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Relationships Between Suspects and Victims of Sex Trafficking. Exploitation of Prostitutes and Domestic Violence Parallels in Dutch Trafficking Cases

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Abstract

This article centres on the hypothesis that human trafficking for sexual exploitation is not only an organised crime activity, but a crime of relational nature as well. Therefore this study explores the relationships that exist between suspects and victims of sex trafficking, and examines to what extent the nature of sex trafficking has parallels with domestic violence. The study is based on an analysis of 12 police investigations into sex trafficking related to window prostitution in the Amsterdam red-light district in the period 2006–2010. The findings suggest that there are intimate relationships between traffickers and victims, and that these relationships display various characteristics of domestic violence. Aside from intimidation, control and violence, factors such as affection and attachment contribute to the persistency of these relationships. This empirical study shows the theoretical and practical importance of focusing on the relational aspects of sex trafficking and the use of domestic violence knowledge to help identify trafficking situations, as well as for the prosecution of cases and to provide assistance to victims.
1 23
European Journal on Criminal Policy
and Research
ISSN 0928-1371
Eur J Crim Policy Res
DOI 10.1007/s10610-013-9226-2
Relationships Between Suspects and
Victims of Sex Trafficking. Exploitation of
Prostitutes and Domestic Violence Parallels
in Dutch Trafficking Cases
Maite Verhoeven, Barbra van Gestel,
Deborah de Jong & Edward Kleemans
1 23
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Relationships Between Suspects and Victims of Sex
Trafficking. Exploitation of Prostitutes and Domestic
Violence Parallels in Dutch Trafficking Cases
Maite Verhoeven &Barbra van Gestel &
Deborah de Jong &Edward Kleemans
#Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013
Abstract This article centres on the hypothesis that human trafficking for sexual exploitation is
not only an organised crime activity, but a crime of relational nature as well. Therefore this study
explores the relationships that exist between suspects and victims of sex trafficking, and examines
to what extent the nature of sex trafficking has parallels with domestic violence. The study is
based on an analysis of 12 police investigations into sex trafficking related to window prostitution
in the Amsterdam red-light district in the period 20062010. The findings suggest that there are
intimate relationships between traffickers and victims, and that these relationships display various
characteristics of domestic violence. Aside from intimidation, control and violence, factors such as
affection and attachment contribute to the persistency of these relationships. This empirical study
shows the theoretical and practical importance of focusing on the relational aspects of sex
trafficking and the use of domestic violence knowledge to help identify trafficking situations, as
well as for the prosecution of cases and to provide assistance to victims.
Keywords Domestic violence .Human trafficking .Organised crime .Prostitution .Sex
trafficking .Violent relationships
Introduction
It is a random Friday night in Amsterdams red-light district. Despite the rain, the streets are
packed with people. Tourists stroll through the narrow streets and alleys, looking at the red
Eur J Crim Policy Res
DOI 10.1007/s10610-013-9226-2
M. Verhoeven (*):B. van Gestel
Research and Documentation Centre (WODC), PO Box 20301, 2500 EH Den Haag, The Netherlands
e-mail: m.a.verhoeven@minvenj.nl
D. de Jong
Ministry of Security and Justice, PO Box 20301, 2500 EH Den Haag, The Netherlands
E. Kleemans
VU University Amsterdam, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Author's personal copy
lighted windows where women - working as prostitutes - offer their services. Whereas the area
exudes an atmosphere of fun and excitement, some prostitutes are bamboozled out of their
money by pimps, using manipulation and fraud. This phenomenon, the exploitation of
prostitutes, is known in the Netherlands as sex trafficking.
Sex trafficking is a form of trafficking in persons, which is defined in the UN Palermo
Protocol as:
The recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of
the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception,
of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of
payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another
person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the
exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced
labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of
organs. The consent of a victim of trafficking in persons to the intended exploitation
shall be irrelevant(UN Palermo Protocol 2000:2).
This internationally recognised definition is also used in the Netherlands. This means that
pimps exploiting prostitutes by means of coercion, deception or fraud are prosecuted for the
offence of human trafficking.
1
In this article sex trafficking follows the UN definition of
trafficking in persons, applied to trafficking for sexual exploitation.
Although there is an immense variety in trafficking situations and victims (Brunovskis
2012; Tyldum 2013), trafficking is often studied as a transnational organised crime phenom-
enon (Viuhko and Jokinen 2009; Hoyle et al. 2011; US Department of State 2013). Much
research focuses on recruitment in countries of origin and the transportation and exploitation of
foreign girls to far away countries. Some authors stress the tradeaspects of human traffick-
ing, with victims being moved across borders like illicit commercial products, comparable to
other commercial illicit merchandise such as drugs and weapons (for a review, see e.g. Zhang
2009; Abadinsky 2010;Shelley2010,2011; Winterdyk and Reichel 2010).
However, our study of prosecuted sex trafficking cases in the Netherlands shows that
offenders and victims are often related in some way and often have close, intimate relation-
ships. Without underestimating the seriousness of sex trafficking, it is clear that an organised
crime perspective does not entirely fit the trafficking cases in which such intimate relationships
exist between offenders and victims. Also, a focus on organised crime aspects may risk
creating or confirming certain misconceptions about human trafficking. Such a perspective
may for instance create a certain image or ideal typeof trafficking victims (Hoyle et al. 2011).
This may mean, in consequence, that someone who chooses to work in prostitution cannot be
considered a victim of trafficking. Or, that someone who does not run away or press charges
against the exploiter cannot be a victim of trafficking. These misconceptions can lead to
missed opportunities to identify victims or situations of trafficking (Hoyle et al. 2011;US
Department of State 2013:30).
In this article, based on the cases we studied, we argue that sex trafficking is not only an
organised crime activity, but can also be a crime of a relational nature. This argument is an
important contribution to the existing sex trafficking literature (Lehti and Aromaa 2006;
Savona and Stefanizzi 2007; Kleemans 2009; Turner and Kelly 2009). We show the relational
nature of sex trafficking through an analysis of 12 police investigations into sex trafficking
related to window prostitution in the Amsterdam red-light district during the period 2006
1
In the Netherlands, prostitution is a legal and regulated profession. Nevertheless, coerced prostitution and the
exploitation of prostitutes is a criminal act and falls under the definition of the offence of human trafficking.
