Trafficking in People for Sexual Exploitation from Bulgaria
by Georgi Petrunov,
Research Fellow, Institute for the Study of Societies and Knowledge at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, and Risk Monitor Foundation, Sofia, Bulgaria
Human trafficking is a crime that seriously violates human rights and many regard it as a modern form of slavery. Each year millions of people, men, women and children, fall into the hands of traffickers. According to international reports (Miko and Park, 2002; UNODC, 2009; US Department, 2009), human trafficking is the fastest growing transnational criminal activity. The head of Mission of the International Organisation for Migration in Bulgaria, Iliana Derilova (2009), states that every minute one to eight people in the world become victims of this crime. As shown by the reports of UNODC (2009; 2010), globally about 80% of human trafficking is for sexual exploitation. And although experts recognise the possibility that this percentage is likely to be increased because of the greater visibility of this type of trafficking compared to others, because of the more frequent reporting by victims of sexual exploitation, it cannot be denied that the most common objective of trafficking is sexual exploitation.
Bulgaria is one of the most severely affected countries by human trafficking for sexual exploitation. In its annual report on human trafficking, Europol (2008) identifies Bulgaria as one of the six main source countries of victims who are trafficked within the EU, along with Ukraine, Romania, Russia, Nigeria and Moldova. Moreover, in the 2009 report Bulgaria is defined as a traditional source country (EUROPOL, 2009: 3). This is also confirmed in UNODC (2009), which reports that as far as the proportion of identified victims is concerned Bulgaria is at a leading position in several European Union countries including Germany, Greece, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, Poland and Slovenia. Furthermore, according to the data from international reports, Bulgaria is in the top three in terms of suspected traffickers. Bulgaria has a leading position with regard to both victims of trafficking and traffickers in EU destination countries.
Data from the Supreme Prosecutor΄s Office of Cassation of Bulgaria confirms the findings of international reports that the basic form of human trafficking among the identified cases is sexual exploitation. According to the data presented by the Prosecutor΄s Office, submitted by prosecutor Evgeni Dikov (2009) for 2007, 2008 and 2009 between 85% and 90% of the identified cases of human trafficking is for sexual exploitation. For 2010, according to the Supreme Prosecutor΄s Office of Cassation, again this type of traffic is holding the first position in the ‘unfortunate chart’ - 94% of identified cases of human trafficking. Furthermore, different sources indicate that Bulgarian prostitutes have taken over a large segment of the markets in the Western European cities. For example, in the Bulgarian public space1 an evaluation became public, namely that 80 percent of the ‘window prostitutes’ in the red light district of Brussels (Belgium), are Bulgarian. That is, out of 250 windows, 200 are serviced by Bulgarians (two prostitutes per window), and 180 of the windows are serviced by girls from the town of Sliven. In the Bulgarian media2 information presented by a German social services organisation, suggest that approximately 180 Bulgarian prostitutes are working on the streets of Dortmund everyday, all from a small Bulgarian town, and another 500 prostitutes from Bulgaria were “walking” the streets of the city over the course of one year.
Bulgarian non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have attempted to calculate the number of victims of human trafficking. One such NGO working with victims of trafficking, the Animus Association Foundation, estimated that about 10,000 Bulgarian women become victims of trafficking each year. Another study, quoted in the paper “Organised Crime in Bulgaria: Markets and Trends,” (Bezlov et al., 2007), sets the number of Bulgarian prostitutes or sex workers abroad at 18,000-21,000. According to a study of RiskMonitor, which combines the method of expert estimates by regions of the country and the calculated total number based on information from the reported cases, the number of victims of human trafficking for sexual exploitation abroad is estimated between 8,000 and 12,000 (Petrunov, 2010). Such data can be used as evidence of the significance of human trafficking especially for sexual purposes for a small country like Bulgaria, which has become a major source of trafficking victims competing with countries that have a significantly larger population, such as Russia and the Ukraine.
Besides trafficking for sexual exploitation in 2010 according to the Prosecutor΄s Office of the Republic of Bulgaria in the country have been detected cases of trafficking for labor exploitation, for servitude (mainly forced begging) and trafficking of pregnant women for sale of the newborn. Accordingly, the victims for 2010 are: for sexual exploitation - 518, labor exploitation plus holding in servitude – 40, and trafficking of pregnant women in order to sell their infant - 6. These data indicate that over 90% of the identified victims of trafficking are for sexual exploitation and confirm again the observation that this is the main form of human trafficking in Bulgaria.
This article focuses in particular on trafficking of Bulgarians for sexual exploitation. It examines major phases in the development of this kind of trafficking, the main factors that create favorable conditions for falling into situations of exploitation, ways to recruit victims and their transportation and major destinations, as well as models of operation,. Finally, it examines the role of organised crime in this activity.
2. Methodology and sources of information
The empirical information used in this article was collected in a study conducted by the author (Petrunov, 2009). Within this study 152 interviews with prostitutes, traffickers, NGO experts, policemen, investigators and prosecutors were conducted. The possibilities for determining the precise characteristics of the sample in such interviews are very limited. The distribution of the various groups of respondents is not even. Semi-structured questionnaires were used for the interviews. The interviews were conducted in the following regions and cities: Blagoevgrad, Burgas, Varna, Vratza, Dobrich, Pazardjik, Pleven, Plovdiv, Sliven, Sofia, Sofia-region, Stara Zagora, Haskovo, and Yambol. Twenty-one documents including prosecutorial acts and reports from investigations of human trafficking and money laundering from trafficking were also examined. This empirical information has been complemented by secondary analysis of sources such reports, studies, statistics, media publications and other materials concerning the phenomenon of human trafficking.
The combination of multiple methods and information sources was chosen in order to allow deeper analysis and a more reliable and complete understanding of the topic. In spite of this we cannot claim that the information obtained for the purposes of the study is representative. There is a possibility that it reveals only a part of the overall picture of the researched phenomenon. Therefore, we do not claim to provide the only possible viewpoint on the topic of human trafficking for sexual exploitation from Bulgaria.
3. The phenomenon of human trafficking for sexual exploitation over the years
In the period after the fall of the communist regime in Bulgaria in the late 1989 the free travel of Bulgarian citizens abroad became possible. This period is also associated with development of human trafficking in Bulgaria. As some studies have shown (Bezlov et al., 2007; Petrunov, 2010), in the beginning of the 1990s a prostitution market was already active in Bulgaria and it was controlled by organised crime. Starting to travel, especially in Western Europe, criminals built contacts with local representatives of the sex markets, and began to build channels for the ‘export’ of girls who in the first half of the 90΄s were mainly sold to local traffickers, and not exploited by the criminals themselves. The fact that Bulgarian traffickers did not exploit the girls themselves but sold them to foreign pimps is one of the characteristics of this period, which can be called ‘genesis’ of the development of the problem. However, there are detected cases in which the Bulgarian traffickers of people also take on the exploitation of victims. A main characteristic of this period is the use of violence as the main method to recruit and control the victims. A typical case that can be referred to here is an individual who trafficked Bulgarian women to the Czech Republic where they were sexually exploited near the border with Germany. The victims were isolated, confined in the compound under close guard to prevent them from leaving. They were given very little, if any, money, they were poorly fed and were subjected to systematic abuse. After arriving at the club where they were exploited, the girls were given animal names (‘Giraffe’, ‘Seal’ and so on), and they were forbidden to mention their real names.
In the second half of the 1990s, a second period in the development of this phenomenon in Bulgaria can be identified. It could be termed ‘episodic’: while Bulgarian traffickers had already built strong contacts and relationships with representatives of the foreign sex markets, cases in which Bulgarian traffickers themselves exploited the victims were still not widespread. The cases were primarily associated with members of the Roma community in Bulgaria. However, in the second half of the 90s the spread of the phenomenon was gaining ever greater momentum. Victims were recruited through force and violence.
At the beginning of the 21st century Bulgarian traffickers entered a new stage of development that can be called massive. They are already sufficiently stable on the foreign sex markets and are exploiting the victims themselves more often, rather than selling them to foreign pimps. At the beginning of the new millennium, and especially after the Schengen visa requirements were put into effect in 2001 for easier traveling within the European Union, there was an upsurge in the number of Bulgarian traffickers engaging in sexual exploitation in European countries. The amount of violence dropped and in many cases was replaced by partnerships between the victims and the trafficker.
After Bulgaria became a part of the EU in 2007, a different period in the development of the problem of human trafficking for sexual exploitation can be distinguished. It can be thought as the period of ‘affirmation’. The Bulgarian organised crime groups gained control over large segments of the most profitable sex markets in Europe and the number of exploited Bulgarians has increased. Along with that there is an evolution in the relationship between trafficker and victim: the physical assault of victims almost completely disappears and is replaced by the so-called “soft methods”. Importantly, in most cases the involvement and participation of the prostitutes was voluntary. In confirmation of this division of periods a timetable for the ‘trafficking-related’ crimes committed by Bulgarian citizens in an EU country for which data are available can be presented:
Figure 1. ‘Trafficking-related’ crimes committed by Bulgarian citizens in Belgium
Source: Exploitation sexuelle et exploitation au travail (2007)
The data clearly indicates the enormous increase in the number of offences for prostitution, sexual exploitation, and incitement to debauchery committed by Bulgarian citizens in Belgium after 2001. There is no evidence of the same crimes committed by Bulgarians until the mid-1990s. In the second half of the 1990s, only isolated cases of the crimes were confirmed; after 2001, there was a drastic increase in the crimes committed by Bulgarian citizens. This confirms the distinction of separate periods in the development of the phenomenon of human trafficking in Bulgaria based on the empirical information gathered. Following this line of development, human trafficking in recent years has become an even more significant problem in Bulgaria.
4. Favourable conditions for the massive development of human trafficking for sexual exploitation from Bulgaria
The reasons that made possible the sustainability of the phenomenon of human trafficking in Bulgaria are the result of the complex interaction of series of factors such as the rise in unemployment, poverty, crisis in the education system, degradation of moral values, and so on. The economic conditions in the country are among the main factors that make people vulnerable to and a subject of trafficking for sexual exploitation. Poverty, unemployment and inability for realisation in their own country prompted many people to become part of the trafficked to countries with higher living standards. This is especially true, as pointed by Gounev, Bezlov and Petrunov (2009), for the 1990s. In 2001, the unemployment rate in Bulgaria reached 21%. Within the female age group 15-30 and in some regions of the country unemployment reached 50-60% which explains the fact that most trafficked people are from rural towns and small villages. Although the unemployment rate for 2010 was reduced almost by half (to 10.2%) compared to 2001, the fact that the unemployment rate among young people (from 15 to 34 years) in Bulgaria is significantly higher than that of the adult population (over 35 years) - respectively 34.6% against 25.7 %, is alarming. The combination3 of unemployment and the desire for good lifestyle and as fast as possible makes people (especially younger generations) vulnerable to trafficking for sexual exploitation. Traffickers use promises of higher incomes and easy and secure jobs abroad that lure victims to leave Bulgaria.
Another factor that may be contributing towards the creation a favourable environment for the development of the phenomenon of human trafficking is the lack of qualifications. Gounev, Bezlov and Petrunov (2009), using data from the World Bank and the Bulgarian Ministry of Finance, note that сompared to other countries in Eastern Europe, in 1996-2000, Bulgaria had the highest school dropout rate among the 15-19 age group: about 38-39% on average, versus 16% in Poland and 19% in Hungary and the Czech Republic. Lack of education and illiteracy deprive a significant part of the young population of opportunities and thus these young people become especially vulnerable to the offers of many traffickers for a lot and easily earned money in European countries.
These problems are combined with a degradation of moral values. Young people find themselves in a situation in which old social and family values are denied and new ones are lacking. They learn from what they see on the street, the media, and the internet. Their attitude towards sex is much more liberal than in previous decades and additional information about it can be found everywhere. A relevant question is whether young people are prepared to absorb this information and how they manage to interpret it.
