Exploited and Prosecuted: When Victims of Human Trafficking Commit Crimes

February 21, 2021

Vienna (Austria), 16 December 2020 — Women and girls, who are often themselves victims of human trafficking and are sexually exploited by criminal gangs, are being prosecuted and convicted for human trafficking-related crimes, according to a new UNODC publication.

These victims often have no alternative but to obey an order. Some hope to limit their own exploitation or escape poverty by playing a role in the criminal process.

Yet at the same time, the traffickers use the women and girls as a shield to protect themselves from being punished for their crimes.

These are the findings of a new UNODC study which aims to shed light on this alarming trend. The publication highlights the complexities faced by victims of human trafficking, with a view to assist the authorities and victim support services that handle such cases.

“Ever since UNODC started collecting statistics on human trafficking 15 years ago, women and girls have consistently represented the majority of reported victims,” says Zoi Sakelliadou, a UNODC Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Officer, who coordinated the development of the study.

“We’ve also seen that the percentage of female perpetrators of trafficking who are at the same time victims of this crime, is steadily high too, especially if compared to female offenders in other crimes.”

It was not just the statistics that led UNODC to analyze this topic, explains Ms. Sakelliadou, but also the calls from law enforcement and criminal justice officials to research this trend further.

“Police officers, prosecutors and judges we cooperate with have repeatedly stressed the complexity of investigating and adjudicating cases that involve female victims of trafficking as alleged perpetrators,” she adds.

The key finding of the study was the double exploitation and victimization of the women and girls in the cases that were examined.

“The traffickers not only earned a profit by sexually exploiting the victims, but then made them commit crimes so they could escape liability and prosecution,” says Zoi Sakelliadou.

“They deliberately used them in low-level roles that were more exposed to law enforcement authorities – meaning they were more likely to get caught.”

Read the full story from the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime