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Human Trafficking for Criminal Exploitation: The Failure to Identify Victims


Human trafficking for criminal exploitation is one of the lesser-known forms of human trafficking. The failure of the criminal justice system to identify the victims of this type of trafficking can lead to a failure to take the victim-centred approach to trafficking espoused in the international legal instruments that regulate the matter, an approach that emphasises the protection of victims and respect for their rights. In light of earlier findings of the existence of unidentified victims of human trafficking for criminal exploitation in several European countries — the UK, Ireland, Spain, the Czech Republic and the Netherlands — a qualitative study was conducted, consisting of 37 in-depth interviews with practising criminal justice professionals and victim service providers in Spain. Because undetected victims of human trafficking for criminal exploitation are usually treated as offenders, the main aim of this research with professionals was to determine the causes of the criminal justice system’s failure to identify the victims of this specific form of trafficking in order to prevent them from remaining hidden victims.

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  1. The RACE in Europe was a project focused on research on trafficking for criminal exploitation and forced begging founded by the European Commission-Directorate-General Home Affairs. It was carried out during 2013 and 2014 in UK, Ireland, The Netherlands and The Czech Republic by eight partners located in this four countries. As well as a good practices guide to help front line professionals to identify victims of this type of trafficking, part of the project team (Anti-Slavery International, ECPAT UK and The Specialist Policing Consultancy in UK, The Migrant Rights Centre Ireland and La Strada Czech Republic) completed an explanatory study to determine its scope and scale in the four countries taking part in the project.

  2. According to which individuals tend to apply schemes they have internalised from prior experiences to identify and manage new situations (Farrell et al. 2015).


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This research was carried out under the project DER 2015-64506-C2-1-R, funded by the Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness.

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Correspondence to Carolina Villacampa.

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Villacampa, C., Torres, N. Human Trafficking for Criminal Exploitation: The Failure to Identify Victims. Eur J Crim Policy Res 23, 393–408 (2017).

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  • Human trafficking
  • Criminal exploitation
  • Victims
  • Identification
  • Professionals