Moreover, frequent recipients of the promises of criminals appear to be young women and children who have grown up in problem home environments and who are subjected to different kinds of violence and who live without parental control. In most cases these people will not be looked for by anyone precisely because of the disruption in family relations or lack of such. Very often, traffickers take advantage of people who suffer from drug addiction because their dependence is forcing them to do things that another person would hardly agree to do. All these factors create a favourable environment for the development of human trafficking, especially for sexual exploitation. Facilitated by the conditions traffickers use various techniques and methods to recruit victims.
5. Recruitment of victims
While in the early years of the development of this phenomenon the primary mechanism for recruitment of women for trafficking abroad was coercion and violence, in the last few years and in most cases, trafficking takes place after the prior consent of the victim. The splitting of money between the trafficker and the ‘victim’, the working conditions etc. are agreed upon in advance. The promise of material gain and big profits appear to be the main factor in the recruitment of victims in the last years in Bulgaria. Although the majority of trafficked women know what they are dealing with, there are also detected cases in which the victim had completely false information or even had no idea what they were going to do. There are also cases in which victims are ‘recruited’ after an abduction and brutal violence. But in general, these cases have decreased significantly over the last decade. The information gathered in the study by Petrunov (2009) revealed the following recruitment mechanisms of victims for sexual exploitation:
• Intimate relationship/Offer from a boyfriend – the smuggler relies on the emotional bond with the victim which he has previously built. In most cases they are using only mental persuasion and manipulation without physical violence. But there are cases in which after refusing to accept the offer made by her boyfriend the girl is physically abused;
• Offer from a prostituted girlfriend – here the power of conviction is used. One beautiful image, including very easily earned money among luxury and pleasure is presented to the girl. In most cases, the victims start with the idea that it is temporary (“just to try”) but in fact for a sexually exploited woman it is neither temporary nor the money are so easily earned and in such big quantity;
• Offer from an acquaintance - girls are recruited by acquaintances who convince them that if they become prostitutes, they will earn a lot of money and live better. In some cases, the girls are shown videos of and are given accurate information about their prospective places of prostitution and the lodging;
• Response to an escort agency advertisement or intentional contact made with a pimp - here the initiative to join the sex industry comes from the girls themselves who are attracted by the opportunity to make a lot of money. They either ask a pimp they know to arrange a place for them or respond to ads for escorts, dancers, fashion models, etc. Traffickers often publish such ads online and in newspapers;
• Independent prostitute recruited by a pimp – this type of recruitment involves victims who are already offering sexual services for money and are discovered by pimps who recruit them for work either voluntarily or through coercion;
• Sold or recruited by a relative - victims are from very poor, large families, mostly from Roma communities. The poverty in which they live is one of the major factors that force relatives to sell or offer their daughters for prostitution;
• Deceived about working or traveling abroad - girls are deceived about the actual purpose of the trip. They are deceived into thinking they would work as waitresses, domestics, au pair, etc., or that they are going on a holiday trip;
• Debt bondage - the girls owe the traffickers or their friends money they cannot pay back. Traffickers suggest prostitution to the girls in order to pay off their debt. In most cases the girls are told that this is only temporary, until the debt is paid up, but the period may be indefinitely prolonged. Sometimes the traffickers physically abuse the girls and coerce them into prostitution as a way to pay off the debt;
• Abduction - girls are sometimes abducted and forced into prostitution many times using violence and physical abuse; they are threatened that their relatives will be hurt if they escape or refuse to cooperate;
• Worked or studied abroad and made contact with a pimp – often the pimps recruit Bulgarian nationals who have gone abroad to study or work. For various reasons, mostly lack of funds, they make contacts with pimps and join the sex market.
Based on the information gathered, poverty, unemployment, and the lack of opportunities for well-paid jobs in Bulgaria appear to be the main push factors for girls and women to enter prostitution. Therefore, in the recruitment of victims, traffickers are directed mainly towards promises of material benefits and opportunities for higher income.
6. Transportation of the victims to destination countries
The transportation of the victims depends largely on the method of recruitment. Given that most of the prostitutes agree to participate voluntarily, their transportation is voluntary, too. They travel like any other individual who has decided to work in a foreign country. In cases of forced inclusion of victims traffickers use violence and intimidation and sometimes even sedation of the victim or support from the corrupted border officials. In cases when the victims have been deceived about their actual job, the transportation is also voluntary because they believe what they have been promised. For example, in one of the cases we came across, the girl thought that the trafficker was her friend with whom she was going on a holiday, so they travelled with his car.
In most cases the victims are transported legally through border control points with legal IDs. Most often women taken abroad for prostitution are young, over 18 years, mostly because they can freely leave the borders of Bulgaria. However, there are cases where underage girls are trafficked for sexual exploitation. In such cases the traffickers use a few different methods of transportation. In one way they receive a proxy from the parents in which the parents consent to let their child leave Bulgaria. Such proxy is obtained either as a result of deception, when parents do not know the actual reason, or voluntarily-when they sell their daughter to traffickers. Another way to transport underage victims is with false identity documents. As observed in the studied cases, a trend is noticed; girls under 18 operate in Bulgaria until they reach lawful age and then are taken in a completely legal way abroad, where their sexual exploitation continues.
Countries targeted by traffickers are primarily those in which sex markets are most developed and which have a more liberal attitude towards prostitution, especially countries where this activity is legal under certain conditions, for instance the Netherlands, Belgium, and Germany. In a country where prostitution is legal the girls can register and work officially. There is also a psychological factor for the selection of these countries. According to the National Commission for Fighting Human Trafficking (2009) the legalisation of the supply of sex services in the Netherlands gives additional motivation for the young Bulgarian women to choose this area of work for earning income. They do not enter ‘prostitution’ but ‘work’. They are not doing something immoral, something against the rules but simply make a living as thousands of other women do (National Commission for Fighting Human Trafficking, 2009: 8). One conclusion that could be drawn is that important criteria for choosing the destination country are the legal framework and the working environment. Based on the information available, three main methods for transporting the victims to their destination countries have been identified:
• Trafficking by personal car – sometimes the victims are transported using the personal car of the trafficker or his associates. Either one or a group of girls is traveling with him. In these cases, the traffickers use vans or more spacious automobiles (8 + 1 seats). Often, when traveling by car, the girls would get out at the Bulgarian border and pass the border crossing point on foot. The trafficker crosses the border alone, picks them up again on the other side and they continue to the destination country. The traffickers resort to these gimmicks to avoid being associated with the girls, as this could be potential evidence of criminal activity in a future investigation;
• Trafficking by public transport – the traffickers or their associates purchase the tickets for the victims’ trips. Most of the girls are transported by bus or airplane to the destination country;
• Combined–this method combines the two previous ones. For example, the girls are transported by car to a foreign transit country where they get a ticket and travel the other part of the trip by bus.
In most cases of trafficking of women for sexual exploitation traffickers cover the costs for travel and its organisation. The amount of money that the trafficker paid for travel in most cases is not known to the victim, but upon arrival in the foreign country it appears that it is a serious debt that the woman should pay back to her pimp. Very often during the period of exploitation this debt increases steadily due to sanctions imposed by the traffickers on their victims.
7. Exploitation and control of the victims
Almost without exception, the exploitation begins upon arrival in the foreign country. The working time of the victims whose cases were studied was most commonly about 12 hours a day, and occasionally up to 15 hours. On a monthly basis, the victims work between 25 and 30 days. Depending on where the victims work their working conditions, the prices of the offered services, etc., vary. In most cases the tariffs of the outdoor work are lower, but are compensated by the number of clients, which is larger. The places of operation also vary: from open spaces as parks, streets, highways, parking lots, to close ones such as clubs. In most cases of indoor prostitution, the premises on which the prostitutes work belong to locals who receive a percentage of the earnings or a flat rate. Many Bulgarian traffickers manage to acquire property in Western Europe in order to avoid paying fees to the locals. In some countries Bulgarian traffickers have acquired entire chains of property where the victims are exploited. Bulgarian traffickers who own such venues in destination countries usually work with Bulgarian women.
Several main factors seem to be determining the choice of working location for the victims. The connections and the trafficker’s ability to negotiate a territory for ‘his’ prostitutes are decisive. If the trafficker can get hold of a good territory, a girl has a chance to work at a good location provided she is pretty, speaks the language, and can communicate freely with the clients. The method of her recruitment also matters. If she was forced into prostitution and there is a chance of her escaping or turning in the traffickers she is assigned to the most secure location. Moreover, in some cases, traffickers take the personal documents of the victims in order to keep them under control and not to allow the women to escape and seek help from local authorities.
Trading in girls - transferring the control and exploitation rights from one pimp to another - is a common phenomenon. The prostitutes are sold to both Bulgarian and foreign pimps. One girl can change hands many times. Often, traffickers would stake or bet a girl in a card game, or simply offer them to their friends to exploit. These examples clearly show that the victims of trafficking are treated as nothing but mere commodities. So even though the woman was previously aware of what she gets involved in, deceived by stories of quickly earned large sums of money, she remains unaware of what the relations within the network itself will be and mostly to what extend she would be exploited. In addition, although in most cases the girl is lured by promises of a relationship or of marriage, in fact, it appears that she is just one of the many victims trapped in the world of trafficking which is very difficult to escape. As a rule, traffickers control the prostitutes by promising them rewards and punishing them by taking the benefits away and imposing fines. Furthermore, in many cases, they restrict the movement of the girls and take a significant part of their earnings.
Traffickers not only take most of the money earned from the prostitution but also apply penalties. Imposing a punishment has the effect of both discipline and deterrence; it teaches the other prostituted women a lesson that if they disobey, they will be severely punished as well. For that purpose, punishments are imposed in front of others. Punishments are very important during the exploitation phase because the main conflicts between the traffickers and victims occur in the destination country where it is very important not to draw the attention of local police authorities with unnecessary conflicts.
The following methods of punishment are applied most frequently: financial fines are usually the hourly rate or the daily earnings of the victim. Another punishment is depriving the victim of her earnings for a specific period. Violence and physical abuse are also used to control the victims. Often several punishments are combined, such as physical abuse, fines, and taking away earnings. Respondents also reported cases in which the victims were put in isolation, starved to death, and abused physically and emotionally. If the girl was a drug addict, they punished her by withdrawing her dose. Other punishments included threatening the victim, gang rape, physical assault, etc. Attempts to conceal money are the most severely punished.
Both the empirical data collected among the victims and traffickers and the interviewed experts confirmed the observation that persons are trafficked from certain areas of the country to certain countries of destination: from Sliven to Belgium and the Netherlands; from Plovdiv, Pazardjik to France, Italy, Spain; from Varna, Dobrich, Schumen, Razgrad to Germany, Czech Republic and Scandinavia. According to the results of various studies (National Commission for Fighting Human Trafficking, 2009; Petrunov, 2009), the reason for this movement is that in the Bulgarian cities have already been created a slender system with the necessary organisational structure, connections and contacts abroad; i.e. there are already secured channels for traffic from Bulgaria to certain countries where the working place and conditions are known. This shows that people, or more precisely organized criminal groups dealing with human trafficking for sexual exploitation in Bulgaria, have reliable channels for export and lasting contacts with local representatives of the sex market. Victims of such trafficking are a part of a strictly organized scheme for making huge sums of sexual exploitation.
8. Human trafficking for sexual exploitation and organised crime
From the empirical information collected, it can be concluded that cases of trafficking for sexual exploitation are not episodic acts of individual criminals. It is very difficult for a single person to begin to prostitute or to exploit sex workers, especially to bring her abroad even in countries where this activity is defined as legal. Even if starting alone, representatives of the criminal organisations that monopolise that market find the prostitute or her pimp and force them to work for them or pay them racket.
