Human Traffic Worsens in a Pandemic

Human Trafficking Worsens in a Pandemic

As the country and the world begins to ease restrictions on movement, borders, and businesses, we are experiencing a small level of the freedom that our lives have been built on. For victims of human trafficking, the risks are still the same. The lockdown may have even worsened their situation as they are faced with challenges that are threefold.

  1. More exposed to contracting the virus and less equipped to prevent it.
  2. Less access to healthcare to ensure their recovery.
  3. Essential and practical operations to support them have become a challenge or brought to a standstill during the pandemic.

While the restrictions and border closures have decreased access they have also increased police presence leading to a reduction of some crimes but criminal behavior in human trafficking has shifted to take advantage of the situation. These criminals are moving underground and to online platforms, taking advantage of the increased time people are spending on digital channels at home. There has been a sudden surge in demand for protection at a time where the victims are less visible to law enforcement. Hotlines are the primary resource for victims and with the sudden surge in demand, these resources are challenged to meet the demand. Access to phones is also affected as the lockdown has eliminated travel in some cases.

According to the UNODC, a new study shows how lockdowns, travel restrictions, work limitations, and cuts in resources are dangerously dangerous affecting the lives of these victims.

“With COVID-19 restricting movement, diverting law enforcement resources, and reducing social and public services, human trafficking victims have even less chance of escape and finding help. As we work together to overcome the global pandemic, countries need to keep shelters and hotlines open, safeguard access to justice and prevent more vulnerable people from falling into the hands of organized crime,” says UNODC Executive Director Ghada Waly.

Vulnerabilities reported by Partners working with UNODC

  • Some victims who have been rescued from captivity are unable to go home because borders are closed due to the pandemic.
  • Others face delays in legal proceedings and a reduction in the support and protection they rely on.
  • Some are at risk of further abuse or neglect by their captors.
  • More children are being forced onto the streets in search of food and income, increasing their risk of exploitation.
  • School closures have not only halted access to education but in some cases also to the main source of shelter and nourishment.
  • “At the same time, new opportunities for organized crime to profit from the crisis are emerging,” says Ilias Chatzis, the Chief of UNODC’s Human Trafficking Section. “This means traffickers may become more active and prey on people who are even more vulnerable than before because they have lost their source of income due to measures to control the virus.”

A bigger picture discussion surrounding the recovery from the pandemic provides an opportunity to look at the inequalities in our economic development as a source that feeds marginalization, gender-based violence, exploitation, and trafficking. Addressing the needs of this vulnerable population should be addressed with mindful consideration of the most effective strategies. Some of the recommendations outlined by UNODC are as follows:

  • COVID-19 responses must be continuously monitored. Where such measures unintentionally negatively impact vulnerable groups, such as trafficking victims, adjustments must be made to minimize harm and to ensure the needs of such groups are adequately addressed.
  • While prioritizing public health, a culture of rule of law needs to prevail. Anti-trafficking responses must continue to be based on human rights, while access to health care and social support without discrimination should be guaranteed.
  • Access to justice must be safeguarded. Where feasible, technology should be utilized to facilitate access to judicial processes and enable the collection and provision of evidence, the submission of documents, and the filing or adjudicating of motions or petitions to courts.
  • Law enforcement officials must remain vigilant in addressing new and evolving crime patterns and adapt their responses to prevent human traffickers from acting with impunity during the pandemic.
  • Despite the anticipated slowing down of economies because of COVID-19 and the resulting pressures on national budgets, countries must continue supporting anti-trafficking work and adapt their assistance programs to the new and extraordinary circumstances created by the pandemic and its aftermath.
  • Service providers must remain flexible and adapt to an evolving environment to meet the needs of their communities.
  • There is a need for systematic data collection and analysis on the impact of COVID-19 on trafficking in persons. There is no country immune to the pandemic and as COVID-19 does not affect all regions at the same time, experience from one country could be vital to others.

How Trucking Can Help

Identifying a victim is challenging even outside of a pandemic. Because trafficked victims are exploited through illegal and unregulated sectors like petty crime, sex industry, domestic settings, and drug trafficking, the crime is difficult to prove. When organized crime is involved well-established operations make it even harder with victims who are fearful or unwilling to report.

Because truck stops have continued to operate throughout the pandemic, they are still susceptible to traffickers. The trucking industry should remain vigilant in their awareness of the crime and even quicker to respond. It is worth repeating that because of the rising statistics and broader awareness, several organizations have stepped up to help in a remarkable way that has proven successes. Polaris is one of those organizations. They operate the National Human Trafficking Hotline which provides survivors of human trafficking support and options to get help and stay safe. The Hotline (1.888.373.7888) can connect callers to emergency support systems like emergency shelters, transportation, trauma counselors, local law enforcement, and others. This hotline is also a good resource for truck drivers when alerted to a potential victim.

To report a tip: call 1-866-347-2423, text HELP or INFO to BeFree - 233733, or chat online. To connect with services and support for human trafficking victims or survivors: contact the National Human Trafficking Hotline: 1-888-373-7888



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