. For older traffickers, it is quite common for them to have an extensive criminal past and diversify their illegal activities by also engaging in immigration fraud, money laundering, extortion, gambling, check forgery, child pornography, and drug trafficking.
In many cases, human trafficking can be linked to organized criminal syndicates such as the Russian Mafia and the Chinese Triads. Indeed, Finckenauer (2001), who has studied the link between human trafficking and organized crime, believes that all transnational crimes, such as the sale and transportation of humans across the globe, require a bit of planning, organization, skills, and other resources to carry out the criminal venture. Nonetheless, involvement in a specific and identifiable criminal organization is not necessary. All that is needed is a network of loosely organized individuals, all with specialized criminal skills. For instance, Farr (2005) notes that the network usually has the following types of personnel:
- Recruiter: a person who finds vulnerable victims, usually from his or her own town or village
- Travel agent: a person to facilitate travel for victims to other countries
- Document thief/forger: a person whose specialty is to steal or create false documentation
- Employer: a person who initially purchases and then sells humans to customers
- Enforcer: a person who protects the employer from police and who keeps victims from escaping
Scholars are of the opinion that a large portion of human trafficking is carried out by criminal networks or associates with no history of belonging to well-known criminal organizations (Finckenauer, 2001). These associates may live and engage in criminal activity in different parts of the world, but they coalesce to sale and transport humans around the globe.
B. Characteristics of Victims
The following are the most frequently mentioned countries of origin for victims (in descending order):
- Russian Federation
- Republic of Moldova
- Czech Republic
From a regional perspective, the Commonwealth of Independent States (which consists of 12 countries formed after the collapse of the Soviet Union, including Belarus, Moldova, the Russian Federation, Ukraine, Armenia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan) is where the most victims are recruited or abducted globally.
Again, age does not seem to be a significant factor in determining who is more likely to become a trafficked victim. But, it is believed that most victims are adult women and minors, primarily girls younger than 17 years of age. Men comprise the smallest category. It is important to note, however, that much less is known about male victims of human trafficking. Because trafficking is a clandestine crime that is underreported and because labor trafficking is not perceived to be a grave offense when compared to sex trafficking, male victims are often a forgotten population. Thus, even though statistical reports regard male victims as a small population, this may not be entirely accurate. In addition, in some countries human trafficking is a gendered crime, meaning that men who are exploited for sexual or labor purposes are not considered victims of this crime. This may be another reason for the limited information on male victims of human trafficking.
There are other common victim characteristics, including the following:
- Low level of education or no education
- Limited employment opportunities in country of origin
- Dire economic circumstances
- Social and economic inequality in country of origin
- Armed conflict, military occupation, or regional conflict in country of origin
Although these are common characteristics, anyone can be a victim of human trafficking. Recruitment-by-abduction cases, although less common than recruitment-by-persuasion, do not require any of the above-mentioned characteristics to be present.
C. Characteristics of Customers or Consumers of Human Trafficking
Consumers of human trafficking exist in every part of the world, although certain locales, such as the United States, are ranked as top destination countries, or countries where humans are bought and forced into the commercial sex industry or into some form of forced labor. The profile of consumers is also diverse. Consumers can be men or women of varied ages. Occupations can range from the working class to professional men and women, some of whom are prominent businesspeople, doctors, lawyers, and politicians.
In 2000, a couple from Laredo, Texas, traveled to Veracruz, Mexico, on vacation. While in Veracruz, they befriended a family who begged them to take their 12-year-old daughter to the United States for a chance at a better life. The couple agreed to bring the girl to Texas to work as their maid. She was promised a bed, food, and wages. After smuggling the girl into the United States, the couple soon began to restrict her calls home. She was later not allowed to send money to her parents. Within weeks, the girl was kept outside the home where she slept and ate. She was later shackled to an old tire and beaten repeatedly (“Girl Reunited With Parents,” 2001).
A recent news report exemplifies the wide-ranging profile of consumers. In Long Island, New York, a millionaire couple who owned and operated a perfume business was arrested for holding two Indonesian women captive for 5 years. The couple, a 35-year-old woman and a 51-yearold man, traveled to Indonesia and recruited these women to work as maids, promising them $300 a month. The women were forced to sleep on mats, not allowed contact with anyone, and forced to labor for long hours. The women were also beaten by the alleged female offender, and their passports were confiscated to prevent escape (“Wealthy Long Island Couple Keeps Slaves,” 2008).
In sum, consumers can be anybody willing to pay for the illegitimate services of another.