The interest of organised crime in human trafficking for sexual exploitation is dictated by several key factors. First, this is an activity that generates quick and big profits according to some studies (Bezlov et al., 2007; Petrunov, 2009) - 1 billion euro per year for Bulgarian traffickers. At the same time, this money is obtained with very small initial investment, especially in comparison to criminal activities like weapon and drug trafficking. From the perspective of criminal organisations this is an activity that does not require large resources for implementation, maintenance and recruitment of participants. Continuously people for sexual exploitation can be provided and at relatively low risk of detection. Such factors explain the strong bonds between such trafficking and organised crime.
Human trafficking for sexual exploitation from Bulgaria is carried out by well-structured criminal organisations in which everyone knows his/her duties and functions. The data collected reveal that there are people who deal with the recruitment and sometimes the transportation of new victims and other people who control the victims in the foreign country and who are controlling the strict reporting of the money earned by the sexually exploited. The Bulgarian organisations have also built good relationships with local owners of restaurants, bars, clubs etc. where the victims are exploited, as well as with foreign nationals who have good positions in local markets for paid sexual services. An important role has the person responsible for collecting the earnings from the sexual exploitation. He also comes up with schemes for the return of the money back to Bulgaria without it being detected by the relevant state authorities in control. In Bulgaria are usually present and active people who occupy higher positions within the criminal organizations. From the information gathered it also became clear that apart from control of trafficking for sexual exploitation these people are dealing with control of other criminal activities which are connected to the criminal organisation.
In addition to criminal activities, which include trafficking for sexual exploitation, the criminal organisations are involved with legal businesses in different sectors of the Bulgarian economy. This way the money collected by the exploitation of victims of human trafficking can be easily mixed with the funds derived from legal activity and can, therefore, be laundered. This gives the holders of these funds a great economic power. They, as representatives of large businesses, establish contacts with major businessmen in the country and often even with representatives of the public authorities.
The binding of human trafficking for sexual exploitation with the organized crime in Bulgaria makes this criminal activity from an occasional criminal act against an individual victim of trafficking into a large-scale organised criminal activity against which specific control measures must be applied. This link shows that sanctioning only people from the lower levels of the criminal organisations who are directly related to recruitment, transportation and exploitation of the victims would not lead to a termination of this criminal activity but just temporarily delay it.
For a small country like Bulgaria human trafficking for sexual exploitation has become a dangerous phenomenon that generates huge amounts of money for organised criminal groups. At some extent a role in the development of the problem have the ineffective investigations of this type of activity which are often focusing not on the organisations that control the operation but on the individual actors. In Bulgaria is a discernable tendency to neglect the cases of human trafficking associated with organised crime groups (Art. 159c) compared to the total number of cases of human trafficking (Art. 159a-c). Information available from the Supreme Prosecutor’s Office of Cassation shows that the prosecution cases filed in court as per Article 159a-c for the period 2002-2008 are 269 and these as per Article 159c are just 26. Often the investigative authorities consider trafficking as a crime committed by individuals rather than by criminal organisations. If success is to come in the fight against organised crime the investigation should concentrate on each level within the organisations including the top levels. Prosecution should target not only criminals at the low and mid-levels in the organised crime groups; the tendency to dismiss them as independent actors prevents the investigation from exposing their ties with the crime group and getting to the top levels in the criminal hierarchy. Otherwise, there is not only a failure in detecting the high levels of organised crime which most benefit from the exploitation of victims, but also a danger of double victimisation of the victims themselves. Once by the exploiters themselves and once by the country which defines them as violators of certain norms. Examples in Bulgaria are the more frequent prosecution decrees against prostitutes under Article 329 of the Penal Code in the last year or two. According to this article people that are systematically performing immoral acts that may be harmful to society, are subjected to penalties. Applied to the prostitutes it appears that only the sexually exploited are punishable and the leaders of the organisation, who have established channels for trafficking and are collecting money for sex services, remain untouched.
In reality, the criminal organisations are the big players on the market who receive the lion’s share of the profits generated by trafficking and who have significant influence upon the criminogenic environment. Individual players cannot exert the same influence on the criminal scene or the business economy with the money they generate. This is no reason to dismiss these actors as unimportant, but it is more significant for the responsible institutions to identify their priorities and direct their main efforts against the criminal organizations and organized crime that essentially control human trafficking. Therefore efforts should be focused in two main directions. On the one hand, for the measures (to combat human trafficking) to be effective, law enforcement and judicial authorities should focus their efforts on the high levels of criminal organisations, i.e. those who manage and control human trafficking from Bulgaria. On the other hand it is necessary to make special efforts to prevent and assist victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation. They should not be treated as criminals but as people who need psychological, moral, medical and financial assistance.
As noted by the experts from UNODC (2010) the response against human trafficking must be global. However, in order to be able to report effective results against this crime we should not forget that everything starts at the local level - both the emergence of the problems and their solutions. This means that each country that is in one way or another affected by the problem should make special efforts to both combat and prevent human trafficking.
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UNODC (2009) Global Report on trafficking in Persons. Available at: http://www.unodc.org/documents/Global_Report_on_TIP.pdf
UNODC (2010) The Globalization of Crime. Available at: http://www.unodc.org/documents/data-and-analysis/tocta/TOCTA_Report_2010_low_res.pdf
US Department of State (2009) Trafficking in Persons Report. Available at: http://www.state.gov/g/tip/rls/tiprpt/2009/index.htm
1 See Standard Newspaper, “Otlichnichki ot Sliven pozlatiha suteniori” [The Golden Girls from Sliven], 30 September 2008.
2 See 24 Hours Newspaper, “Nashi prostituirat po 16 chasa v Dortmund” [Bulgarian girls prostitute 16 hours a day in Dortmund], 7 may 2009.
3 As indicated in a survey conducted by the National Commission for Fighting Human Trafficking of the Council of Ministers of the Republic of Bulgaria (National Commission 2009) in cooperation with NGOs from Netherlands, due to various factors (media representations, mistrust in the Bulgarian law enforcement and judicial bodies, etc.) for most young people in Bulgaria the “normal” life is in the West. Furthermore, there is a natural impatience of the young- they want everything here and now. The following methods were used in the study: face to face interviews at home (nationally representative study sample size of 1007 people [over 18], regional booster Varna -313 people, and Sliven-306 [over 15 years]) and group discussions (2 in Varna and 2 in Sliven with 40 youths aged between17 and 27 years).
Entrepreneurship and Networking in the Trafficking of Sex Workers from East to West Europe
Cases from Belgium (2002-2008)
by Johan Leman and Stef Janssens,
Interculturalism, Migration and Minorities Research Centre, Faculty of Social Sciences, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium
Which profiles of entrepreneurship and networking can we distinguish in Belgium (and probably by extension its neighbouring countries as well) among sex workers, who have entered from Eastern Europe into Western Europe, and who are the victims of trafficking, and among others who are the active agents? Our central contention is that earning big money is the central catalyst in criminal entrepreneurship. This entrepreneurship however, takes place within a framework where agreements cannot be judicially enforced nor a constant supply of money can be guaranteed. While lacking juridical tools, one needs agreements that guarantee a sufficient degree of mutual trust. Entrepreneurs do not like to run too high a risk unnecessarily. Ideally, there could be positive social capital (Woolcock, 2001) between the actors on the field, as there is between colleagues in a workplace. This concerns the modalities along which the sex workers are recruited and thereafter exploited as well as their financial ‘modus operandi’. This trust should continue to exist even when the market conditions suddenly change.
In this context of entrepreneurship we see a network as a set of junctions of persons and/or organisations, complemented by variously qualified relations between these junctions (Williams, 1998; Von Lampe, 2002; McIllwain, 1999). The actors are working in flexible connections (Fijnaut, 1996) based on reciprocal dependency. Some people inside the networks e.g. financiers or organisers play a central role. These individuals are the important ‘junctions’ in and between criminal networks (Kleemans, 2002). This paper tries to elucidate what we have learned about entrepreneurship and networking among sex workers in Belgium (particularly in and around the area of Brussels North station prostitution district around the ‘Rue d’Aerschot’). We studied 25 juridical files, analysing them from an entrepreneurship and networking point of view and will offer our findings.
2. Which model is the most suitable for analysis?
In the literature some criminological models are at the foreground for such kinds of analysis as ours: the bureaucratic model (Cressey, 1969) that looks at social realities from a rational- organisational point of view, as well as the entrepreneurship model that looks for similarities with legal entrepreneurship (- see the image of the ‘calculating criminal entrepreneur’). In the entrepreneurship model the perpetrators are considered as other entrepreneurs, in the sense that they are striving for market-based maximisation of their benefits (Block, 1991). Currently, there is also a great deal of research carried out using the ‘social network’ model. It emphasizes the human social relations found in criminal organisations (Black, 2001). The ‘social network’ model is based on findings from anthropological research and it has been applied also to social interactions between persons and groups (McIllwain, 1999).
In our research we use the entrepreneurship and the social network models. Criminal entrepreneurs fundamentally want the maximisation of their earnings, and see the sex workers as commercial values. In structuring their enterprise they may follow the structure of a small family enterprise, but they can also look for existing modern management techniques employed by multinational corporations. They see their branches as business units, either completely family or clan based, or that hold together with other, more flexible kinds of glue. They can, for example, specialise and function in outsourcing patterns and flexible collaborations. Or they can use infrastructures, even legal ones, as firms and as modalities of structure and control within their criminal network. In each hypothesis the criminal entrepreneurs need, in one way or another, trust-creating and trust-sustaining networking.
But there is still something greater that needs to be taken into consideration. At a certain point things may go the wrong way, because of the inefficiency of the partner or the incorrectly anticipated conditions in the environment or the unforeseen and ever-changing societal context. This brings us to a third important factor in the understanding of criminal entrepreneurship behaviour. The business should have flexibility enough so that the entrepreneur may have the possibility to adapt to changing conditions. He should have the possibility to learn from mistakes in the past. To understand this process we use the system theory of the “learning organisation” borrowing from psychology of organisations. It has been applied elsewhere to criminological research carried out on the Colombian drugs cartels (Kenney, 1999) and on prostitution networks (Leman and Janssens, 2008).
Following the theory of the ‘organisational learning’ we can distinguish two different levels of learning. The first lower level is the ‘readaptive learning’ and means that there is some ‘reactive’ learning required when networks are confronted with sudden changes in their environment, e.g. police actions, police observations etc. The higher level is the ‘proactive learning’ one. In this second case, we seek at a creative, conceptual level to elaborate and provide theoretical insights upon which future work can be pursued. The reason for this is that what happens in this pro-active phase is much more fundamental. Here we find, what remained invisible for a long time, the strategies of a criminal network. In our case we see that many criminal networks have integrated legal firms quite neatly into their structure. This is carried out in order to give their actions a legal face. They can be malafide (deliberately deceitful) cover firms without a serious amount of real ‘legal’ activities that exist to hide a lot of criminal activities, or they may be malafide legal firms that continuously intermingle legal with illicit criminal activities.
Another insight that is important is to observe that in criminal entrepreneurship mechanisms of social regulation are fundamental. Here again the ‘social network’ model is very useful. Social relations are the important glue in criminal collaborations (Kleemans, 1998; Klerks, 2004; Lupsha, 1983; Chambliss, 1997). The economic market principles can only function efficiently if such a regulating system exists. Since ‘official’ or ‘legal’ regulation is very difficult to be realized among criminals, the founding of an ‘objective’ regulation system, intelligible and acceptable for all its partners, is a big challenge. Regulation techniques with a – from an emic (i.e. insider) point of view - high moral and social authority or pressure capacity may become an attractive alternative where the juridical forms of regulation are absent. What criminal entrepreneurs need is a self-imposed value system that regulates and differentiates between the self and the other partners and can guarantee trust and certainty among them. The trust should be ingrained in the nature of the reciprocal social relations and can only come into effect over time (Raub, 1997; Kleemans, 1998).
