Hardened professional criminals, or just friends and relatives? The diversity of offenders in human trafficking

Published 3.11.2017  Updated 7.11.2017

A new article by HEUNI researcher Minna Viuhko is published in the International Journal of Comparative and Applied Criminal Justice.

Continuing her research in the field of human trafficking (you can access previous works here: HEUNI Report series 62. Human trafficking and organised crime and HEUNI Report Series 82. Exploitative Sham Marriages) Ms. Viuhko looks at the characteristics of detected traffickers and juxtaposes the findings against the image and character of the “ideal offender".

The debate on the issue of human trafficking has been ongoing during the past 15−20 years with trafficking commonly framed as a problem of organized crime. This assumption continues to dominate the shaping of various policies and perceptions of the phenomenon. In her research, Viuhko has identified the overall lack of evidence-based research on human trafficking, in particular concerning the specific characteristics of offenders.

The article is inspired by Anne Gallagher's provocative question concerning the link between the global economy and trafficking, which she raised in The Guardian in 2015. The leitmotif “bad people [are] doing bad things to good people", emphasizes the evilness of the perpetrators at the expense of the structural factors contributing to exploitation.

Such simplistic tales and partly misleading images of human traffickers may result in a shift of focus from prevention and securing human rights to criminal justice and law enforcement responses to trafficking. While law enforcement responses are surely needed, measures to improve equality at the global level stay crucial.

Though there is already extensive literature on the problematic framing of the victims of human trafficking, the real character of offenders remains unexplored. Viuhko has in her previous work applied Nils Christie's (1986) concept of the “ideal victim" to victims of human trafficking. Her key finding is that often the “real" victims and our images of (ideal) victims do not correspond (2013, 2012).

In her new article Viuhko analyses 11 cases of trafficking in human beings that have been dealt with in courts in Finland between 2004 and 2014. She uses the “ideal offender" conceptual framework developed by Nils Christie (1986).

Using various examples drawn from the cases Viuhko challenges the stereotypes that are still in constant use in anti-trafficking interventions, debates and policymaking. Besides presenting the different categories of perpetrators Viuhko also discuss the role of organised crime, and outlines the more flexible networks involved in trafficking activities.

The article seeks to improve the understanding of the phenomenon of human trafficking and to enhance the identification of perpetrators in future.

Read the article in the International Journal of Comparative and Applied Criminal Justice

In case you are not able to access the article or have other questions regarding the topic, please contact Minna Viuhko via e-mail.