Source: Border Security Report
In the last ten years, the internet and social media have been increasingly used in practices that involve forms of human trafficking and exploitation. That is why various experts from twenty European countries came to the Netherlands during a hackathon to look together online for signs of sexual exploitation and human trafficking.
On September 6, 2022, EMPACT and the Dutch police coordinated an online day of action targeting criminal networks that use websites and social media to recruit victims of sexual and labour exploitation. This first EU-wide* hackathon** against online human trafficking was conducted by experts from 20 countries and Eurojust and supported by Europol.
Gathered in one room at the Dutch Police Academy in Apeldoorn, 85 detectives from all over Europe checked 114 platforms for human trafficking. The various experts put their heads together to map out at a European level whether, in addition to the already known sex advertising sites, other internet platforms are also being used to offer sexual services. And if so, whether these contain online signs of sexual exploitation.
Both the internet and human trafficking are not bound by national borders. Many social media platforms, dating apps and online private groups are being “hijacked” by people engaged in human trafficking for sexual or labor exploitation. During COVID-19, criminals took advantage of the pandemic to bolster their trafficking activities and make even more profits. It is more essential than ever to detect human trafficking online. The international cooperation during this hackathon and the exchange of knowledge, expertise and technology contributes to a better mapping of this criminal landscape and has resulted in new investigations. One of the actions targeted human traffickers trying to lure Ukrainian refugees.
Monitored 114 online platforms, of which 30 targeted vulnerable Ukrainian citizens;
- Checked 53 online platforms suspected of involvement in human trafficking, with 10 targeting only vulnerable Ukrainian citizens;
- Checked 5 online platforms involved in human trafficking, four of which focused on the sexual exploitation of children via the dark web;
- 11 suspects of human trafficking whose identities have been identified, including 5 persons involved in human trafficking targeting vulnerable Ukrainian citizens;
- 45 possible victims discovered, including 25 of Ukrainian nationality;
- 20 platforms potentially involved in human trafficking identified, which will be further investigated and monitored;
- 80 persons/usernames checked, of which 30 are involved in possible exploitation of vulnerable Ukrainian citizens.
Although the actions mainly focused on human trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation, the investigators also looked for leads for other forms of exploitation, including labor exploitation. The detectives searched a wide range of websites and other online platforms for human trafficking and other criminal activity. These platforms include social media, dating sites, advertising and support platforms, forums and messaging apps. Investigators have also investigated dark web platforms linked to human trafficking and the sexual exploitation of children online.
Albania, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, France, Finland, Greece, Hungary, Lithuania, Netherlands, Ukraine, Austria, Portugal, Poland, Romania, Slovenia, Slovakia, Spain, United Kingdom and Sweden.
When a group of experts comes together, in this case online, and together they look for ways to solve or investigate online a certain well-defined problem within a limited time.
Europol supported the coordination of operational activities, facilitated the exchange of information and provided analytical assistance. On the action day, Europol set up a virtual command center to facilitate real-time information exchange, while a specialized analyst compared the operational information with the information in Europol’s databases. This has provided the investigators of the participating enforcement agencies with directions for further investigation.
About EMPACT THB
EMPACT Trafficking in Human Beings (THB) is an EU project whose main aim is to tackle human trafficking. The Netherlands, as ultimately responsible for this, is closely involved. By joining international forces, 1,250 investigations into human trafficking were established last year. (EMPACT (European Multidisciplinary Platform Against Criminal Threats))