M. Verhoeven et al.
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2010.
2
This study demonstrates that sex trafficking is often embedded in intimate relation-
ships, in which intimidation, control and violence play a role, along with affection and
(economic) dependency. These characteristics seem to resemble situations of domestic vio-
lence. The parallels between domestic violence and sex trafficking are that both can occur
within a relationship, that neither are single events but rather an accumulation of acts in which
forms of violence enter the relationship, and that neither are easy to stop. It is quite remarkable
that, to date, little or no sound empirical research has been done on the similarities between the
two phenomena. Failure to map out these similarities means that valuable insights may be
overlooked that could prove useful for a better understanding of the underlying processes.
Knowledge of these (similar) processes could in turn be helpful in finding clues for effective
prevention, prosecution, investigation and victim assistance (see also Caneppele and Mancuso
2013). In this article, we take a look at those similarities in order to explore what can be learned
from the domestic violence literature to achieve a better understanding of sex trafficking.
Earlier Research
There is very little earlier research on this topic. In 2007, for instance, a literature study was
published on the intersection between domestic violence and human trafficking (Warnath
2007). Warnaths study, however, does not examine similarities but discusses cause-effect
relations between both phenomena. It deals, among others, with the extent to which victims of
human trafficking were exposed to domestic violence. Warnath concludes that there is a large
knowledge gap regarding the links between domestic violence and human trafficking, partic-
ularly concerning the interaction between the victim and the offender in human trafficking
cases (Warnath 2007).
In 2008, a study was published on how best to provide assistance and support to victims of
the two phenomena. However, the similarities between the two phenomena solely pertain to
the effects of these two types of offences on the mental and physical well-being and the socio-
economic position of the victims (Surtees and Somach 2008).
There is some research in which comparisons have been made between prostitution and
domestic violence or between batterersand pimps (Giobbe 1993; Raphael 2010; Hester and
Westmarland 2004). Some authors argue that prostitution per se is violence and is the same as
domestic violence, and that all prostitution causes harm to women (Farley 2004;Starkand
Hodgson 2004). An Australian study uses a wide definition of domestic violence and states
that it may also include forced prostitution (New South Wales 2012: 6). With the exception of
this scant academic literature, we found very little empirical research on parallels between sex
trafficking and domestic violence. In their recent study on human trafficking, Helfferich et al.
(2011) do pay attention to the similarities between the phenomena and refer to insights gained
from research on domestic violence because these cases are usually marked by difficult
detachment processes(Helfferich et al. 2011: 132). They furthermore refer to literature on
domestic violence to explain the reluctance of victims of trafficking to turn to the police. We
will return to both these aspects later on in this article.
In order to explore the parallels, the following section looks into the definition and
characteristics of domestic violence. The second section describes our current research,
explaining our empirical data and research methods. The third section comprises empirical
2
The Amsterdam red-light district is a network of streets and alleys with approximately 300 windowsthat are
rented by prostitutes. Window prostitution means that the prostitute is visible behind a window, a position from
which she solicits customers who are walking by and are able to look at her. Once the customer has been
solicited, the sexual services are provided behind the same window, after the curtains have been closed.
Sex Trafficking and Domestic Violence Parallels
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results on the relationships between offenders and victims, on control, intimidation and
violence within sex trafficking relationships, and on victimscoping mechanisms. The last
section discusses the main results of this study.
Characteristics of Domestic Violence
Domestic violence may be defined broadly or narrowly, but in essence domestic violence is
about the exertion of (psychological) violence and control within relationships. There are
different forms of domestic violence: (threat of) physical violence, sexual or emotional abuse,
psychological violence such as controlling and dominating someone, and intimidation or
stalking (Shipway 2004). Often, violence serves as a means of exerting control and power
(cf. Babcock et al. 1993). In this article we use the definition of the British Home Office that
domestic violence is any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive, threatening
behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are, or have been, intimate
partners or family members regardless of gender or sexuality.
3
International academic literature provides descriptions of various characteristics of domes-
tic violence (Malsch et al. 2005;Stark2007,2010). The prime characteristic of domestic
violence is that violence is committed in a relational context. These are intimate (romantic)
relationships or family relationships, yet domestic violence also includes violence committed
against ex partners rather than just people who are living together.
A second characteristic of domestic violence is that the behaviour of both offender and
victim display specific patterns or processes. Malsch et al. (2005) have described the
systematic and persistent character of domestic violence. They observe that within violent
relationships, particular patterns of dealing with one another frequently occur. Stark (2007,
2010) stresses that within abusive relationships the abuse tends to be on-goingrather than
incident based. Furthermore, he points out that domestic violence consists for 90 % of other
tactics than violence, namely intimidation, isolation and control. Consequently, he uses the
term coercive control to describe this behaviour. In addition to physical assault, intimidation
is used to induce fear and humiliation. Isolation refers to a subset of control tactics that
constrain victimsaccess to friends, family and others (and thus to forms of support).
Control includes material deprivation (money is taken away), limitation of speech and
movement, and the regulation of someones everyday life. He gives examples of certain
trivial rules that women are forced by their partners to obey, always with the or else
proviso hanging over their heads. Illustrating the impact of imposed limitations, he
describes how women explain that what was done to them was less important than what
their partners prevented them from doing. Much of this deprivation and control is structural
and induces an objective state of dependency (Stark 2010:3).
The result of the expressed power, control and created dependency is that partners will be
reluctant to separate and leaving is a complicated option. Leaving the relationship does not
guarantee safety and may even increase the risk of further violence (Dichter and Gelles 2012).
Other barriers to leaving an abusive partner are: fear of increased violence, lack of economic or
social resources, concern for the welfare of children, sense of moral obligation, or love for the
partner (Dichter and Gelles 2012). Since these relationships were not ended, the risk of
domestic violence will also continue. Oddly, partners may continue the pattern of abuse even
after the relationship has ended (Malsch et al. 2005: 366; Dichter and Gelles 2012).