What about these regulating mechanisms? An excellent example may be the strong relations that exist inside a family or among the members of a clan in certain cultures (Lemieux, 2003; Lupsha, 1983; Klerks, 2000; Moerland and Boerman, 1999 ); or the mutual knowledge and recognition of each other’s ‘good’ reputation and the honour attached to it (von Lampe, 2004; Raub, 1997; Moerland and Boerman, 1999; Weerman and Kleemans, 2002); or the trust in the ‘intelligence’ of the partners for the interpretation of the ‘evidence’ in a situation (or as a ‘trust in abstract system’). Clever partners ‘understand’ how the control of an area or of an economic sector should be exercised (von Lampe, 2004). Finally, a ‘generalised trust’ that is based on unwritten and cultural codes may also exist (Ibid.). Speaking the same language or adhering to the same cultural norms may be seen as a source for more reciprocal trust (Black, 2001). However, one may exercise caution around this notion of ‘trust’ (van Duyne et al., 2001: 99, 127). Trust is generally accepted to have its limits, and some arguments for imbuing ‘trust’ may equally be arguments for not giving ‘trust’, e.g. the simple fact of speaking the same language. Because a particular operative speaks the same language can connote that he belongs, but also that he is privy to conversations that he can render intelligible to outsiders. For this reason we prefer to define ‘trust’ as an ‘expectation (of trust) under conditions of uncertainty’ (von Lampe, 2004: 103).
Our research questions are as follows: Which are the nationalities of the ‘members’, and of the victims, in a network? How have the victims been recruited, exploited and controlled? Do we find illicit, mala fide, firms in a network and how are the firms used? Does a network learn from its prior mistakes? Which are the regulating mechanisms that create and guarantee ‘trust’? What about the financial ‘modus operandi’? And what do networks do with their earnings? For a short analysis of the investments, we use the entrepreneurship model of David Carter, who does not study the maximisation of benefits and the efficiency of the organisation alone, but also the way and the degree of the diversification in the investments (Carter, 1997; Black, 2001).
Finally, we will also examine to what degree and at which level the victims may hold a control and a say about their own situation. Which is the space given by entrepreneurs for agency by sex workers, and what are the differences we can find among different profiles? We take agency to mean: “to be able to conceive of, and pursue projects, plans, values (…) an agent may lack personal autonomy” (Appiah, 2005: 38, referring for this meaning to Johnston, 1994).
3. Material analysed and possible biases of interpretation
We discovered, and selected, our research materials while reading 25 juridical files, which we consulted over a period stretching from 2002 to 2008. They were mostly about Bulgarians, Romanians and Albanians. Since 1992 there has been ‘freedom of movement for citizens’ within the European Union, and later for citizens from Bulgaria and Romania. Since January 1st 2007, when Bulgaria and Romania were admitted to the EU, the visa duty has been cancelled for their citizens and they have a right of stay of three months within other EU partner states. As we will see this is no small matter in relation to what happens to sex workers in Europe.
Another point we want to clarify here is why we have opted for an anthropological, non-quantifying description via ‘case studies’. We look at the human traffickers, even if we know they are exploiters of the lives and the work of sex workers, as entrepreneurs. We see that this is the way that they see themselves and how they act. The sex workers themselves may see themselves as victims, but their perspective may be quite ambivalent, and sometimes they are simply sex workers without the accompanying feeling of victimhood. More often than not ambivalence is the reality in discussions about trust, agency, entrepreneurship and victimhood. An anthropological approach through case studies pays more attention to this ambivalence than may be the case by quantifying some characteristics that are brought in from outside.
And what about the ethnic and national qualifications in our paper? By speaking about for example Bulgarian networking or about Roma clan culture, we do not mean that such a network as is described in our case studies is culturally Bulgarian or Romanian Roma. What we mean is that the practices as described under this label can be contextualised historically into a Bulgarian area, without essentialising it for Bulgarian cultural practices in general. This is also surely the case for the Romanian Roma case study that we will present, and which is very atypical of Roma cultural practices in general.
4. Three profiles in networking entrepreneurship
From a qualitative reading of the 25 files, we deduce three clear profiles that are different from one another, but point towards a generalised relationship to one another:
- Profile 1 is that of the ‘closed ethnic clan’ profile based on strong kinship relations such as family and clan (with a symbolism of blood binding). Such relations are characterised by ‘individualised trust’. We find it in 3 Albanian files and 3 Romanian Roma dossiers. The victims are forced, sometimes in a very violent way, to work in prostitution. This profile corresponds to earlier traditional Albanian, and the current Romanian Roma clan networks.
- Profile 2, the business-profile, consists principally of networks that are not based on family and clan relations, but on control of territory and reciprocal reputation. Here we find most of the Bulgarian files, i.e. 8 Bulgarian ones, 1 Russian and 1 Moldavian dossier. Typical for the networks here is ‘trust in abstract system’, strengthened by ‘generalised trust’, and sometimes also some ‘legal business interactions’.
- Profile 3 is that of the international multi-ethnic profile, based mostly on ‘trust on reputation’. Here we qualify the profiles of 9 dossiers. The exploiters are Belgians, Bulgarians, Romanians, Albanians or Italians of Sicilian derivation. Various exploiters have also been naturalised as citizens in Belgium. For each of the three profiles we will elaborate on a case study.
A closed ethnic Roma Romanian clan network (Profile 1)
In a file of sexual exploitation various Romanian girls had been violently forced into prostitution by a Roma clan. More than thirty girls had been forced into work as sex workers in some ten bars in the ‘rue d’Aerschot’, the prostitution district near the Brussels North station. Among them many girls were previously forced to prostitution in Spain and France. The details in this dossier transpired between 2004 and 2007. Important findings in the file are the result of police observations and telephone taps. There were links with investigations in France and Spain. One of the accomplices was also active involved in drug-trafficking. He was arrested in Italy in 2006 with 800 grams of cocaine in his possession. This clan, with its own traditions and regulations, comprised of two large families one of which had its principal residence in Belgium. The head of the clan was imprisoned in Spain for the possession of false credit cards. He continued to coordinate the clan activities from his prison cell. His right-hand man controlled the affairs in the field and was also the local chief. The hierarchy inside the family was age based; the older one had the higher authority. Each member in the family ‘owned’ a prostituted girl. The profits from prostitution were for the whole clan.
The male clan members were married following their cultural proscriptions, however, they also had their own prostitute who doubled as their concubine. There was a hierarchical relation among the girls before they stepped into prostitution. Wives and concubines had a properly privileged relation vis-à-vis the other prostituted girls, since they controlled them by delegating their clientele and their rentability. They also collected the money from the other girls, had power over them, and they also looked after the newly recruited ones. Some wives and concubines even got the right to exit prostitution. These were not viewed as victims by the police.
From a large scale operation by the Spanish and Romanian police it became obvious that the clan in Belgium collaborated closely with another clan in Spain which was also active in prostitution, kidnapping, extortion, false documents, counterfeit money, theft and swindling via the internet. Various girls were brought from Spain to Belgium for prostitution. They were often minors or orphans whose disappearance would not cause a huge amount of alarm. They were forced into prostitution. The girls were housed in apartments that were rented by the clan or stayed under the control and watchful eye of the concubines of the clan members. To enforce the control, some girls could only take clan members as clients. After every night there was a minimum amount of money that had to be handed over. If the girls could not pay it, it became treated as a levy that would have to be earned the following day. If the girls became pregnant, they were immediately brought to Spain to have an abortion. After the abortion they were brought back to Belgium.
The victims were physically maltreated. No victim dared to inform the police of her place of residence. They were forced to pay their own costs of transport and other expenses via prostitution. Some girls were sold. There was a case in which one of the clan members threatened to send the head of a child of a victim back to Romania. The mother had remained in Romania refusing to prostitute herself any longer. The average daily profits from the girls was from between €700 to €1,200. They regularly worked 7 days a week. One of the girls worked 12 hours every day from June 2005 to May 2007. She earned €525,000 for her exploiter. Another girl got only 200 euro every month from her pimp for her work.
The monetary benefits of the prostitution network have been sent via Western Union or via couriers to the clan’s base of operation in Romania. The correctional court in Brussels that presided, and handed a judgment down in this case, estimated that the earning was a minimum of 700 euro per day, and that the four most important defendants could have earned, based on the work of twenty girls, some 11 million euro through their exploitation in Brussels. Only €851,000 could be retraced by the police examination of the Western Union channel, whereas only €3,890 in cash could be found and confiscated.
A Bulgarian business network (Profile 2)
The facts in this prostitution file are dated from the period 2003-2005 and are again situated in the Brussels ‘rue d’Aerschot’. This file of Bulgarian and Romanian victims was established in 2005 after a complaint was filed by a Bulgarian victim. The victims identified the criminals and gave important information about the repartition of tasks among the accused in the criminal organisation. According to one of the declarations by the victims, agreements on the control of the territory inside the prostitution business exist. At a certain moment the coordinator of the prostitution network had emphasized that Brussels was his territory. The criminals were involved not only in prostitution but also in theft and extortion.
The leaders of the prostitution network work in Bulgaria officially, in the business of importing and exporting cars. Various defendants are collaborators and one is the administrator of a financial institution in Varna where money is lent in exchange for a pledge to the network.
The prostitution network is a business network with organisations in Bulgaria and Belgium. From here the victims were forced into prostitution in Bulgaria, Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany. Some girls first worked in prostitution in France and Italy. The criminal organisations of the network have their own responsibilities in Bulgaria and Belgium, but these guys stay under the control of the central management which operates from a tourist attraction place in Varna, on the coast of Bulgaria. The coordinator is protected by eight bodyguards, who continuously change. They are trained in kickboxing and are heavily armed with weapons that they are not hesitant to use. The delegates in Belgium started up a network to gather the money and bring it over to Bulgaria. The prostitution money is almost never transferred via Western Union any more but given directly to couriers or transported by a minibus. They work with various couriers in order to mislead the police. When using Western Union they used the name of a victim. The prostitution money has been laundered in Bulgaria, via the acquisition of real estate and of expensive cars, in the name of other non concerned persons.
The coordinator in Varna is well known by the nickname I. He is also the administrator of a financial institution that has stemmed out of his trafficking business. He invests his money in the acquisition of grounds and real estate and he also possesses a massage salon in Varna. A victim told the police that in Bulgaria I. also offered ‘services’ to police officers, prosecutors and judges. He organised sex parties for them at a tourist attraction in Varna. He also has a lot of contacts with Bulgarian police officers who inform him ahead of time about up-coming police raids on his massage salon.
I. therefore is not afraid of the Bulgarian police and justice systems. However, he is concerned about the Belgian police. I. was in in Mons, Belgium, in 2001 and was involved as a pimp in a prostitution dossier. He was arrested in 2002 on Belgian territory and he then confessed to the crime. In this dossier a victim mentioned a system of marriages of convenience with the collaboration of a local civil servant.
I. could only be identified by a victim on photographs and in a ‘line up’. One of the victims even had retained a photograph of I. in her photo box and brought it, on her own initiative to the attention of the police. In I.’s ‘system’, contacting him directly and in person was not permitted. This was done only via public phones. The victims were also instructed to deny that they had ever had any contact with him when questioned by the police. The Bulgarian authorities refused to deliver I. to Belgium. The official argument was that a defendant can never be condemned twice for the same crime and I. was already being prosecuted in Bulgaria for his involvement in criminal organisations and human trafficking. I., after a short period in jail, he was freed for medical reasons. It was stated that he had epilepsy and that his incarceration in jail was not compatible with this illness. He had no authorization to leave Bulgaria. The Bulgarian police informed their Belgian colleagues that as a consequence of I.’s liberation there is a strong chance that the other, hitherto unknown victims would be intimidated or would refuse to cooperate and possibly try to escape.
