Fighting Human Trafficking in the Digital Era

Modern communication technologies –namely the internet, social media and mobile applications –have significantly impacted the way in which organised crime groups involved in the international trafficking of human beings operate. The issue was covered by a recent October 2020 Europol report on the challenges of countering human trafficking in the digital age.

Technology has broadened criminals’ ability to traffic human beings for different types of exploitation, including sexual and labour exploitation, the removal of organs, illegal adoption of children and forced marriages.

For traffickers, the advantages of using technology include increased anonymity, the ability to take part in real-time yet encrypted communications, the possibility of reaching a broader audience (in terms of victims and clients), geographical mobility, and the ability to control victims from a distance. Today, technology is exploited by traffickers during every phase of sexual exploitation, from the recruitment and advertisement of victims, to blackmailing them with photos and videos and controlling their movements at all times. The financial management of the criminal business is also often done online.

According to the Europol report, importantly, modern technology means that human traffickers no longer need to be in close proximity to their victims in order to control them. Traditionally, control over victims involved violence and physical restriction of movement. Today, control can be exerted via various forms of blackmail (e.g. by threatening to share photos and videos of sex acts online) as well as via virtual forms of movement restriction and real-time monitoring (e.g. GPS and built-in video cameras in smartphones, and location-sharing applications).

The use of modern technology has also influenced the traditional structure and division of tasks within trafficking networks. Criminals have taken on central roles facilitated by the internet, particularly in trafficking networks involved in sexual exploitation.

The current economic context, primarily shaped by the COVID-19 crisis, is likely to have dangerous consequences for the issue of human trafficking. Criminals could have access to a wider pool of individuals in economic distress, and potentially increasingly prone to accept any kind of job opportunity. At the same time, an increased demand for cheap labour may work as a pull factor, provoking a potential rise in trafficking within the EU.

According to the Europol document, the next few years will be critical in terms of identifying and agreeing on the legal and technical frameworks that can be implemented to act effectively against trafficking in human beings in the digital age.


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El Salvador’s Citizens Identify Security as their Primary Concern

Until 2009, the population of El Salvador identified the country’s economic performance as their primary area of concern. After 2009 however, this changed, and since then, residents have viewed crime and insecurity as the most significant problems faced by the country. The data in this report was obtained from the Transparency Portal of El Salvador’s National Civil Police Force, the Public Opinion Institute of the José Simeón Cañas Central American University (IUDOP/UCA) and the Latinobarómetro.

Despite occasional reductions in violent deaths since 2010, they remain significantly higher than those recorded in Latin America as a whole. In 2018, men accounted for the majority of violent deaths (88.4%),and 44.3% of the victims of the crime were people aged between 18 and 29 years old.

In general, between 2017 and 2018, the total number of crimes, excluding violent deaths, decreased by 6%. The crimes to have experienced the sharpest increases are vehicle robbery (+19.4%) and vehicle theft (+9.0%), followed by kidnapping (+6.7%). Homicides that take place in cars or deaths caused by traffic accidents also increased (+5.5%). Conversely, the theft and robbery of goods vehicles saw a decrease (-16.7%), as did robbery (-13.6%) and theft

With regard to victimisation, between 2001 and 2018, two out of ten Salvadorans were the victims of a crime, although in 2018 the rate lowered slightly to 16.5%, its lowest figure since 2005.

It should also be noted that in 2017, 78.1% of victims did not file a complaint with the relevant authorities. And this figure rose to 80.5% in 2018. This high level of unreported offences means that only two out of ten crimes ever get recorded by the National Civil Police (PNC) or the courts. What’s more, in 2018, only 35.4% of those surveyed said they had some confidence in the PNC.

On the other hand, the percentage of people who say they are afraid to walk around their neighbourhood alone decreased slightly between 2017 and 2018. The decrease was primarily reported by women, falling by 3.1% between 2017 and 2018. However, incidences of femicide increased by 184.5% in 2018 compared to 2013, the year when the crime was classified under the First Comprehensive Law for a Life Free of Violence against Women (LEIV).

With regard to classification, in 2015, 59.4% of violent female deaths were classified as femicides. In 2017, this figure was 75.9% and in 2018 81.9%. This increase could be linked to the improved capacity for properly documenting these violent acts.

On prisons, the data shows that overcrowding rose from 202% in 2010 to 378% in 2016. In 2018, El Salvador’s incarceration rate was 609 for every 100,000 inhabitants, making it one of the highest in Latin America. In the same year, the average rate in Latin America was 376 for every 100,000 inhabitants, and the global figure was 145.


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Far-Right Extremism Taints German Security Services

A report by the German Federal Intelligence agency listed more than 1,400 instances in which soldiers, police officers and Intelligence officials were suspected of extremist actions.

The report is a first attempt to document the extent of far-right infiltration in the security services. It comes as the number of cases of extremists found in police forces and the military has multiplied.

Dozens of police officers have been suspended for joining far-right chat groups and sharing neo-Nazi propaganda. In June this year, the Defence minister disbanded a whole company of Germany’s Special Forces after explosives, a machine gun and SS memorabilia were found on the property of a sergeant major.