3
Retrieved July 2013 from the website https://www.gov.uk/domestic-violence-and-abuse
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Victim sCoping Strategies in Cases of Domestic Violence
According to Stark (2007), abusive offenders are actually dependent on their partner, either
materially, sexually or emotionally. For this reason they usually protect their investment in a
partner and actively block opportunities for escape. So, it is actually men who stay, not their
partners (Stark 2007: 130, 205). Taking action against domestic violence by reporting it to the
police or attempting separation often places victims at a higher risk of renewed violence (Erez
et al. 2012: 2). How do victims deal with this situation? Some authors contend that coping
mechanisms or ways of dealing with these complex situations can be understood as a
(protracted) process of adaptation, which can have the effect that victims do not perceive
themselves as victims (cf. Helfferich et al. 2011). Stark describes battered womens reactions to
coercive control as a dynamic interplay of agency, victimisation and resistance (2007: 215). He
sketches how the dynamics in abusive relationships are shaped through continuous negotiation
about proximity and distance (2007: 130). Paterson (2009)pointstoresistance strategiesto
abuse that can be viewed as a continuum of attempts to reduce or eliminate violence. She also
mentions the importance of the context in which victims choose their strategies, as this context
is key in shaping the actual options available to women(Paterson 2009). Kearney (2001)has
described the way in which victims deal with violence as an on-going process in which they
redefine violence as something temporary or something that can be overcome. Some victims
think, for instance, that they have to take care of the offender. Others think that they themselves
are partly the cause of the violence, or are simply unable to see any other practical or emotional
alternative (Ferraro and Johnson 1983). In other coping processes, victims are hoping for the
return of better times within the relationship, or have an intense focus on the hoped-for
relationship and seek logical explanations for their partners behaviour (Kearney 2001). The
result of such reactions is that the relationship persists. It furthermore happens that women do
notwanttoleavebutjustwanttheviolencetoend(Paterson2009), and that they will continue
to strive for non-violent contact with their partner (Dichter et al. 2011).
Partly for the same reasons for not ending an abusive relationship, victims are usually
reluctant to call on the police for assistance, to file a report, or to facilitate the states
prosecution (Dichter et al. 2011).
4
Research by Dichter et al. (2011) distinguishes several
barriers that victims face when wishing to prevent further violence by means of State
prosecution. Those barriers are: fear of retaliatory violence; love or financial dependency;
the belief that the relationship will improve; the belief that the abuse is deserved, or that it was
not serious or not bad enough; concerns about the impact on children; negative prior police
experiences; and the fear of being arrested themselves for illegal activity (Dichter et al. 2011).
Also, victims do not wish their partner to be subjected to a prison sentence, and there is the role
played by a sense of shame. Dichter et al. (2011) also found some motivating factors to engage
in the prosecution process; namely certain breaking points where the violence had built up to a
level of enough is enough; concerns that the abuse was damaging for their children; and the
presence of a social support network of friends, family, or co-workers that can influence their
decision to go ahead with prosecution (2011: 2930).
There are generally no witnesses to domestic violence: prosecution or any other form of
intervention largely depends on the willingness of the victim to report the offence to the police
4
Approximately one in four cases of physical interpersonal partner violence (IPV), are reported to the police
(either by the females themselves or by others) (Tjaden and Thoennes 2000). Some women in the study of
Dichter and Gelles (2012: 59) felt that the threat of police sanctioning would deter their partners from using
violence in the future, while others said that the lack of accountability from formal institutions (including the
legal system) made them feel less safe and less protected.
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(Malsch et al. 2005). Moreover, filing a report is not anonymous, since victim and offender are
involved in a relationship. In cases in which victims actually filed a report, they often withdrew
it later, and/or returned to their partner (Smeenk and Malsch 2005).
Current Research
This study explores the relationships and interaction between victims and suspects of sex
trafficking. It also explores parallels with characteristics of domestic violence known from the
literature, to see what insights this may yield. The research is based on an analysis of 12
criminal investigations into human trafficking for sexual exploitation.
5
Under Dutch law,
human trafficking includes the exploitation of a person by coercion, deception or violence,
regardless of whether this takes place across international borders or within the Netherlands.
6
We studied all sex trafficking cases that were prosecuted in the period 20062010 that were
directly related to window prostitution in the Amsterdam red-light district. This concerns 12
cases that are selected as follows. Annual numbers of trafficking cases handled by the police
are not available because trafficking is not registered separately in the police registration
(BNRM 2012: 127). Because there is no such overview, the Dutch Police were requested for a
list of trafficking cases handled in the Amsterdam area. This list contained 25 cases. Together
with the police we determined which cases that had already been concluded were related to
Amsterdams red-light district, which were 12 cases. So in a period of five years, a total of 12
cases were pursued that related to the capitals red-light district. These 12 cases contain a total
of 70 suspects and 76 victims. To compare, in the period 20072010, around 200 suspects of
trafficking were registered by the Dutch Prosecutors Office each year (BNRM 2012:170,
200). This figure includes all forms of trafficking, so not only sex trafficking.
For the source material we were granted access to the original police files. We analysed the
complete files from the criminal investigations. These files contain the results of each
investigation and consist, among other things, of transcribed telecom interceptions, reports
on police observations, interrogations, statements made by victims and suspects, etc. In the
Netherlands, victims of sex trafficking are counselled and interrogated by special police
officers who are trained and certified in taking statements from these specific victims.
7
Dutch criminal investigations make extensive use of wiretapping, yielding substantial amounts
of non-obtrusiveevidence. In all 12 investigations, the teams decided to wiretap suspects
and/or victims. These telephone conversations provide valuable information about the rela-
tionship between victims and suspects and the ways in which they dealt with each other.
5
On the basis of the collected data we reported earlier on the investigation of human trafficking by the police and
on their cooperation with other government agencies (Verhoeven et al. 2011).
