In the digitally transforming world, the internet is reaching every hand. But with the growing popularity of the internet, users are becoming more and more vulnerable to minacious persons, sitting on the other side of the screen. The recent report of UNDOC on human trafficking describing how traffickers are using the internet to prey their victims paints an agitating picture of such digital haunting.

The global report of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes on the use of the internet in human trafficking is a compiled study of 79 court cases from around the world. The report highlights;

  • The new emerging pattern of human trafficking via digital platforms.
  • The users which are most vulnerable of being a victim.
  • Cyber, International and domestic flow of trafficking.
  • Modus operandi i.e. modern strategies of traffickers.

How the internet is bolstering human trafficking?

Traffickers these days are not bound to the victims and consumers in their locale. With the rise of the internet, no matter where one lives, they are not far from the traffickers. Preying on victims and finding the highest paying exploiters have become plain sailing.

Cyber Flow

The advancement in technology has expanded the geographical scope of trafficking operations. Cyberspace is providing the most appropriate place to trafficker where they can operate from different locations at the same instance while exploiting their victim in another location.

The traffickers exploit the victims on video and allow delinquent perpetrators to connect with their distant clients while holding the victim captive. Though not much of such cases have been reported globally, the few those were reported had a significant number of victims and clients.

International flow

Out of the 79 cases examined by UNDOC, in 34 cases, the victims were transported to different clients, from two or more countries. 57% of the victims of human trafficking are sold to more than one customers and mostly across borders.

In the international flow, a large organised group of human traffickers operate from different parts of the world. From the court cases study, it was also found that the larger groups of traffickers were able to trap more victims and lure more customer, thus exploiting the victim more.

Domestic flow

Trafficking operation confined within the national borders have also bloomed through the help of the internet. In the cases, it was found that in most of the domestic trafficking cases victims were coerced, exploited and the services were advertised to the potential clients in the locale.

In one of the case, the traffickers first build an emotional bond with the victim online and then using the emotional points, exploited the victim online.

Number of trafficked victims by different means of flow

Through which platforms can traffickers reach their victims?

Based on the global cases of human trafficking using the internet; it is observed that the traffickers can find and prey their victim through three different platforms on the internet:

  • Social Media
  • Classified Webpages (for sake of advertisement):
  • Free-standing webpages

In the classified Webpages, the traffickers advertise for their services or victims to the potential customers (exploiters). Free-standing webpages on the other hand are used by most of the traffickers. In this, they create a whole single webpage advertisement addressing their clients or attracting their victims into the trap.

The most popular way of lurings victms is through job advertisment i.e. an attractive job with handsome salary.

The most commonly used social media sites by traffickers to track down their victims include Myspace, WhatsApp, Skype, Facebook etc. Social media also have a significant number of victims per recorded case of human trafficking. According to the UN, since 2009 the share of people victimised using social media have escalated from zero to 51%.

Number of victims per single case and use of social media platforms used by traffickers

The dynamism and prompt communication features of social media help criminal to carry on business and criminal activities online. Children have started using social media from a very early age. The lack of knowledge of the substantial threat at these platforms makes these children easy prey for the traffickers. Most of the victims that fall into the trap by traffickers belong to the youth group i.e. between the age group of 13-18.

Human Trafficking: strategies used by traffickers to lure their victims

The study has found that traffickers are using different strategies to trap their victims into the vicious cycle of human trafficking. It is mainly divided into two categories, hunting strategies and fishing strategies:

Number of victims who fell prey to human trafficking per strategyhttps://www.unodc.org/documents/data-and-analysis/tip/2021/GLOTiP_2020_Chapter5.pdf

Hunting strategies

Hunting strategy is used by traffickers for both luring the victims into the trap as well as for targeting potential client. Under this strategy the victim is chosen especially based on their economic and emotional vulnerabilities, thus making them more subjected to abuse and exploitation.

The information of victims is drawn from different social media platforms. It enables the trafficker to pinpoint the weakness of the victim, which is further used for building a trustable relation with the victim online and thus trafficking them.

Fishing Strategies

This method involves the perpetrator posting attractive advertisements as online bait; then waits for the potential victim or client’s response. The fishing strategy is more commonly used for trapping the victims by traffickers globally.

In one of the studied case, the trafficker made a fake profile on Vkontakte advertising for modelling jobs. More than 100 women who were deceived by the advertisement and ended up being a victim of human trafficking.

Human Trafficking: Knowledge is the key

With the growing popularity of the internet; it is getting more important to beware of the vicious traps on the web waiting for prey like us. Schools especially should conduct internet safety lectures addressing the students about the dark side of the internet and teaching them how to stay safe.

Only proper knowledge and precautions is the key to battle the various demons waiting both online and offline.