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Human Trafficking:

The Tragedy and the Hype

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The subject of human trafficking is misunderstood and misrepresented continually. On one hand, it can be among the worst of crimes; on the other, it is grossly over-represented by the self-promoting and the self-serving. We’ll begin our examination by removing the hype; then we will focus on with the real tragedies.

Essentially, there are two types of human trafficking:

  1. Irregular migration.
  2. Kidnapping and slavery.

Kidnapping and slavery are what most of us think of as human trafficking: People being forced into labour, and often into sex work. It is, obviously, horrific. This does not, however, happen anywhere near as often as screaming headlines, NGOs, government departments and other groups claim. Common estimates place the number of women forced into the sex industry in Europe at 500,000, which is a gross over-estimate. Among other things, it presumes that nearly all sex workers in Europe are slaves. This is plainly false.

There is, of course, a question as to why so many organizations throw around numbers that they must know are false. Theories that run from simply monetary gain (often in the form of grants) to deep cultural biases and national needs. It is certainly a great media story and the publicity works well for groups that oppose the legalization of prostitution and to increase aid to Eastern Europe. But, in any case, the flamboyant headline numbers are radically inflated.


The vast majority of what is called “human trafficking” is simply irregular immigration. That is, people moving across borders in ways that are not controlled by governments. This is a business that has been around since states put up their first border controls and it shows no sign of abating. Popular reaction to border-crossing schemes reveals a strange schizophrenia: They are reviled at most times, but occasionally, such as during World War Two, they are seen as noble and brave.

Irregular migration can be handled almost as normal business, with people paying for passage through a border. In other cases, there are risks involved. Occasionally, customers are abandoned to die. This is not good for business, however, so it tends to be uncommon. A poor man who happens to have knowledge of a border area can make many times his normal wage by sneaking people over a border. This occurs in all parts of the world, and the customers are primarily people from very poor places who want to go west to make money.

The stronger national immigration laws become, the less likely that a poor man or woman has any chance of migrating legally. They are, in many ways, almost fully excluded from this process. This creates a black market in moving people across borders. A desperately poor man or woman in Russia or India or Mexico or Africa will violate border control laws whenever the first opportunity arises. After all, the alternative is horrific and all they really want is to work and to live quietly. In most cases, they have no criminal intent whatsoever.


While the grey market of irregular migrations comprise the majority of what is advertised human trafficking, a darker side of human trafficking exists, and it is very dark indeed.

To get an overview of this problem, we contacted Rick Chappelle of PRC Associates, a London-based risk management firm. Chappelle has worked on numerous human trafficking cases over the years. 

We asked Chappelle about the cases he’s worked that involved actual kidnapping and/or slavery. He says that most victims are drawn to the riches of the West by local advertisements for overseas work as hostesses, dancers, translators, housekeepers and so on. Often a crime syndicate will fund the trip, thereby ensuring the victim is never out of debt to them. This can also begin at the domestic level, with children being sold by an impoverished family. The majority of these victims will eventually be involved in some sort of sex work. Violence may or may not be used upon these victims. In many cases, deceit, psychological manipulation and threats are a potent enough combination to hold them in obedience.

Particularly sad is the fact that 90% of these victims will never return home, for fear of being social outcasts; also for fear of the same thing happening to them a second time. These people tend to come from very poor places (Algeria, the Balkans, Russia, China, Middle Eastern countries, India, Pakistan, Eastern Europe, Africa) where family shaming may also be a dominant fear.

Chappelle explains that while nightclubs controlled by organized crime syndicates have been the usual destination for such victims, there is a growing trend toward ordinary houses and apartments being used as brothels.

A particularly horrifying version of this crime is what Chappelle calls “reverse trafficking,” which involves middle-easterners paying to kidnap “immoral” female family members in the west, then trafficking them back to their home countries, where honour killings are likely to follow. 


Human traffic into Europe is currently via Malaga (Spain) or Frankfurt, either by air or by road, usually inside of containers. The gangs who organize this passage will hold their victims’ passports and travel documents. Bribery is rife at many national borders, but where necessary, the victims (who are not yet aware they are victims) are cleaned up and escorted to departure point, then met by other handlers at the arrival point on the other side of a border. Then the cycle is repeated until the destination is reached.

The route into England runs From Europe into Dublin, where organized crime aligned with Loyalist paramilitaries takes over. Then from Dublin into Northern Ireland, into Scotland, and continuing to Manchester, Leeds, Birmingham, and London. Opportunities for escape are remote.


First of all, we must understand that this problem will never go away so long as barriers to migration exist. So long as they do, many desperate people will have no path to betterment than through people or groups that are in some way criminal. This is easy to ignore, since it is considered to be unchangeable.

Secondly, it must be understood that the paths of human traffic will change as required. If governments focus resources on a particular city or border, the traffickers will simply move on to a less dangerous place. They can adapt almost immediately.

Furthermore, centrally ordered actions are far more likely to catch grey market migrants than true criminals. There are many more of these, and once a few headlines appear saying that the police have arrest a dozen human traffickers, people and organizations rest easy and go back to their normal routines. In most cases these will not be the criminal gangs, but people involved with bringing in workers who will be free once they arrive. Most of these operations function on a very small scale. Some are vile criminals to be sure, but most operate almost like travel agents.

In order to break up the truly horrific operations, Chappelle says that intelligence gathering is required. It can be done, and the operators at PRC Associates have in fact done it, but it requires close target reconnaissance end to end, and sometimes infiltration. A small team is required; these must be carefully selected operators who will be not be diverted by the horrors they see along the route. 

“This is the worst of crimes,” says Chappelle, “and it’s tragic that more isn’t being done.”

One has to wonder how much time and money is currently being wasted on hype, and how many lives are being needlessly destroyed because of it.

Visit: www.prcassociates.com          Write to Rick Chappelle: coo@prcassociates.com

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