6
Wei t ze r ( 2005: 228 and 2007: 463) states that the definition of coercive sex trafficking(the use of force, fraud,
or deception to procure, transport, harbour, and sell persons, within and between nations, for purposes of
prostitution) does not apply to persons who willingly travel in search of employment in the sex industry. He
stresses that many writers lump this kind of migration into the trafficking category. In the light of the discussion
about what should be called trafficking, we want to mention that in some of our cases we see that there are
situations in which both deception and voluntary travel go hand in hand. Women, for example, hear about
possibilities and big earnings in the Dutch sex industry and they agree to travel with some of the suspects to the
Netherlands. While working there, they are misled about their expenses and earnings and they are forced to hand
over most of their earnings to suspects.
7
Furthermore, the police use so-called intake conversationswith victims of human trafficking in which the
judicial procedure is explained by a specialised detective with the aim of enabling them to make the decision
whether they want to press charges.
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In addition, we conducted face-to-face interviews with leaders of police teams involved in
the investigations. The 12 police investigations varied in duration from one to 18 months,
while the majority lasted between three to seven months.
All the gathered data were coded using MAXQDA to facilitate the analysis. This is a
software tool especially designed for qualitative data analysis.
Using police data inevitably imposes some limitations. Police data are originally gathered
for a different purpose, namely the investigation and prosecution of crime. Also, possible
human trafficking that is not investigated by the police is not included. Unobtrusively gathered
police data offers a close look at relationships between traffickers and victims, but does not
give a complete picture. Interviews with the women involved could also shed light on
similarities between sex trafficking and domestic violence, but for a first exploration of our
hypothesis we chose to use police data. Further research and the use of other methods could
test and validate our findings.
Empirical Results
The data from the human trafficking cases relate to 76 victims and 70 suspects. Most suspects
were male. All victims were female. In this article we therefore use the terms traffickers,
suspects and men as synonyms, and the terms victims, prostitutes and women as synonyms,
depending on the context.
The ages of the suspects appearing in the cases varied from 18 to 58. The average age was
30. Most were born in Turkey, Hungary, the Netherlands and Germany. Three of the 12 studied
cases had only one suspect as the target of the investigation, whereas four cases centred on two
or three suspects. Almost half of the cases (five) focused on a wider group of suspects,
generally six or seven. One investigation was quite extensive, involving about 30 suspects.
The ages of the victims at the time of the investigation varied from 17 to 35. The average
age was 23. They were mainly in their 20s (54), but there were also adolescents (15) and
women in their 30s (7). Approximately a third of the women were 21 or younger at the
moment of the investigation. More than half of the victims was born in the Netherlands (45).
Another significant group of victims was born in Hungary. Other countries of birth of the
victims were Romania, Germany, and in a few cases Poland, Thailand, France, Kazakhstan,
Lithuania, Belgium, and the Netherlands Antilles.
In all cases relationships between suspects and victims occurred. The 12 studied cases
involved 73 intimate relationships.
8
Some investigations involved one or more relationships
(five cases), whereas other investigations comprised three to five relationships (five cases).
Two investigations consisted of more than 20 intimate relationships. These were both
protracted investigations, in which suspects were under surveillance for a long time. The main
suspects in these two cases had up to nine intimate relationships over a longer period of time.
Relationships Between Suspect and Victims
In addition to information on exploitation, deception and different types of abuse, the police
files contained information on how the traffickers established the boyfriend relationships.
8
Sometimes the police files contained a lot of information about the relationships between victims and suspects,
while there was less information on others because it wasnt the focus of the criminal investigation. We excluded
the intimate relationships between suspects and prostitutes that emerged at some point outside the duration of the
criminal investigation.
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Victims and traffickers in the studied files met each other in nightlife, in prostitution areas, or
in their countries of origin. A lot of suspects were already active in the Amsterdam red-light
district, as pimps, illegal taxi drivers or in other capacities, or they met the prostitutes when
visiting them as a customer.
In the beginning of the relationship the couples tend to enjoy themselves. They do fun
things together, they go out, they visit places together and text each other. A number of women
indicated that they were having a good time together:
We were forever talking, laughing, fucking, boozing, smoking joints and chilling out.
Several women indicated that their boyfriend had shown kindness and personal interest
during their first encounters, as the following excerpt from the police files shows:
X listened to me when I talked about my feelings and I felt he was someone I could talk
to really well. He sometimes dropped by to sit with me for a while. He was aware of my
problems in the prostitution business. ()
The criminal investigations we studied revealed that a number of men were keen to show
off their money. They drove around in eye-catching cars, wore expensive clothes, and
preferred to spend their money conspicuously in the company of others.
X. recalls the first time Y. came by to pick her up for a nice outing:
Y. gave me butterflies. When I saw that car parked with that barrel-chested bloke in it
(). I thought this is it. Thats my man, strong, good-looking and smooth; it looks like
hes got money. I think hes loaded. What more do you want?
As usually happens at the start of intimate relationships, some particular characteristics of
the partner are valued. One of the women described her boyfriend as sweet and shy. Other
women indicated they were treated with respect, that their boyfriend was sensitive or very
helpful. Besides affection, the relationship brings a number of other benefits. Their partners
organise a place to live for the women, for example, or help them do their work. They bring
them to work and pick them up again, bring food during working hours, do the womens
shopping and help out when other pimps make trouble.
Almost all couples started living together. Sometimes they ran a shared household.
Sometimes suspects lived with several women at the same time. There were also criminal
cases in which several women and suspects shared a house. A number of couples talked of
marriage and one couple did get married. Some couples have a child.
Most of the suspects did not say very much during the police interrogation. However, a few
did disclose bits of information. One suspect briefly talked about his relationships with his
girlfriends and why he lived off them. According to this man, his girlfriends really wanted to
take care of him and thought that he did not need to do anything. It is normal in a relationship
that you share everything, he argued. According to another suspect, what concerns women
most is to have a sense of belonging, to have fancy things, and to have money. As one suspect
said about a number of women and a group of other pimps:
Those girls want to belong. They do it themselves. They themselves make that decision.