What was I.’s system in Belgium? He succeeded in making all of the girls believe that he was in love with them. After being freed in Bulgaria, he invited all his girls to go away from Brussels and return to him, while promising €5,000 for the murder of one of the victims who had offered her testimony about him in Belgium. It was not the first time he took such an initiative. A Bulgarian witness anonymously told the Belgian rogatory commission that (s)he saw I. in 2003 leaving Belgium with one of his girls, who never came back. She was later found dead in Belgium.
For the organisation of prostitution in Belgium (Brussels), I. appointed two ‘lieutenants’. One commanded a transport firm that brought people from Bulgaria to Belgium. The lieutenants were both active car thieves who were known by Belgian justice for human trafficking and prostitution crimes committed in 2004, and for a file on thefts with aggravated assaults and battery.
These chiefs have appointed guardians to look after the girls when arriving in Belgium, collecting the prostitution money, and handing it to the drivers. One of the drivers confessed that the organisation promised him €1,200 monthly. It is remarkable that this individual was naturalised as a Belgian citizen through his municipality two weeks after a sentence for money-laundering in Belgium. Currently, he has dual Belgian-Bulgarian citizenship. He bought a house in Koekelberg (Brussels) in the name of his father.
Another guardian in I.’s operation was serving time in prison in Forest (Brussels’ prison) at the beginning of the police research on the file, since he was condemned for a series of thefts. At the beginning people did not know that he was the same person. Bulgarian is written in Cyrillic characters. Translating his name into Latin characters was not without its problems. His name was written differently in the register of the prison and in the official register in Belgium. Eventually complementary information was provided by the Bulgarian police for precise identification.
The drivers played an important role. One of them was the owner of a minibus and a discotheque in Bulgaria. With the minibus various drivers brought girls from Bulgaria to Belgium and then went back from Belgium to Bulgaria with the prostitution money. The local leaders in Belgium took 20% of the prostitution money for themselves and paid their collaborators with it. I. received some €20,000 from the drivers on a weekly basis.
Les ‘dames de compagnies’ (lady-companions) are another category of people involved in the system. They had to control the girls and also give them the necessary support. They took care of the new coming sex workers and collected their money. They also took care that the showcases were always occupied.
An important part of the ‘modus operandi’ was the repartition of benefits by a so-called 50-50 basis. From the 50% that went to the sex worker the girl had to pay for the rent of the showcase which was extremely expensive. Priority was given to ladies with children, because it was easier to put them under pressure. The system also preferred girls coming from poor families. At first the criminals offered support to the parents in Bulgaria, so that they felt loyal. Afterwards these parents were told that a lot of money could be earned outside the country, e.g. Belgium. Once in Belgium, the girls were told to throw away their SIM-cards, which made tracing their calls difficult.
People in the business were not afraid of using violence against the girls. They were frequently struck in the presence of the other girls. Threats were often levelled vis-à-vis the family at home, intimidations if they get into contact with the police, cavity searches, threatening to drown them, refusal to leave the apartment, penalties, the obligation to work in all circumstances, some were also obliged to take drugs, various girls were sold, and there was also the alleged witnessing of murder by one of the girls.
Various Bulgarian victims, just like the criminals, were coming from Varna. Most of the girls were recruited in discotheques in Bulgaria. One among the cooperating criminals was the owner of such a discotheque. Many girls have become victims through a ‘loverboy’ relation. Others were offered a well-paid job in prostitution or at another labour sector. Some already had experience and left prostitution in Varna for a similar set-up among the same individuals in Belgium.
In July 2006, the Bulgarian authorities informed the Belgian police that they had started to build a case on similar facts in Bulgaria. In Belgium the research had started in 2005. In Bulgaria the media paid significant attention to the case, as well as to the release of I. In January 2007, Bulgarian authorities refused to deliver I. to the Belgian judiciary. An E.U. arrest warrant was refused.
Various sources have informed us that the Bulgarian juridical system makes efficiently combating organised crime in Bulgaria, not least human smuggling and trafficking, very difficult. The delays that are prescribed for criminal prosecution are simply too short. Officially it is said that the reason is to stimulate prosecution. The facts yielded however are that it is too short a delay, making the prosecution non-existent because it is impossible to bring it to an end. Afterwards it is up to the general solicitor to decide in favour or not of a prolongation of the investigation into the criminal network. His/her criterion should be the severity of the crime but in Bulgaria human trafficking is not seen as a serious crime most of the time. This means that in the case of human trafficking the dossier is constructed mostly from the very beginning of the treatment before the court. It also means that the witnesses prefer not to testify, or they are, or have, disappeared. In practice, such a process in Bulgaria leads to an acquittal; Mr. I. runs no risks in Varna. His only limitation is that he is required to remain there.
An international and multi-ethnic prostitution business network (Profile 3)
The last file is another Brussels dossier that dates back to 2004. At that time Bulgaria was still a candidate to the EU. It concerns an example of a professional prostitution network, with fake constructions and with victims in a so-called win-win situation. The dossier was in the hands of an examining magistrate in Liège and it was researched by the Brussels federal police. The police used telephone taps and observations, and financial analyses were made on the bank accounts of the network members. One of their conclusions was that there were a lot of corruption practices in trying to obtain a permit for their bar. From a telephone tap it became known that they had a dubious contact within an embassy.
The investigation started up in Liège when the police in Flémalle got information about a Sicilian who controlled two prostitution bars in Brussels. He was already known by the police for his involvement in drugs trade. His lifestyle was exuberant with gambling and the purchase of expensive jewels. Every Thursday he came to Brussels for illegal activities, and one of these Thursdays he was also seen at Brussels ‘rue d’Aerschot’. The local police saw him making a call, as a pimp on his mobile phone while another saw a sex worker answering his call on her phone. The police were also tipped off about a Belgian of Albanian descent working with a Sicilian pimp and transferring girls for his trade. This Belgian-Albanian is a family member of a chief of an Albanian smuggling network. In the last five years, this Belgian Albanian, a former security agent in Albania, was condemned in Belgium for important smuggling cases twice.
Once again the monetary benefits from prostitution were enormous. One girl in the Brussels bars earned until 7,000 euro per day. The girls work 30 days per month. There are 10 girls involved. One may estimate the benefits as being up to €2,100,000 per month for the prostitution activities solely.
This Sicilian pimp bought two bars, which were put under the name of his female partner, a former sex worker. From the telephone tap it appeared that he was the one who really controlled the bars. Officially, they were standard drinking-houses, where one could book reception rooms for events. The one who booked them had to sign a declaration that they were responsible for its use. But the activity that was really taking place was prostitution. The employees were registered falsely under the qualification as barmaids.
The sex workers were obliged to pay extra wages for the showcases as stated. The 24 hours of the day were divided into 4 shifts of 6 hours each. The price per shift was €100, but it varied from girl to girl. If a girl took two shifts, the price could be lower, around €175 in total. As a result of this system, the police can only make records implicating the girls and not their exploiters or the owners. The latter were only responsible for letting the rooms and showcases. Here lady-companions were also used as intermediary links in the chain. The police explained that the lady-companions were there to protect the sex workers. This is partially true; however, their most important function was to control the rentability of the sex workers, to collect the money and deliver it to the exploiters.
The sex workers should give, after having paid for the showcases, 50% of their total benefits to the pimp. In the bars we found exclusively Bulgarian ladies as barmaids generally, usually without a work permit or with a tourist passport valid for three months. However, there were also Belgian and Ukrainian ladies. The Bulgarian sex workers had the reputation of being very willing and dedicated to their job. The barmaids travelled over and back between Belgium and Bulgaria every three months.
5. Entrepreneurship and networking: Three organisational patterns
In the first profile of the closed ethnic clan network, where violence was used an instrument of control, over recent last years in Brussels we observe mostly Romanian Roma dossiers. This is an important difference with the findings of an earlier study treating files from 1995-2005 (Leman and Janssens, 2011), where Albanian clans were still the majority. There are still Albanian files that correspond to this profile, but fewer in number than before and new Albanian files go more towards the direction of profile 3, where the “lover boy” variety is still present in their case. The Roma files, concerning events that happened from 2004 onwards, consist of facts that have come to the surface from 2006 onwards in Belgium. These Roma networks are very well organised. These people are very efficient in their business and are in continuous contact with their clan in Romania. Their organisation is strongly hierarchical under the leadership of clan heads. Their victims are forced into prostitution. They operate internationally even if their networking is not geared towards networking. It is a complementary system, something that may be useful from time to time. They diversify their activities. They do not hesitate to use minors from their own families for their business. They are active in prostitution, organised begging and organised thefts. Their bases remains anchored in some areas of Romania. They live in a parallel societal and juridical system with their own norms and values that are completely in opposition to those of the country in which they have become active.
The second profile are the, mostly Bulgarian, ‘business’ networks. Again they are very well organised and have good contacts with, or are guided by, some mafia-like structures in Bulgaria. In the Belgian case, they reside mostly in Sliven, a seemingly-still very corrupt area that is extended all the way to the coastal area of Varna where the investments are ploughed into property and real estate. With the prostitution money coming from the West it is fast becoming a flourishing business. It is very difficult to combat these professional networks without an efficient support and drive for it in Bulgaria itself. The administrating entrepreneurs remain in Bulgaria; only their lieutenants stay in Belgium and the pimps are extremely mobile between Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany. Money transfers are organised via Western Union but even more so via couriers. Confiscations in Belgium are “quasi nihil” because there is often nothing to be confiscated.
The Bulgarian networks have introduced a new intermediary prostitution actor: the lady-companions. They mostly work in the showcases and aid and abet prostitution, but there is also a description of them in street-level prostitution. The lady-companions are active in a grey area in the labour market. They receive the money for the showcases (e.g. €450, among which €50 is for themselves). They contact the pimp in case they need a new sex worker. They know all the pimps in the area. From time to time they can accompany some pimps to Bulgaria for a prolongation of their permit to stay. The sex workers are not opposed to the presence of these ladies, who may prostitute them and who can be very attentive to them and sometimes even take care of their administrative affairs. Sometimes they are seen as a ‘second mother’ by some young sex workers.
The whole system has as its result that the ‘hidden’ chief coordinator can remain sane and safe in his country of provenance, being very well-paid from outside his country, while others take care of the local organisation and make the chief successful, by and through their own success. The third profile is the internationally-oriented networks composed of a diversity of nationalities such as Bulgarians, Albanians, Italians, Romanians and Belgians. They collaborate on an individual basis and look for very precise expertise in their own field on the way their own group is working. The cooperation is flexible, and is related to the demands in the market. The maximisation of benefits is of course the objective. The pimps are Albanians, Bulgarians or naturalised Belgians. The bars and money-laundering is very often a business for people with South Italian roots. Prostitution is voluntary most of the time. Most of the sex workers are Bulgarians, and to a lesser extent, Romanians. The Bulgarians offer the girls themselves. Travel agencies in Bulgaria take care of the transport to different cities in Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands. There are also some strange combinations that are utilised: a female sex worker is “coupled” with a male construction worker, who are also disposed to work for a very low salary.
6. A criminal learning organisation
The criminal networks operate as true business networks. They are learning organisations, almost sentient in nature, that adapt easily and professionalise quickly. They create mala fide, shifty or disingenuous firms and invest in the economy. In some cases they use the rules of the market economy to develop their power position in a disloyal way.
The criminal networks start up constructions to hide their role in the exploitation of people by human-trafficking. These constructions obfuscate the link between the coordinators and the people involved in prostitution. The prostitutes and illegal workers may even have to give the impression that they work autonomously. This way it becomes more difficult for the investigator to prove that it really concerns human trafficking business at large rather than being an isolated incident. The criminal networks from Eastern Europe operate more and more as a proactive learning organisation of the higher level that succeeds in conceptualising the strategies and improving their efficiency through deep structural changes in the operations. This is surely the case in profiles 2 and 3. In fact, we should make a clear distinction at this level, since profile 1 is characterized by reactive learning and profiles 2 and 3 by proactive learning.