Horst Seehofer, the German Interior minister, insisted that there was no structural problem, and said the vast majority of people in the security services were loyal to the German Constitution. He said that we are dealing with a few cases, and that the overwhelming majority of the employees at the security agencies (over 99 per cent) “are firmly rooted in the Constitution”.

The 98-page report, which covers a period beginning in January 2017, explains that the real number of extremists was almost certainly higher than that reported and warned that even a relatively small number of highly trained officers who are radicalised constituted a significant danger for the State and for society. According to the report, identifying extremists remains a high priority for the security service.

For years, German politicians and security chiefs rejected any suggestion that the security services had been infiltrated by the far right, acknowledging only individual cases. But the number of cases has continued to rise since data for the report was collected.

Last month, the head of the military counterintelligence agency, Christof Gramm, was dismissed because the agency on his watch had repeatedly failed in its mission to monitor and detect extremism in the armed forces.

Haldenwang, the head of the Federal Intelligence, whose agency was founded after World War II and is known as the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, has warned that far-right extremism and terrorism constitute the biggest risk for Germany’s democracy today.

Over the past 15 months, Germany has witnessed three deadly terrorist attacks by far-right extremists. A regional politician was shot on his front porch, a synagogue was attacked, and nine people of immigrant descent were shot.

In September this year, the western state of North-Rhine Westphalia suspended 29 police officers suspected of sharing images of Hitler and violent neo-Nazi propaganda in online chat groups. Last week, another group, this time Intelligence agents responsible for monitoring far-right extremists, was found to have shared xenophobic and anti-Islamic videos.


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Public safety statistics improve in the Dominican Republic

The study on public safety was carried out with official figures from the eleven institutions that make up the Dominican Republic’s Citizen Security Observatory.

The rate of wilful homicides per 100,000 inhabitants continues to follow a strong downward trend, closing 2019 with a rate of 9.9, the lowest in the last ten years, bearing in mind that in 2011 it was 21.9. Thus, between 2011 and 2019, incidences of wilful homicide have fallen by 60%.

The number of women killed has reduced numerically, from 233 in 2011 to 145 in 2019. However, in percentage terms, the number of female victims has increased from 9.3% in 2011 to 14.1% in 2019.

The homicide rate shows seasonal patterns, with nearly all occurring during the summer months or in December. Furthermore, two-thirds of wilful homicides took place in domestic settings: arguments, fights, domestic violence, etc.

With regard to the age and sex of victims, the majority, 42%, were young people between 20 and 34 years old, and 86% were men.

The study also provides information about the use of firearms used in a large proportion of killings. However, the use of these weapons has been declining in recent years, from 67% in 2015 to 49% in 2018. The same is true of gunshot wounds, which fell from 2,542 in 2017 to 2,145 in 2018.

Improvements can also be seen in the entries on deaths caused by traffic accidents, which have historically been the main cause of premature mortality in the country. In 2018 there were 1,588 deaths on the roads. This number fell to 1,418 in 2019. Several studies have concluded that fatal accidents are most likely to occur on weekends, particularly in the timeslot between 18.00 to 23.59 hours, which accounts for 28% of cases. Lastly, it should be noted that motorcycles were involved in 68% of all fatal accidents.

With regard to the theft of motor vehicles, in 2018, 6,145 vehicles were reported stolen. It’s one of the few indicators to increase year after year; in 2016, 5,455 vehicles were reported as stolen, and in 2017 that number increased to 5,970.

The study also reports on suicides, as it’s one of the few indicators with a clear upward trend. The number of suicides in the Dominican Republic has increased from 557 in 2014 to 571 in 2016. By 2018, that number was 648, with a rate of 7.0 cases per 100,000 inhabitants. 84% of suicide victims were male.


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EU terrorism situation and trends 2020

Europol has published the (TE-SAT) 2020 report, which provides an overview of terrorism incidents and developments in the EU during 2019.

Ten people died as a result of terrorist attacks in the EU, and 27 people were injured. All deaths and the injuries of 26 people were the result of jihadist attacks. Only one person was injured in a rightwing terrorist attack. In addition to these terrorist attacks, Germany reported two major violent extremist attacks that killed three people and injured several others. Outside the EU, 17 civilians from EU Member States died in a terrorist attack (in Sri Lanka on the 21st of April 2019).

In 2019, 1,004 individuals were arrested on suspicion of terrorism-related offences in 19 EU Member States, with Belgium, France, Italy, Spain and the UK reporting the highest numbers. The overall number of arrests decreased slightly for the second consecutive year in 2019, but the figures show that terrorism remained geographically widespread in the EU.

EU Member States reported that individuals imprisoned for terrorist offences and prisoners who radicalise in prison pose a threat both during their imprisonment and after release. In 2019 the failed attack on the 5th of March in a French prison, the thwarted 23rd of July attack on prison guards in France and the 29th of November attack in London by a recently released prisoner, are indicative of the threat. France reported that more than 500 terrorist convicts live in French prisons alongside 900 radicalised individuals. Between mid-2018 and the end of 2019, a total of four attacks in French prisons were foiled.