They want to compete among each other with nice bags and beautiful clothes. For that
you need money and you dont earn that on your own with some shitty job. And those
guys have plenty of girls. They just say that if they want to belong, they have to start
doing that work. Otherwise the girls cant see those guys. Its up to them. And then those
girls start doing it because thats the way to become the guys girlfriend.
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Later on in the relationship, some suspects encouraged their womento start working in
prostitution. Other victims were already working in prostitution. In all cases the men urged
women to hand over their money, on the pretext of managing their money for them (for
example for a shared future together, a house abroad, their own business, or a study), or that
there were debts or certain (protection) costs. Sometimes women thought they had saved a lot
of money together, only to discover later that the money was gone. Overall, the cases paint a
picture of men who rely on the money earned by their women, while they act as if it is the
other way around.
Control, Rules and Isolation
One of the methods used by traffickers to continue the relationship and the flow of money is
through a far-reaching control over the womans life, under the pretext of their shared future
together, for her own safety, or simply because he sets the rules.
Most victims are dropped off at work and picked up afterwards. When working, the
traffickers or others (so-called bodyguards) keep an eye on them. They watch how many
customers they receive, how long the customers stay, the womens working hours, and thus
how much money they should have earned. Moreover, traffickers monitor whether other pimps
try to persuade their women to start working for them. Therefore, traffickers are present in the
prostitution district and have frequent telephone contact with the women. Also, sometimes
several times a day, the money is picked up at the womens window by the men, to avoid the
prostitute having a large amount of money in her room. The men claim that they are present in
the area for the sake of security.
The suspects introduce certain rulesinto the relationship. One woman says she had to
promise her boyfriend to keep him informed about her working hours, to put his mind at ease.
She sends him text messages about her earnings, to show how well she works. In one of the
cases, women have to ask the men for permission to stop working or to leave the room to get a
sandwich or something to drink. Sometimes a woman even calls her boyfriend after each
customer visit. Some traffickers argue that in a relationship you inform the other where you
are. One of the women says:
We always had to report if we went somewhere, we could not go out with men, we had
to describe in detail who we spoke to, or who smiled at us.
Various statements and wire taps also show how rules are imposed on victims as to the
minimum daily earnings, while others are not allowed to travel alone or to talk to other women
about their work, even when living in the same house. One victim tells the police the
following:
He doesnt only want control of my money, but also of my whole personality. He wants
to prescribe who I hang out with, what I do, how much of my self-earned money I can
spend, how I do my work, how long, and with whom…’.
Several women reported about the rulethat they had to pay a certain amount if they wanted
to stop working or to leave their partner. Amounts between 6000 to 50,000 were quoted.
Also when not at work, the womens movements are limited. In several cases women
remained alone, at home, with the door locked from the outside by their partner. In all of these
cases there was only one key to the house, which the suspects always took with them when
leaving, locking the door behind them, ostensibly in the interest of the womenssafety.
Some of these rules isolate women from their environment, from fellow prostitutes and
from others, with the effect of limiting their contacts. The fact that the victims live together
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with suspects and are taken to work also has the effect that the women actually never go
outside alone. In addition to the above, isolation is sometimes exacerbated further by the
purchase of a new telephone as a gift, but without the previous contact list of the old
telephone. Moreover, independence is in some cases restricted even further by keeping the
victims passport, making it impossible to travel or to rent a room in the red-light district
independently. This happened to at least six women in the studied cases.
Intimidation
In addition to rules, isolation and control, relationships between traffickers and their victims
are characterised by intimidation. To underline the importance of the rulesof the relationship,
victims are threatened with violence if they dont stick to the agreements.Otherreasonsfor
intimidation are related to the womens work and earnings, or to prevent them from ending the
relationship. Suspects also threaten to hurt the victimsrelatives. The seriousness of the threats
varies. One of the suspects became very angry when his girlfriend did not answer the phone.
Others became angry when the women did not start working early enough. When you get
home, Ill fuck you for that, said a suspect over the phone because his woman had stopped by
a supermarket before she started working. Another suspect became furious when he suspected
his girlfriend was pretending to be sick and therefore could not work. He called her a liarand
adirty filthy whore. He told her that she wasnt sick and that she had better beware, otherwise
he would press her eyes out of her head. Other victims faced death threats when they said they
had had enough of prostitution or wanted to end the relationship.
Victimsstatements demonstrate that they are not only threatened directly, but that they can
also be intimidated by the reputation of the trafficker, his friends or his family. Furthermore,
the fact that the trafficker possesses a firearm which was the case in half of the investigations
was also perceived as so intimidating that women felt that leaving him was not an option. As
one woman put it:
He uses it as a statement as a kind of threat, like keep in mind that I have a gunI
might use it, too.
Although there are victims who tell the police that they dont take the threats seriously
thats just the way we talk to each other’–others are truly terrified because suspects give them
the feeling that the women cannot live on without them.
Vio len ce
What adds weight to the intimidation is the use of violence or the actual carrying out of
verbal threats. The violence varies in terms of the injuries it causes. As one example of
violence that does not cause visible injuries: a suspect threw cold water over his girlfriend
while arguing. She was already having an asthma attack at the time and he told her that
cold water would increase the risk of getting a heart attack. Another woman explained how
her partner sometimes grabbed her by the throat, lifted her up and threw her away. Some
women are hit only infrequently, while others are beaten up regularly, in a number of cases
resulting in a broken jaw or nose. Victims are usually beaten when they dont behave.
One woman described the moment she tried to end her relationship with her boyfriend as
follows:
He then smacked me. Like this! Three blows to my head with his fists. Things went black
before my eyes three times. I started to cry. Then he said embrace me, embrace me,
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embrace me now. I just did what I was told. Ever since Ive never gathered the courage
to say that I wanted to leave him.
In all the relationships we examined we found a combination of controlling and intimida-
tion tactics, and the use of (threats of) violence. There was a considerable amount of variation
in the extent to which violence played a (prominent) role. Our findings show that the
exploitation of prostitutes is not a single event but a process, combining a variety of acts
and tactics (see also David 2007).
