Why does trafficking exist?

Human trafficking is one of the world’s biggest organized crimes. It is also the crime that increases in numbers the fastest. How is that possible? There are some crucial reasons why trafficking exists. The single biggest reason is demand.

The responsibility of the sex buyer

The reason why human trafficking for sexual purposes exists is the demand for “sex purchases”. It is about all those, usually men, who “buy” access to other people’s bodies. This criminal activity functions like any market and where the demand leads to human traffickers and criminal actors improperly recruiting vulnerable people into the “trade”. The more people who are willing to “buy sex”, the more people are drawn into the exploitation. This directly leads to more women and children being lured into a life of commercial sexual exploitation through paid abuse.

Austria, Holland and Germany are examples of countries in Europe with a liberal approach to “sex buying”. There, “sex buying” is both legalized and normalized, which leads to more men “buying sex”. Traffickers gravitate to these attractive destination countries to make money from prostitution. There is a direct connection between legislation and human trafficking for sexual purposes – in the countries where it is allowed to “buy sex”, the vast majority of victims of commercial sexual exploitation are also found.

Extreme profitability and low risk of arrest

Sex trafficking is an extremely profitable crime. Unlike a bag of cocaine, a human can be sold over and over again, up to ten or more times in a day. Furthermore, the price of a human body can go either way. It can either be priced very cheaply or very expensively, depending on the prevailing circumstances. In addition, human trafficking carries an extremely low risk of arrest. In the EU in 2020, for example, there were 7,290 suspected human traffickers, but only 1,295 of these led to convictions (source). Lack of resources, corruption and sometimes the difficulty of discovering and obtaining evidence are contributing factors to the fact that people who engage in human trafficking are difficult to detect, prosecute and convict. In countries where there is no sex-buying law, there will also be a gap in legislation because the sex-buyer, who is the first link in the criminal chain, is rendered free from responsibility in most countries.

Exploitation of vulnerability

As an already established fact unequal conditions prevail in the world, where some people live in societies that offer fewer prospects than others and different individuals also have different economic opportunities. People weak in resources makes easy prey for traffickers, who use the victims’ hopes and dreams of a better life as bait. However, it is not only the (lack of) economic conditions that cause vulnerability. As the UN agency on drugs and crime (UNODC) writes, it can also be about everything from an individual’s age to mental impairment, gender, culture, family situation, and much more. It is important to emphasize that it is not the poverty or the vulnerability factor in itself that is the reason why people fall victim to human trafficking, but that there are human traffickers, pimps and “sex buyers” who are prepared to exploit this vulnerability in order to make money.