For profile 1 it is also typical that one will not find fake construction firms. The learning aspect here is a matter of the diversification of criminal activities, and some specialisation in international coordination (see case study 1, the Roma case) and in counterstrategies against police observations (which is more the case with Albanian organisations that sometimes have former Sigurimi i.e Intelligence agents helping them).
In the second profile we see that the Bulgarian administrator, the head of the network, can comfortably remain in Bulgaria and should not stay in the country where some of his criminal benefits are earned (Belgium). They are represented by lieutenants, lady-companions and car drivers, who do their dirty work for them. They run no risk while investing in property and real estate in Bulgaria. The sex workers themselves are juridically responsible for what they are doing, paying money for the showcases and the prostitution rooms to the lady-companions, and they may even make some personal, albeit almost negligible monetary gain. For the Belgian police this payment of money for activities is normally the proof for the existence of their business. The administrator in Bulgaria however, remains completely absent in it. Since the lady-companions also have a protective role vis-à-vis the sex workers (sometimes being seen as a ‘second mother’), sex workers don’t feel driven to collaborate with the police by condemning their ‘second mother’ for her involvement in the exploitation system.
Importantly, international mobility and frequent changes among sex workers and even among drivers make the creation of a relation of trust between the police and the sex workers much more difficult. The impression that one has is that we are losing the fight against this clever East European human trafficking management in Western Europe. As long as collaboration on the parts of the authorities in the East European EU member states are not completely open and transparent the fight is lost. Like all mafia-like leadership these East European human trafficking entrepreneurs exploit perfectly, through a very clever analysis of all regulations, the lacunas in the existing systems. At the same time they know how to diversify their activities and to reconvert the financial benefits into promising projects for the future, e.g. in the tourist sector in coastal areas. How diverse are the activities? In one dossier we observed how a Bulgarian entrepreneur was active in a prostitution file of 1999-2002 as well as in a dossier of building construction with heavily underpaid workers in 2006. He was also the owner of the minibus that brought both categories of workers together to Belgium.
One finds mala fide firms and corruption in the international, multi-ethnic business networks (profile 3). ‘Lady-companions’ are also functional here, and the sex workers are presented as working independently for themselves (cf. profile 2). Maybe the system is more advance still. The prostitution rooms are transformed into non-prostitution business: rooms for receptions or drinking only. The owners and pimps may even use uninvolved people, who are simply paid some money to lend out their name for use on official documents, people are sometimes quite ignorant or live from social assistance requiring extra money. It makes the operation locally very unclear to outsiders, because the whole enterprise continuously hides something else.
7. Social regulation mechanisms of the network
Can we find a kind of social regulation mechanism inside, and between the networks, in our different profiles? There are different trust-creating levels possible that have a tendency to overlap. The closed ethnic clan networks (profile 1) are characterized most fundamentally through their strongly binding familial and clan relations culture. In some cases, the network and the entire clan were one and the same. In some files you can observe how the head of the clan is the one who decides in situations of conflict and intervenes among the other members. The Roma network remains still a very specific case, requiring further study, since the victims are all from the same Roma provenance. Even among Roma this seems very abnormal to us. Clearly that clan has its own closed, social value system and has remained completely cut off from the surrounding society.
In the business profile of the Bulgarian prostitution networks, the dominant glue is comprised of ‘trust in abstract system’; meaning that people think in terms of links with a territory and the rights of control that it comes with. Most of the victims come from cities as Sliven, Varna and Pernik, just as their exploiters. There are some family relations between some of the defendants, which may be interpreted as a complementary factor of ‘individualised trust’. The financial benefits go to the family who decides what to do with it.
In the international, multi-ethnic networks (profile 3) reciprocal trust is based on ‘trust on reputation’, and is the general rule. Collaborations are based on predictable trust-based reactions among the partners and permit some flexibility. The entrepreneurs work very often with firms and use techniques of corruption to influence decisions in the economy frequently. ‘Trust in the system’ is also fundamental.
8. The victims’ perspective and space for ‘agency’
This is one of the aspects that has developed most in recent years. Explicit coercion and violence have become a measure of last resort in the more proactive Eastern European approaches. It remains most visible and in fact is present most of all in profile 1, the closed clan based networks. We should also be aware that with the pull factors that are present in the West European consumption context, there are many sex workers in Eastern Europe that are disposed to come to the West of their own volition. It is more profitable than in the East for a similar job and it may be a way to abandon poverty. Sewing work may be seen by some of them as a temporary job, a project of e.g. two years, and afterwards one may go back to e.g. Sliven with some more welfare. In such a situation, pimps have it easier when finding girls to make a deal. One may see a phenomenon of carousel prostitution, where sex workers change every three months going back and forth between Bulgaria and Belgium. Sex work is presented as a win-win situation for all the actors involved. The sex workers in this situation have not much interest in a special status in Belgium that would facilitate their collaboration with the Belgian police.
In our interviews with magistrates and police officers, these professionals confirmed the new trend for a space of ‘personal agency’ among the victims/sex workers. There are strong indications that the entrepreneurs learn from their mistakes in the past and have understood that they need positive loyalty on the part of their sex workers. They started treating the sex workers as active actors in their operation, making them believe that they have become collaborators. Many of them feel deceived afterwards, when going back home and discovering that their personal investments did not arrive as promised. Since this is also known already in Bulgaria, some take preventative measures and sign a contract prior to their departure with a notary. But even then, deceptions are possible when the notary in the area of origin is in fact working for the entrepreneur.
In the third, international profile, the victims are mostly EU citizens, from Bulgaria or naturalised Belgians who work of their own volition in prostitution. The Bulgarian sex workers are carousel sex workers on the basis of a three month stay in Belgium. There is a space for agency for them, but again at the end of the job, they have much less money in their hands than promised. This is due in part to the huge working costs which are paid to lady-companions, drivers, and for housing and the hiring of rooms and showcases, costs that are claimed to be paid with the finances earned by the sex worker, after having divided first the benefits on a despicably unfair basis with the ‘administrator’ of the business.
9. Benefits for the network
In the closed ethnic networks (profile 1), we don’t find any diversification of the criminal benefits. The money is sent by couriers, most of the time, to their family or clan in Albania or Romania. What they do with it is unknown in Belgium. In the business networks we see that the criminal money is brought through the appropriate channels to administrators in the country of origin, who are often held in their own country of provenance to be important and honourable, successful businessmen, who invest in acquisition of grounds and real estate in a Bulgarian coastal area.
In the dossiers on international networks (profile 3), criminal money may also be invested in Belgium. More often than not the money-laundering is placed in the hands of South-Italians who control some important bars in Brussels, Liège, Charleroi and elsewhere and invest in firms in Belgium or in other countries. Diversification may happen here in a variety of places.
We have seen that entrepreneurship in human trafficking for prostitution from, and via, Eastern Europe always corresponds to one of three profiles. There are two important factors to explain a particular choice: the social-cultural patterns of organisation in the country of descent and transnational developments. In areas of provenance where a clan-structure culture is still very important (as is the case in some areas in Albania), the glue for such an organisation that is not based on legislation but on trust, can not be stronger than when made by clan characteristics and clan realities. In other areas, such as in many countries from the former Soviet Union, where other closed partnerships were much more important, e.g. membership in security organisations, it is better to find adherence in these former partnerships. The latter partnerships are more based on criteria as ‘trust in the system’, or ‘trust in reputations’. In both cases, the maximising of financial benefits is the motor for entrepreneurship. When international collaboration is needed, partnerships are created with respect to each partner’s social-cultural practices, values and norms as far as it concerns the field of the partner. But one tries to learn from the successful approach of a partner and tries to learn from own mistakes, sometimes even reflecting very fundamentally, even accepting a complete revision of the own way of doing business if required. Everywhere, in our files at least, the structures in the enterprise are put at disposition of other forms of trafficking too (e.g. drugs).
How do we ought to combat organised human-trafficking as described in our paper? It seems impossible to us to do it in a fundamental and efficient way, if there is no complete structural analysis of the practices and the collaborations among the criminal networks, and if the police and the juridical apparatus in the different countries concerned do not collaborate with one another. What is needed is a complete network analysis into the financial ‘modus operandi’ in the different countries.
We also emphasize the need for an anthropological approach as a necessary complementary approach to the juridical method. One should understand the dynamisms in the glue of social regulations. Last but not least, we should become convinced that networks are learning organisations that professionalize and learn quickly from one other and from their own mistakes in the past. This means that we should avoid easy successes that have as their sole objective to show an increase in arrest rates. Too strong a focus on statistical success can be the beginning of a step backwards, since it may lead to blindness to more fundamental changes in the way of working of more professional networks that succeed in integrating into the official realms of society. Statistical success may never become a determining criterion as proof of success, because it mostly means that a certain way of working by criminal organisations is becoming less efficient.
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The involvement of Chinese human smugglers in other forms of crime:
A critical evaluation of 88 court cases
by Melvin Soudijn,
Senior Researcher at the National Crime Squad of the Netherlands Police Agency
It has been established through various research studies that Chinese human smugglers can charge ‘an arm and a leg’ for their services (Kyle & Liang 2001; Morse 2001; Wang 2001; Zhang & Chin 2004). The smuggling fee for the passage from China to the US can vary between USD 30,000 and USD 60,000. As snakeheads (Chinese smugglers) do not run charities, migrants are supposedly forced to repay their debts by working long hours for little pay in restaurants or sweatshops. Due to strict sanctions, these payment obligations are said to have far-reaching consequences, for example, Chinese men are forced to become involved in crime (robbery, extortion, drug smuggling), while women may end up in prostitution. The unfortunate migrants who are exploited for years on end are thus said to have fallen victim to new forms of slavery (Salt & Stein, 1997; Väyrynen, 2003; US Department of State, 2009; 2010).
However, interviews with illegal migrants prove that they are generally not the hopeless victims they are thought to be. They consciously use the services that smugglers provide. Once they arrive at their destination, migrants start working for relatives or acquaintances (Pieke et al. 2004). Likewise, interviews with smugglers show that they are generally not involved in all sorts of crime (Zhang & Chin 2004). In other words, the conclusions based on academic fieldwork are clearly in contradiction with the slavery scenario. One wonders which view is the more accurate. Do migrants regularly fall victim to smugglers or are such reports exaggerated?
If migrants are indeed exploited under such conditions, smugglers are likely to be actively involved in forced prostitution, socio-economic exploitation, extortion and drug trafficking (Adamoli et al. 1998; Morse 2001; Plywaczewski 2002; Schloenhardt 2001). Arguably, any proof of such criminal diversification ought to be found in police records. Following this line of reasoning, this chapter is based on empirical data generated by criminal investigations of Chinese human smuggling that were brought before the Dutch courts between 1999-2003. In the next section, further details about the research method and data are provided. In section three, the involvement of human smugglers of Chinese in other forms of crime is examined. In section four, potential biases that might have distorted the outcomes are discussed. Section five turns to the methods by which migrants finance their smuggling fee. This might help explain the level of control a smuggler can have over migrants and consequently the probability of their being exploited and victimized by their smugglers.
2. Method and data
What must first be determined is whether Chinese smugglers are indeed exploiting migrants. If this can be confirmed, we then can turn our attention to the extent of migrant exploitation. The crux of this exercise, however, lies in finding undisputed data. By that I mean the kind of data on which everybody may agree and data that gives an accurate representation of the situation. For instance, field research may not trace any sign of slavery, but findings of qualitative research can be disputed. Critics could simply argue that I had merely talked to the wrong people. Conversely, research may come across tales and even scenes of untold horror.