Coping Strategies
The above information paints a picture of human trafficking as a phenomenon that can be
embedded in intimate relationships in which control, intimidation and violence play an
important role. Trafficking is a gradual process, and this gradually created attachment or
dependency in the relationships influences the attitude and the response of women in these
relationships. When looking at the criminal investigations, we identified various ways in which
the women dealt with control, intimidation and violence.
First, several victims took action and tried to get away and/or to end the relationship.
Several women fled the country; in most cases the suspects threatened them or their family in
order to make them come back. Second, we observed fear and docile behaviour in response to
control and violence. Victims became cautious and asked permission, for example, before
taking a five-minute break. Fear furthermore caused them to avoid interference by the police,
as they were scared that this would put them or their relatives in danger. In fact they tried to
find ways to minimise the violence, as one woman describes it:
I felt hopeless and frightened. I felt threatenedas if there was no way outnot to the
left nor to the right. () The last possibility I saw was to negotiate with him.
Third, victims played down what had happened. They blamed themselves for the situation
or they thought no serious offences had been committed. They considered their situation to be
temporary, for instance, or they said they just often had an argument. One reaction that we
often found to explain aggressive behaviour or threats was that this was just how they coped
with one another in the relationship, or that this was just part of how they talked to each other.
Fourth, being in love or being emotionally connected caused victims to accept certain
behaviour. They attributed this behaviour to the suspects problematic youth or to a particular
disorder. Fifth, some victims did not have an interest in changing the situation or hoped that the
relationship would improve, which made them refuse any intervention from outside. Since
some women wanted to continue earning money through prostitution, the problems connected
to this profession were not acknowledged or dealt with. Furthermore, due to the fact that the
women were earning some money - in order to ultimately become independent, or to support
relatives - they were unwilling to change their situation (see also Brunovskis and Surtees
2007). In some cases, women were exploited but nevertheless had the opportunity or prospec-
tive of earning more money than they would through other kinds of work.
On the other hand, escalating violence caused a number of women to decide that their
situation was no longer bearable. One woman tried to flee when she was at work. She closed
the curtain as if she had a customer and called a cab. The taxi stopped in front of the building
and she got in. However, the taxi was intercepted by one of the traffickersbodyguardswho
took the victim back to the trafficker. Thus, threats and violence made some women afraid to
end the relationship or situation, while in a number of other cases the violence actually caused
the situation to come to light.
Sex Trafficking and Domestic Violence Parallels
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Willingness to Report
Similar to cases of domestic violence, victims of trafficking face several obstacles that dissuade
them from reporting their situation to the police. Earlier, we described how the womens
various ways of coping with their partnersviolence leads them to decline any outside
interference. Aside from fear of retaliatory violence, some women consider the violence to
be a relationship problem, something they have to solve themselves.
On the other hand, there are victims who do request help from the police and who do
cooperate in prosecution. Our data show that, for example, an escalation of violence can
motivate women to file a report with the police. If the police were already conducting an
investigation and can inform the victims that their partner has not saved any money at all, or
that their partner has been telling other women the same story, this information sometimes
increases their willingness to file a report.
The police reports indicate that victims can take different attitudes to filing a report or
cooperating with a criminal investigation. The attachment to their boyfriend, the benefits of the
relationship, the shared life, the idea that the situation is not that serious (she is not a victim, it
is her own fault), or a feeling of gratitude towards the suspect (who has helped her) can make
the victims unwilling to cooperate with the investigation. Also, fresh threats by the partner can
make women change their earlier statements. They may contradict or retract their earlier
statements, explaining them as the result of anger or rancour. Especially when there is still
contact between the women and men (for instance through prison visits), the women can make
a complete turnabout with regard to decisions made previously. These findings are confirmed
by the results of Helfferich et al. (2011), who studied the determinants of the willingness to
make a statement and distinguished offender strategies, police action and the victims
perspective.
The ambivalent attitude of victims towards reporting to the police is illustrated by the story
of Anna. This case is one example of the 73 intimate relationships we encountered in the police
investigations on sex trafficking. The case also illustrates the relational nature of sex traffick-
ing. The case is based on reports of conversations by Anna with the police, transcripts of
intercepted telephone conversations and text messages between Anna and her boyfriend
Musa,
9
and on the court ruling. Anna is a woman who came to work in the Netherlands from
an Eastern European country. Musa takes away her money and has been convicted for human
trafficking.
Case
Anna reports to the police after Musa has been arrested for human trafficking. She states that she met her
boyfriend Musa one and a half years ago. He was an acquaintance of one of her girlfriends and she met him in
a bar in the red-light district. Musa worked in that bar and she was also working in the same neighbourhood in
window prostitution and he had noticed her on occasion. The couple formed a relationship and later lived
together. After some time, Musa stopped working. He asked Anna for money, politely at first, pushier later on,
finally hitting Anna when she refused to give him money. After some time they moved to a house of one of
Musas relatives. In the new environment, the violence becomes more frequent. They argue nearly every day
and she is beaten about once a week. The arguments concern money and Musas jealousy. Anna states she
didnt report to the police earlier because Musa was intimidating her, for example by demolishing her
possessions. She mentions an incident where he demolishes her suitcase to prevent her from leaving. He also
threatened to report her because of her tax debts and threatens her with more violence.
A few weeks ago Musa hit me and I got a black eye. (). I wanted to leave him, but at the same time I was in
love with him. Yet I was also scared that one day the beating would go wrong. Several times I was about to
9
Anna and Musa are fictitious names.
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leave him, yet then at once he was very sweet again. He said he loved me and he wanted to marry me and he
wanted to have children together.
While Anna was working, Musa called her regularly. She states she didnt know why he called her so often when
she was working. Perhaps because we lived together, I just answered the phone. I thought this was normal. I
wasnt surprised that he checked on me every half hour, but later on I thought it was quite frequent.
Five days after her report, Annavisits the police again. This time she wants to retract her statements. She wants to
do this, because she loves Musa and because she cant find another place to live (and because she dislikes the
prosecution procedure). She confirms that everything happened as reported, but she doesntwanther
statements to have consequences. She doesntwantMusatobeprosecuted.
