VII. Why Do Victims Remain Hidden From Authorities?
There are diverse reasons why victims seldom come to the attention of the police, the first of which is that their ability to leave their place of employment is generally forbidden or highly restricted (Farr, 2005). Victims are rarely left alone, not allowed to use the telephone, and are fearful of the ramifications if they try to escape or inform the police of their circumstances. Moreover, most victims do not speak the language in their new destination country, which impedes their ability to communication with authorities. Also, victims are not trusting of police. In their home country, authorities (whether local police or immigration officials) were more likely than not to be involved in the scheme to sell them. Farr (2005) reports that human trafficking would not be possible without the help of corrupt authorities, whether that means they receive money to look the other way or they receive money to actually facilitate the shipment of human cargo. Farr notes that in the United States, too, there is evidence that traffickers bribe border authorities in exchange for ease of entry into the country.
As mentioned, human trafficking is a physically and psychologically debilitating crime for victims; violence and the threat of violence quashes insubordination to a point where it breaks the human spirit and any attempts to escape or seek help. Victims are also frightened that their cries for help might be answered by a criminal conviction. The majority of victims are in their country of destination illegally and thus are apprehensive that talking to authorities may result in their arrest. In addition, traffickers continuously move victims to different locations to prevent police from uncovering the human trafficking enterprise.
The above reasons indicate that most victims will not disclose their status as trafficked victims to the police. It is up to police to proactively look for them. However, this also is problematic.
Victims remain hidden for several other reasons as well. As most victims work in the sex industry as prostitutes, and police have historically viewed prostitution as a victimless crime, the police inconsistently make arrests (Vago, 2006). The issue of consent is also problematic for police. Although consent is irrelevant with respect to rending aid, police often believe that most trafficking victims consent to enter their destination country illegally and thus deserve to be arrested and deported. Consent also affects decisions to proactively look for victims (Kelly & Regan, 2000) as well as the way police classify this crime. Most classify trafficking cases as human smuggling and thus become complacent about launching investigations, since a special law enforcement branch of the government is charged with such investigations. The misclassification of human trafficking cases is common. Human trafficking and human smuggling are crimes that share common elements. For instance, victims of human trafficking sometimes consent to illegal travel as do individuals who pay to be smuggled into a country in which they are not a legal resident. However, human smuggling usually does not involve the force, fraud, or coercion of labor, and individuals who pay to be smuggled across international borders can return to their country of origin as opposed to being enslaved. It is important to mention that some human smuggling cases can quickly turn into cases of human trafficking if individuals are forced to labor against their will (Aronowitz, 2001).
Another reason why victims remain hidden is because of the organized nature of human trafficking. As mentioned, the workload for these illegal schemes is diversified and determining the network of associates may involve investigations in several countries. Diversification, however, makes it difficult to pinpoint where to start looking. Also, police are not usually trained to investigate these cases. Thus, police may not know how to go about finding and identifying victims and may not have the staff and resources to proactively launch investigations.
The problematic nature associated with identifying victims of human trafficking makes it appealing to traffickers who weigh the benefits and consequences of committing this crime. Clearly, the benefits outweigh the consequences since risk of apprehension is low. If the benefits continue to overshadow the risks, human trafficking will continue to thrive. Lawrence Cohen and Marcus Felson (1979) believe that motivated offenders can be dissuaded from engaging in crime if potential victims are better protected and if the community together with the police become more vigilant regarding such offenders. Cohen and Felson, in their discussion of routine activities theory, suggest that diminishing the suitability of a potential crime target or the potential for victimization is important. Although their theory is primarily applied to property-related crime, routine activities theory may be applicable to the crime of human trafficking. Current efforts are underway worldwide to prevent vulnerable individuals from becoming potential targets of human trafficking. In fact, the United States has been providing aid to the most vulnerable countries. It has also been trying to raise awareness of this crime worldwide. This latter element is crucial. As discussed by Cohen and Felson, it is not only important to diminish the vulnerability of potential victims but also to increase vigilance about possible offenders. In discussing what they call capable guardians, Cohen and Felson express that it is essential for the police as well as the community to help identify potential offenders in an effort to increase the risk of apprehension. Only then will the risk outweigh the gain of selling and trading humans, and the motivation to engage in this crime will diminish. Thus, it is imperative to increase awareness not only among the law enforcement or criminal justice community but also in the community at large. It will take a concerted effort by all to act as capable guardians.