Because of such problems, this work opts for data that has the highest chance of containing abuses, i.e. police data. This approach involves the following basic idea: if Chinese smugglers are involved in all sorts of crime, there is a good chance of finding such evidence in police investigations. The state, after all, targets (forced) prostitution, extortion, drug trafficking and other forms of exploitation, if not to rescue victims, then at least to prevent criminals for a variety of reasons including instrumental ones, including public health or fiscal interests. In the course of doing that, law enforcement is likely to reveal abuse too. If no evidence linking human smugglers with such abuses can be found in police files, the ‘abuse’ hypothesis can be plausibly challenged.
Because police files are normally hard to gain access to, it is unusual to find information from such data in academic research on Chinese smuggling or organized crime. However, since the 1990s the Dutch authorities have granted researchers relatively open access to police files. Previous scientific studies of organized crime in the Netherlands showed that analysis of this kind of data had definite added value (Kleemans et al. 2002; Klerks 2000; Van Duyne 1995). This is not to say that police files are always the best kind of data a researcher could rely on. There are drawbacks: the files are compiled in the interest of criminal prosecution and they are not primarily collected for research purposes. Data relevant for social science research will therefore be absent, such as suspects’ backgrounds or motives. It is also unclear how representative these files are. In effect it is police priorities that provide the basis for any sample researchers should want to construct.
But then again, how viable is it for researchers in organized crime to gather objective statistics? Field research is not likely to construct more dependable datasets of organizers of human smuggling. Because who can guarantee that their findings are not influenced by the sort of relations that turn up through e.g. snowballing techniques? Reliance on police files is therefore a reasonable compromise, since if there is evidence of abuses, it is bound to be recorded in police files. The possible drawbacks and biases of the research findings are discussed in more detail in section four. It will be then possible to make a more thorough evaluation of the outcome of the main research question.
The period covered in this article runs from the first of January 1996 to the end of December 2003, eight consecutive years in total. This includes the infamous Dover tragedy of 2000, in which 58 Chinese died in the back of a truck during a crossing to the UK. Although the incident did not occur on Dutch soil, the fatal journey started in Rotterdam and the organizers were based in the Netherlands.
During the research period, 88 cases of Chinese human smuggling were prosecuted. The files were originally collected in 2003, 2004 and 2005 and the outcome of the research was published in 2006 (Soudijn 2006). Because of budget restrictions, files from later years were not added. With hindsight, the period covered in the original data collection deals with the alleged peak of Chinese human smuggling in the Netherlands. Dutch police officers reported in the summer of 2010 that in the last couple of years hardly any Chinese human smuggling cases were discovered and brought to court.
The original 88 case files themselves were of varying sizes and contained different kinds of investigative data. Some were very extensive and contained a large number of records of tapped telephone conversations, house searches and police interviews with suspects, witnesses and smuggled persons. These so-called ‘large-scale investigations’ thereby consisted of dozens of binders, each representing at least six months of investigative work. At the other end of the spectrum are files that contained less than a hundred pages. These are cases in which an individual smuggler was caught by coincidence during e.g. a random control at the border. The ensuing investigation would only last a couple of days or weeks.
The files show that the method of smuggling was quite diverse. For example, lorries were deployed to smuggle groups of 15 to 60 people. Smaller groups of 5 to 20 people were hidden in vans or boarded (with fraudulent papers) on commercial airlines. Groups of up to seven people were transported more openly in the passenger seats of private automobiles or even on public trains. However, none of the transports in the research data was of the seafaring type. While incidents of smuggling by freighter from China all the way to the US have occurred (Chu, 1994; Wang, 1996), this method was not discovered in Europe. Transport by water only came into play when someone took the ferry from the Netherlands to England.
In all, 178 defendants were brought to trial. Seven cases involved six or more defendants accounting for 60 defendants in total. This is nearly the same number as 54 cases in which just one defendant was tried. The remaining cases fall between these two extremes. In the eight-year research period, over one hundred defendants from the People’s Republic of China were prosecuted. Further study of their cases reveals that they cooperated with other Asian defendants from Hong Kong, Singapore, Vietnam and Malaysia but also with non-Asian defendants such as people from the Netherlands, Great Britain and Turkey1.
There is insufficient data to indicate accurately which Chinese province or city the Chinese smugglers came from. Some files merely state ‘China’ under place of birth. The following can be derived from the files that contain more details. Most Chinese defendants originated from the Zhejiang Province (N=43). Wenzhou and Rui’An are mentioned specifically. Eighteen people came from the Fujian Province. Guangdong was next with seven and then Shanghai with six. However, no place of birth is known for the remaining Chinese defendants. It is therefore possible that more defendants originated from e.g. Fujian than can be determined from this data.
Because the court files only state nationality and not ethnicity, the cases were cross-checked for indications of ethnic origin. For example, there are intercepted telephone conversations in which the defendants from Malaysia communicated in a particular Chinese dialect. About a quarter of all the smugglers involved were therefore non-ethnic Chinese. In the next section, we take a closer look at the criminal history and present criminal activities of the known defendants.
3. Criminal records and offences
If the smugglers of Chinese people are involved in all sorts of crime, there is a good chance they have a criminal record. The criminal record of all the defendants were therefore retrieved from the Criminal Records Office in the Netherlands. The results varied considerably. The ‘ethnic Chinese’ and the ‘other Asians’ categories stood out for their general lack of criminal history. Of the 140 Asian defendants, two men from China and one man from Hong Kong had been arrested in the past for violating the Opium Act. None of the defendants had ever been charged with participation in a criminal organization. Only eight individuals had been convicted of human smuggling before. In addition, there were several specific antecedents that probably related to their employment history in Chinese catering establishments. These include 34 violations of the Commodities Act and 15 violations of the Foreign Nationals (Employment) Act.
In contrast, the 32 defendants who could be characterized as ‘Westerners’ had extensive records of minor and major offences. They had come into contact with the judicial authorities from an early age for offences such as damage of property, breaking and entering, theft or fraud. Three had been arrested in the past for violating the Opium Act. Two others had been suspected of membership in a criminal organization. In other words, the data did not show the Asian group of defendants to be typical career criminals. This term would be more appropriate to describe the ‘Western’ defendants. What, however, must be taken into account is that this conclusion is based on the criminal antecedents known to the Dutch authorities. Four Chinese defendants turned out also to have human smuggling convictions in France or Belgium. This does not mean that the other Asian defendants had no convictions outside the Netherlands, but rather that it is not standard practice for the Dutch authorities to seek out and receive information about foreign convictions. Furthermore, the Dutch authorities do not exchange information with China. Therefore, it is not known whether the individuals in the Asian group had criminal records in the respective countries where they were born.
By analyzing their current human smuggling cases, better information could be obtained about the level of involvement of the human smugglers in other forms of crime. Table 1 lists all the charges on which all of the defendants were tried.
As is to be expected for human smuggling trials, charges for human smuggling are on top of the list2
. However, only one charge of human trafficking was found. This is a surprisingly low figure for a group of offenders that is associated in the general literature and the press with the trafficking in Chinese women and underage asylum seekers. Furthermore, it turns out that this one defendant was acquitted. The other files contain no tangible evidence of Chinese prostitution. In other words, based on human smuggling investigations, there is no proof of structural involvement of Chinese smugglers with forced prostitution.
In 54 cases, subsidiary articles of the law relating to fraudulent use of identification documents were invoked. Because human smuggling is often carried out with false or falsified documents, this should be considered a crime inherent to human smuggling and is no indication of genuine criminal diversity. In the same vein, charging someone with participation in a criminal organization is often used by a prosecutor as a way to obtain special investigation powers such as wiretapping. Therefore, the use of this article in criminal procedure does not signify that 63 people are Triad members. Moreover, the files show no evidence to suggest that smugglers use Triad names, swear allegiance to one another or practice initiation rituals. Besides, triadic organization in the Netherlands are often linked to the 14K from Hong Kong or the Ah Kong from Singapore (Bovenkerk & Fijnaut 1996). But these two origins constitute only a minority in the smuggling cases considered in this research. Furthermore, analysis of their court files finds the smugglers from Hong Kong and Singapore often in supportive functions, not in positions of power.
For the purposes of this study, a number of different articles of law are classified under the heading of ‘violence’. At first glance, this seems a more promising indication of abuses. No less than ten charges of manslaughter, eight murder charges and three charges of involuntary manslaughter were found in the research group. Two additional charges were also brought for the unlawful disposing of a human body. Furthermore, in three cases defendants were charged with unlawful deprivation of liberty, and in two of those cases with grievous bodily harm. Such incidents indicate that human smuggling can be a very serious crime indeed.
However, a careful analysis of all the files of the ‘violent offenders’ calls for a more nuanced approach. The reason for the fatal violence appeared to lie in disputes between smugglers. This resulted two times in murder in which several defendants were involved. In one case, the cause was marital infidelity. In another case, one smuggler tried to extort another smuggler. The last in turn retaliated with deadly force. It should therefore be noted that the smugglers did not direct lethal violence at their clientele but at other human smugglers.
Although no migrants were deliberately murdered, one unintended smuggling accident resulted in the death of 58 migrants, known as the Dover tragedy. Consequently, all those smugglers involved were charged with manslaughter. However, this incident should be seen more as proof of the carelessness or greediness under which some smugglers operate, rather than evidence of deliberate exploitation of migrants. In six cases individuals were charged with illegal possession of firearms. This can be considered as a surprisingly low number for supposedly very organized criminals.
Only two persons were charged under the Opium Act. Again, this cannot be taken as evidence of a systematic link between the smuggling of Chinese illegal migrants and another form of crime (the smuggling of drugs). No investigations showed Chinese smugglers in the Netherlands to use the same routes, resources and methods to smuggle drugs and people simultaneously (Schloenhardt, 1999). No drugs were found in any of the intercepted human smuggling transports, nor did any of the investigations produce evidence of migrants carrying drugs to or through the Netherlands during their journey. While some XTC tablets were found during several house searches of human smugglers, the quantity was not large enough to warrant suspicions of dealing. It turned out that some smugglers were recreational drug users.
The smugglers’ involvement with extortion was also minimal. Analysis of the relevant case file showed that one defendant was in financial trouble and therefore committed the act of extortion in order to earn some cash quickly. This was the action of an individual and should not be seen as proof of the involvement of a complete smuggling group. In conclusion we can say that, in the cases of human smuggling brought before the Dutch courts, hardly any evidence was found of a symbiotic relationship between human smugglers and forced prostitution, drugs, extortion or robbery. The validity of this conclusion must now be examined more closely.
4. What would Popper say?
The files did not show that Chinese human smugglers are involved in a variety of forms of crime. Does this mean that these findings are a correct representation of reality? Can results drawn from government data really be trusted? Karl Popper thought that trying to find evidence that could falsify our assumptions is of more importance than only looking for evidence that supports our views. Only by a process of conjecture and refutation can we try to verify our results. Now knowing the outcome of the search for criminal diversity in Chinese crime as recorded by police files, it once again becomes necessary to reflect on the possible drawbacks of the data. In this section I will discuss possible biases in representation, oversights, partitioning and pattern.
First of all, it could be argued that the wrong type of case was analyzed. The research was based on court files and in this regard, certain limitations are likely to occur. Police observations are incomplete and can involve and produce biases. Those who are caught might not display the same characteristics of their more successful colleagues. However, it can also be pointed out that 88 cases over eight years involving 178 defendants were analyzed. Such numbers reduce the possibility that only a certain type of smuggler was caught. The cases were also quite diverse, as was pointed out previously. Cases differed considerably not only in sheer size, but also as far as the smuggling method and number of people involved were concerned. Furthermore, police investigations are more likely to focus on ‘organized’ rather than ‘unorganized’ forms of human smuggling. Subsequently, the chance of encountering criminal diversity is rather more likely to occur in these organized forms of smuggling then in unorganized forms of smuggling.