Ive known him for a very long time and I know why he has done this. I am fond of him and I dontwanttodo
this to him. I have always loved my boyfriend very much. I would regret it if Musa had to go to prison. I still
love him.
Ive had a lot of influence on Musa, Ive changed him a lot, he has stopped using drugs. You can see Musa is
looking for a job (). Everything will be different now[now that hes been arrested].
This case illustrates how trafficking can take place within an intimate relationship, and how
exploitation, violence and affection can play a role in such a relationship, all at the same time.
This interaction between victim and suspect of sex trafficking displays several elements that
are also typical for domestic violence. First, the combination of intimidation, violence and
affection. Second, the role of extreme control in the relationship. Third, a changing attitude
towards reporting to the police. This changing attitude can have several explanations: fear and
a certain dependency, feeling sorry for the trafficker, the hope for a better future, and not
wanting your partner to end up in prison.
Discussion
In this article we explored the relationships that exist between victims and suspects of sex
trafficking, using police files of prosecuted sex trafficking cases. We looked at the possible
parallels with familiar characteristics of domestic violence to see how knowledge of the latter
can contribute to a better understanding of sex trafficking.
Our findings show that intimate relationships exist between the men and women identified
in the police files as traffickers and their victims. Suspects and victims hang out together,
develop affectionate relationships and start living together. These relationships are
characterised by forms of control, isolation, intimidation, violence and exploitation. Such
characteristics resemble the characteristics of domestic violence. Surteesresearch on traffick-
ing in Southern and Eastern Europe shows that, in several countries, a particularly high
percentage of recruiters were men with whom the victim was in an intimate relationship
(2008: 52, see also Kleemans 2009). Brunovskis (2012: 55) similarly found that it is not
exceptional for a trafficker to be a friend, boyfriend or husband(2012: 55). Tyldum (2013)
found trafficking situations within transnational marriages. Other studies on pimp-prostitute
relationships also found mechanisms that correspond with domestic violence (Williamson and
Cluse-Tolar 2002; Hester and Westmarland 2004;Giobbe1993). Our data show how traf-
fickers keep an eye on victims, set certain rules, and isolate them from others. The relationships
are furthermore characterised by intimidation and violence. Nevertheless, the relationships
continue for several reasons (fear, love, attachment or dependency). This process corresponds
to patterns of domestic violence, in which similar tactics are used and where partners do not
split up easily.
Our results also show that how women deal with violence in sex trafficking relationships
corresponds to coping strategies among victims of domestic violence. The various responses of
Sex Trafficking and Domestic Violence Parallels
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victims to violence or exploitation contain all the elements of a coping process, including the
belief in particular explanations for the violence. Thus, we see that the victims play down the
violence and control, consider it as something temporary or as a relationship problem (a
personal problem), or see it as their particular way of interacting with each other. This,
combined with fear, results in relationships that persist. Women do not perceive themselves
as victims or do not want to subject their boyfriend to a prison term, which prevents them from
calling in help from outside or from filing a report with the police (see also Hester 2000).
An escalation of violence may cause victims to raise the alarm, for instance by notifying the
police. However, it frequently occurs that they retract previous statements later on, or that they
give a contradictory statement. This ambivalent attitude of victims with respect to accepting
police assistance or remaining in touch with the police is often based on fear, affection and
economic attachment to the partner. These responses are comparable to those of victims of
domestic violence.
Our findings show that the issue of trafficking for sexual exploitation can benefit from an
additional perspective. In addition to the image of sex trafficking as transnational organised
crime, we emphasise the importance of examining the relational nature of trafficking in certain
cases. For this purpose, the perspective of domestic violence offers a useful comparison; this
body of knowledge provides valuable insights to help understand the sex trafficking phenom-
enon and the attitude of victims. This knowledge could for example help identify trafficking
cases and assist prosecutorial decision making. Prosecutors may conceivably be reluctant to
pursue a case if the trafficker and the victim have an intimate relationship. In such a case,
understanding domestic violence dynamics could add a valuable perspective.
Considering sex trafficking from a relational perspective can also explain a number of
apparent contradictions. First, trafficking is a process consisting of diverse behaviour and
reactions, resulting in (unequal) relationships. Beside violence and control, these relationships
can also be characterised by affection and attachment. For this reason, relationships do not
simply end when violence occurs. This insight adds the necessary nuance to the familiar
academic debate as to whether or not unwilling victimsare involved, who are forced to
prostitute themselves and hand over their earnings against their will. The context of an intimate
relationship and shared household provides a more nuanced picture than that of unwilling
victims on the one hand, versus independent prostitutes on the other.
Second, human trafficking relationships explain the ambivalent attitude of victims towards
cooperating with a criminal investigation. While violence may lead to a report filed with the
police, affection or loyalty towards the trafficker may lead to the retraction of statements or to
giving contradictory statements. For criminal investigators, it is important to recognise that this
ambivalent attitude does not typify an unreliable witness, but typifies complex relationships in
sex trafficking cases. A better understanding of this process may help explain the attitude of
victims of human trafficking during a trial. It may also serve professionals in different fields
who work with sex trafficking victims, with a view to intervention strategies.
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... Inerente ao tráfico de pessoas está uma relação de intimidação, coação, violência e dependência económica, muitas vezes acompanhada de alguma intimidade entre ofensor e vítima, o que leva a que se considere o tráfico de pessoas não só como uma ofensa de natureza de crime organizado, mas, também, como uma ofensa de âmbito pessoal (Verhoeven, Gestel, Jong, & Kleemans, 2015). A forma de recrutamento das vítimas é variada, desde agências falsas com promessas de empregos, a abordagens a mulheres que já se encontram no meio da prostituição, a abordagem a famílias pobres também com promessas de alívio financeiro ou, ainda, ao rapto das vítimas para comércio (Hodge D. R., 2008). ...
... The human trafficking industry is underground and invisible (Franchino-Olsen, 2021) and many victims do not realize they are being exploited (McClain & Garrity, 2011). Furthermore, for victims with family members as traffickers, trafficking is embedded within the intimate relationships, characterizing intimidation, violence, and control, as well as affection and dependency (Verhoeven et al., 2015). Thus, evidence clearly suggests researchers are met with difficulties collecting data that reflects the volume, frequency, and complexities of child trafficking (Franchino-Olsen, 2021), which arguably, points to more inherent challenges when researching family-controlled trafficking nested within the field of child trafficking. ...
... Indeed, victims can often face stigmatisation and discrimination from CJS professionals and those working in healthcare systems (e.g. Macias-Konstantopoulos et al., 2015), including victim blaming (e.g. in sexual exploitation and irregular migration; and perceptions of good and bad, deserving and undeserving victims Verhoeven et al., 2015). There has been some evidence to suggest that factors such as race, class and gender may influence the decisions of prosecutors in sexual assault trials (see , which needs to be explored within MDS cases. ...
... Indeed, victims can often face stigmatisation and discrimination from CJS professionals and those working in healthcare systems (e.g. Macias-Konstantopoulos et al., 2015), including victim blaming (e.g. in sexual exploitation and irregular migration; and perceptions of good and bad, deserving and undeserving victims Verhoeven et al., 2015). There has been some evidence to suggest that factors such as race, class and gender may influence the decisions of prosecutors in sexual assault trials (see , which needs to be explored within MDS cases. ...
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There is a high drop-out or attrition rate of Modern Day Slavery (MDS) cases in the Criminal Justice System although there has been a paucity of academic research examining the factors that could be related to this attrition. Similar work has been carried out examining attrition in rape cases (Feist A, Ashe J, Lawrence J et al. (2007) Investigating and detecting recorded offences of rape. Home Office Online Research Report, 18/07. London: Home Office). The aim of this study was to examine whether factors of MDS cases were associated with and could predict referral to the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) (either by the police or other agencies). Two hundred and sixteen suspected cases of MDS were examined, 29 of which had been referred to the NRM. Content analysis was used to extract variables from the cases. These pertained to aspects of the offence (e.g. types of exploitation, offender strategies), the victim (e.g. gender, ability to speak English), and the offender (e.g. details on any recruiter, transporter and exploiter). Cases were more likely to be referred when the victim was locked, controlled or had their movement restricted, not recruited in the UK, when the trafficking flow was non-domestic, when debt bondage had occurred and when the recruiter was not in the UK when they recruited the victim. Cases were less likely to be referred when sexual exploitation was suspected , there was more than one victim and when the exploitation was thought to be occurring/have occurred in a brothel, massage parlour and or via a website. These findings may indicate that certain victims are more likely to come forward and/or that the cases are more likely to be considered MDS by those investigating the cases. Recommendations for practice include a consideration of the best way to handle suspected cases of sexual exploitation, considering adopting investigative strategies from domestic violence investigations, proactively addressing the gaps in the data and better linking of data. Limitations and future research ideas are discussed.
... The parallels in the experiences of exploitation and coercion inherent in IPV and human trafficking are well established in the literature (Bessell, 2018;Clark et al., 2014;Gavin & Thomson, 2017;Koegler et al., 2020;Menon et al., 2020;Verhoeven et al., 2015). A nascent body of literature is emerging to explore the needs of pregnant trafficked persons (Clark et al., 2014;Collins & Skarparis, 2020;Dovydaitis, 2010;Nightingale et al., 2018;Stoklosa et al., 2017;Tracy & Konstantopoulos, 2012). ...
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Background Little is understood about child welfare involvement (CWI) in cases where the birth mother has experienced human trafficking. Objectives The aim of this study was to explore provider perceptions of the impact of CWI for the trafficked mother. Methods Participants were selected among providers caring for trafficked birth mothers. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with providers and qualitative content analysis was conducted. Results Interviewees reported reasons for CWI, positive and negative impacts of CWI and provided recommendations for systems improvement. Conclusion for Practice Recommendations from this exploratory study include mechanisms to support trafficked mothers, train hospital social workers, and systems change. During the prenatal period, strategies to support the trafficked mother may include addressing gaps in social determinants of health, ensuring appropriate medical and mental health care, early screening and referral to substance use treatment services, enhancing community support, and working to develop safety plans for survivors and their families. Enhanced engagement of social workers and all providers to improve understanding of the unique complexity of trafficked mothers is needed. Education should include an understanding that judgement of a caretaker’s ability to parent should be current and holistic and not reflexive based on history in the electronic medical record. An exploration of the child welfare system itself should also be undertaken to identify and modify discriminatory laws and policies. Finally, efforts to address social determinants of health in the community and enhance the trauma-informed nature of child welfare referrals could improve the lives of trafficked mothers.
... Met enige regelmaat komt het voor dat vrouwen die eerst zelf seksueel zijn uitgebuit, zich later voegen bij het criminele samenwerkingsverband en zelf andere vrouwen gaan uitbuiten (UNODC, 2010;Lo Iacono, 2014). Vaak is er sprake van een amoureuze verhouding tussen de prostituee en één van de daders (Broad, 2015;Staring, 2007;Verhoeven et al., 2015). Wellicht is voor deze vrouwen de transitie van prostituee naar dader een manier om zelf niet meer als prostituee te hoeven werken (UNODC, 2010;Broad, 2015). ...
... Figures on prosecutions and convictions of traffickers offer more clarity (see Verhoeven et al. 2015). Of the 819 individuals prosecuted between 2011 and 2015, 73% were convicted. ...
... Where research has examined ASWs to identify instances of profiles posted by traffickers, these studies are speculative in the sense that they only identify potential or suspect instances of trafficking (Diba et al. 2017). Secondly, according to the OSCE (2020), the scale of opportunities ASWs potentially create for traffickers far outweigh the police's capacity to investigate these activities, something that is often facilitated not only by lack of resources but also by the complex (personal) relationships between sex workers and their exploiters (see, for example, Cockbain 2018; Verhoeven et al. 2011Verhoeven et al. , 2015Weitzer 2014). As such, the opportunities afforded by technology are not equally distributed between offenders and law enforcement, and the latter are undoubtedly fighting against the tide in this context. ...
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