A second drawback of the data that should be considered is the possibility of omission. Maybe other forms of crime went unnoticed by the police? This turns out to be more of a hypothetical problem. The predominant investigating technique in the Netherlands is the interception of telephone communications. In almost every human smuggling case, numerous telephone conversations of the smugglers were recorded. Their talks gave good insights in the day to day affairs of smugglers and made for quite objective material. These intercepted conversations gave no clue to any structural involvement of smugglers in other forms of crime, something that was also supported by a number of interviews held with investigators for this research. When I talked to them, I was informed that many started out with the assumption they would discover a cesspool of abuses. In other words, investigators were always on the lookout for forced prostitution. However, as table 1 showed, connections with prostitution were hardly found.
It should also not be forgotten that any connection with other forms of crime would likely benefit the prosecution. If the prosecutor could prove that human smuggling and, say, drug smuggling went hand in hand, he/she could quite possibly obtain a stricter sentence. Thus, it would not be in her interest to exclude such information from the court files.
Of course, not finding evidence of sex trafficking in the 88 files does not mean that there is no Chinese prostitution taking place in the Netherlands. Witnesses did report to the police that specific females are prostituted and that adverts in Chinese newspapers refer to the services of female ‘hostesses’. However, when vice squad officers talked to these women and clubs are visited, no evidence of forced prostitution was found. As one witness stated, some women would rather work in the sex business to make quick money than for years on end being paid small change for washing dishes3.
A possible third drawback is that other forms of crime were split from the main human smuggling investigation. This occurred in a few cases. For instance, the boyfriend of one smuggler wanted to set up his own business dealing in drugs. His contacts in the narcotics business were later examined in a separate investigation which resulted in several convictions. However, main smuggler herself was not involved in the ensuing narcotics investigation. Still, the information concerning this connection between the human smuggler and her narcotics dealing boyfriend was not omitted from the files and could be traced back.
Fourthly, a possible form of bias lies in the geographical position of the Netherlands itself. Most of the smuggling cases that are brought before the Dutch courts deal with people smuggled out of the Netherlands. The Netherlands is therefore a transit country whereas abuses are often reported in the United States, a destination county. Still, the migrants were not whisked through the Netherlands, but stayed in safe houses for a couple of months. Others had been living and working in the Netherlands for a few years before they decided to try their luck in another country.
Weighing the pros and cons of the Dutch data, we have to genuinely consider the possibility that Chinese human smugglers are less involved in other types of crime than is commonly believed. Most importantly, it should also not be forgotten that field interviews in other studies have shown that smugglers generally focus on their smuggling business and are not involved in other types of crime (Pieke et al. 2004; Zhang & Chin 2002). Not finding evidence of criminal diversity, however, leaves room for dissatisfaction if there is no explanation why human smugglers are not involved in other forms of crime. By looking at the method of payment, it truly becomes possible to challenge stereotypical representations of ‘evil’ smugglers steeped in organized crime.
5. Financial clues
In recent years, various studies have shown that human smuggling from China to the West is very expensive. The smuggling fee for passage from China to the US can vary between USD 30,000 and USD 60,000 (Kyle & Liang 2001; Morse 2001; Wang 2001). The Dutch court files also confirm that smuggling is expensive. The highest smuggling fee recorded for the journey from China to the Netherlands was €30,000 and the lowest was €15,000. However, the important question is not the amount of the smuggling fee a migrant pays, but how he or she pays the smuggling fee. The prevailing media image is that a smuggled person plunges himself or herself into debt to the smuggler. In that way the smuggled person is obliged to pay off his or her debt to the smuggler at a huge interest rate over a period of several years. However, the assumption of debt bondage leaves little scope for the possibility of other financial arrangements. One common alternative method could be dubbed as ‘pre-financing’, the practice of arranging funding in advance of the start date of the human smuggling project.
In line with the accepted views on smuggling, it is true that a smuggled person has to work hard for years to pay the sum of some tens of thousands of US dollars. There is, however, one crucial difference. That debt is often not paid to the smuggler or smuggling network, but to the smuggled person’s own family and relatives or circle of friends. This is not as odd as it may seem at first glance. The literature on migration suggests that migration is not a decision taken by just one individual, but that several people (family, friends) often play a role. Therefore the money can be raised in different ways. Some do this by borrowing from family. In such cases, the next of kin and the extended family are apparently financially secure enough to finance the smuggling. It is also customary for friends, neighbors or even local loan sharks to lend money at a certain interest rate. Alternatively, migrants are known to sell their houses or land. The important thing is that the money necessary for the smuggling operation is somehow available before the journey commences (Chin 1997).
When the money should be transferred from migrant to smuggler is a delicate issue. How can the person being smuggled be sure that after payment he or she will actually be taken to the target country? And conversely, how can the smuggler be sure that after arrival in the target country the smuggled person will not run off, but will hand over the money owed? Apparently, the migrant has a strong bargaining position. As a token of goodwill, he or she might pay about 10 percent of the total sum in advance. Thereafter it is his or her family, relatives or friends who will see to the settlement of the remainder only after the migrant has arrived at his or her destination. They will act as guarantors. Following a successful journey, the smuggled person contacts them by telephone and informs them that he or she has reached the country of destination safe and sound, and that the smugglers can be paid. A slight variation on this procedure is when the smuggled person telephones his or her guarantors after successful completion of each part of the journey, for instance from China to Russia, from Russia to Germany, from Germany to the Netherlands, etc.
Another variation is to place the amount due in the hands of a third party who will act as an escrow account. In other words, the smuggler and the migrant have agreed that a trusted third party will hold the smuggling fee. He or she will only hand over the money if certain conditions are met, that is, the arrival of the migrant in the target country. This has certain advantages. The smuggler is guaranteed that the sum is real and the smuggled person can be sure the money will be kept safe during the journey.
Information from other research suggests that the pre-financing method is frequently used. Wang estimates that the majority of the Chinese who enter the US illegally have their friends and relatives pay the smuggling fee (Wang 1996: 53-56). Chin’s field investigation carried out in the mid-nineties corroborates this finding (Chin 1997: 174-179). Nevertheless, it is not known what percentage of smuggled people use the pre-financing method in the Netherlands. The source material is largely to blame. During police investigations, smuggled people are often only asked how much they had to pay, not how and when payment was made. Still, in those cases in which the how and when questions were asked, pre-financing was mentioned frequently. It is, therefore, likely that a high percentage of smuggled people use such methods.
Payment of the smuggling fee usually takes place in China, but can also take place in the country of destination. In the latter instance, the transfer is often done by relatives or friends who migrated previously and are willing to act as guarantor for the migrant. Smuggled people are usually kept in safe houses until payment is made, which can take anywhere from a day to several weeks. During this time, the illegal migrants are restricted in their freedom of movement. They know beforehand that this is part of the procedure. According to Chin’s research, in some cases a contract is signed before the journey starts stating, among other things, that people can be held as hostages (Chin, 1997: 192, 193).
The method of pre-financing is advantageous for all the parties involved. The smuggled person has the assurance that he or she will not be cheated. His or her family and friends consider it a good investment, because they will be repaid with interest. And the smugglers who run large-scale operations benefit in particular. By using pre-financing arrangements, the smugglers will be paid immediately upon the successful journey of their clientele. It can be argued that the menacing image of a powerful organization that skims off the wages of hundreds of illegal immigrants every week is unfounded. It would be an enormous task for smuggling groups that smuggle a dozens of migrants a year to keep track of all their clients. They would have to monitor their place of residence and work, their income and make sure that they make their payments. This would not only be very labour-intensive, but maintaining such a relationship with the illegal migrant would also increase the risk of detection by the investigating authorities. Furthermore, the smuggling group has to invest considerably in the smuggling operation (buying travel documents, arranging transport, accommodation, etc.) and does not wish to wait for years for this investment to pay off (Chin 1997: 194).
Nevertheless, this does not mean that individuals smuggled by the large smuggling groups are never exploited or abused. The use of pre-financing methods can lead to some particular hazards for the migrant. Because the migrant pays out his or her smuggling fee at the end of his journey, the smuggler must ensure that he or she reaches the destination and remains under his control. If the migrant were to run off upon arrival, the smuggler would not get paid. If a rival smuggler would kidnap his clientele, he also would not get paid. Therefore, safeguards are employed. The migrants are locked up in safe houses and sometimes enforcers are used to keep everything in check. In order to maintain discipline, large smuggling groups use enforcers to beat up migrants if they make too much noise or otherwise step out of line. Migrants are also maltreated to ensure quick payment of the smuggling fee. Technically speaking, a hostage situation develops.
Furthermore, when the pre-financing method is used, the smuggled person obviously remains indebted to those who advanced him/her the money to pay the fee. And as several studies have already shown, these fees are huge. The migrant tries to pay off the debt to his or her financers (family and other acquaintances) by working long hours. In this way, migrants can indeed end up in exploitative situations. However, as the original smugglers have already been paid, it is not very likely that they are involved in the actual exploitation.
It is well known that large fees are charged for smuggling Chinese people to the West. Amounts of €20,000 and more are not uncommon. However, the method by which these fees are paid by the smuggled people must be properly taken into account. If it is assumed (or overlooked) that it is impossible for illegal migrants to bring such a large amount of money together, it is logical to conclude that they are ‘victims’, waiting to be exploited by their smugglers. The Dutch court files show, however, that such exploitation assumptions are incorrect. In the cases of human smuggling brought before the Dutch courts, hardly any evidence was found of a symbiotic relationship between human smugglers and forced prostitution, drugs, extortion or robbery. Human smugglers were mostly involved in types of crime that are intrinsically related to human smuggling, such as passport falsification, but did not show criminal diversification which preys on migrants.
The lack of criminal diversity has already been commented upon in field research. It is therefore essential to stress that these similar observations have been derived from such diametrically different sources. However, if these conclusions are not only supported by academic fieldwork, but also by actual police investigations, it leaves one wondering why visions of abuse remain so persuasive. Is it pandering to a political agenda? Is it sloppy journalism? Or are we projecting certain types of crime that happen in one place onto other places? A good example is the phenomenon of kidnapped Chinese children who are sold on (US Department of State, 2009). This is not fiction but a typical phenomenon of China’s rural society. Childless couples pay handsomely to obtain an extra helping hand. But that does not automatically mean that the same thing also occurs in Europe. It only makes it clear that it becomes even more important to examine the data that underlies assertions on the nature of human smuggling.
In this article, a possible explanation for the lack of criminal diversity was sought in the method of pre-financing. The complete smuggling amount is immediately paid by friends, family or entrusted third persons as soon as the migrant arrives at his/her destination and confirms his or her well-being to them. The migrant is then released from the smuggler’s custody and is free to go. It is important to realize that it is against the smugglers’ interest to wait for years of monthly paybacks. The longer the link lasts between the smuggling group and the clients, the more risk the smuggler takes. If the smugglers were to exploit the people they smuggle, not only would they have to keep track of dozens or maybe even hundreds of people, but it would also leave them more vulnerable to the police. This does not mean that the migrant is free of all debt. Although the smugglers received their payment, the migrant will have to repay his/her friends and family by working very hard, sometimes in situations that are best described as exploitative. Some migrants may even end up in prostitution.
Reasoning further along these lines, we should also consider the possibility that it not the professional smuggler who is commonly involved in any socio-economic exploitation, but the small-time, family-oriented smuggler who acts because of migratory reasons. These ‘harmless’ smugglers will not demand payment up front or immediately after arrival, nor do they use pre-financing methods. Instead, they are likely to bring over a relative free of charge. However, this also means that social capital effects will come into play. Reciprocity ensures that a migrant feels will feel obliged to repay the favor. In years to come, he/she will therefore work long hours in the family restaurant for little or no pay. Such situations can easily lead to exploitation.
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1 Field studies often miss the presence of non-ethnic Chinese because the focus is generally on the Chinese community, i.e. ethnic Chinese smugglers.
2 Some people were charged with human smuggling more than once if they carried out their activities over a longer period of time. Therefore, the number of 178 defendants does not match the 210 charges of human smuggling.
3 This motive has also found in other research (Chin 2010; Lévey & Lieber 2008).