The total number of jihadism-related incidents in the EU decreased slightly (21 in 2019; 24 in 2018) but continued to be geographically widespread. Eight EU Member States suffered completed, failed or foiled jihadist terrorist attacks, the same number as in 2018.

As in previous years, the attacks specified as ethnonationalist terrorism represented the largest proportion (57 of 119) of all terrorist attacks. Their number decreased compared to 2018 (83).

In 2019 nearly half of all reported jihadism-inspired attacks and disrupted plots involved the use of explosives. Terrorists mostly aimed to target civilians and places of mass gathering. All jihadist bombing attacks failed or were thwarted by authorities.

In the EU, there is little evidence of a systematic nexus between crime and terrorism. Criminals and terrorists coexist in certain marginalised areas, within the same family structures or in prison, thereby enabling contacts and transaction-based cooperation. However, criminals are observed to be wary of terrorist suspects drawing attention to their activities. Skilled criminals are attractive recruits for terrorist groups.


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The COVID-19 pandemic has intensified cybercrime

This October, Europol published its 2020 cybercrime report, with updates on the latest trends and the current impact of cybercrime within the EU and beyond.

The global COVID-19 pandemic that hit every corner of the world forced us to reimagine our societies and reinvent the way we work and live. During the lockdown, we turned to the internet for a sense of normality: shopping, working and learning online at a scale never seen before. And cybercriminals took advantage of it to commit many different types of crimes.

Phishing remains an effective threat. Criminals use innovative methods to increase the volume and sophistication of their attacks. Criminals quickly exploited the pandemic to attack vulnerable people; phishing, online scams and the spread of fake news became an ideal strategy for cybercriminals seeking to sell items they claim will prevent or cure COVID-19.

Encryption continues to be a clear feature of an increasing number of services and tools. One of the main challenges for law enforcement is how to access and gather relevant data for criminal investigations.

Ransomware attacks have become more sophisticated, targeting specific organisations in the public and private sector through victim reconnaissance. While the COVID-19 pandemic has triggered an increase in cybercrime, ransomware attacks were targeting the healthcare industry long before the crisis. Moreover, criminals have included another layer to their ransomware attacks by threatening to auction off the comprised data, increasing the pressure on the victims to pay the ransom.

The main threats related to online child abuse exploitation have remained stable in recent years; however, the detection of online child sexual abuse material saw a sharp spike at the peak of the COVID-19 crisis. Offenders keep using a number of ways to hide this horrifying crime, such as P2P networks and encrypted communications applications.

Livestreaming of child abuse continues to increase, becoming even more popular than usual during the COVID-19 crisis when travel restrictions prevented offenders from physically abusing children. In some cases, video chat applications in payment systems are used, which becomes one of the key challenges for law enforcement as this material is not recorded.

SIM swapping, which allows perpetrators to take over accounts, is one of the new trends this year. Criminals fraudulently swap or port victims’ SIMs to one in the criminals’ possession in order to intercept the one-time password step of the authentication process.

In 2019 and early 2020, there was a high level of volatility on the dark web. The lifecycle of dark web marketplaces has shortened, and there is no clear dominant market that has risen over the past year. Tor remains the preferred infrastructure; however, criminals have started to use other privacy-focused, decentralised marketplace platforms to sell their illegal goods. Although this is not a new phenomenon, these sorts of platforms have started to increase over the last year.


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Fluctuating improvements to public safety in Honduras

Honduras has reported a decrease in criminal victimisation between 2014 and 2018. However, 13 out of every 100 Hondurans claim to have been the victim of a crime in 2018.

Despite the data, public safety is still one of the country’s main problems. Nevertheless, Hondurans believe it has become less of an issue in the last five years. Along these lines, 43 out of every 100 Hondurans considered public safety to be the main problem faced by the country during 2018.

A slightly higher percentage of men (13.4%) than women (12.1%) were victims of a crime in 2018.

The retrospective figures for homicidal violence in Honduras between 2013 and 2018 show a downward trend with a 36-point drop in the homicide rate per 100,000 inhabitants.

Quantitatively, the section of the population most affected by homicides during this period were men between 18 and 29 years of age. In 2018 specifically, this segment of the population accounted for 4 out of every 10 homicides.

Unfortunately, in 2018 the total number of recorded incidents increased by 22% compared to 2017. The figures rose from 31,612 crimes in 2017, to 39,463 in 2018. The indicators to experience a decrease were homicides (-3%), sexual offences (-0.5%), child abuse (-50%), injuries (-16%) and kidnappings (-13%). Property crimes were among the indicators to experience an increase, rising by 52% compared to 2017.

Another concerning figure in the section on property crimes is the sharp increase in extortion, which has doubled since 2015. It should also be noted that 72% of all crime reports were concentrated in just four municipalities.

The rate of violent deaths has continued to fall, decreasing by 46.5% 2018 compared to 2013. During this same period, the homicide rate in Latin America as a whole decreased by 7.7%. Therefore, despite the continued slowdown in the homicide rate in Honduras, the country’s figure was still twice that of the Latin American rate in 2018.

In 2018, 90% of the victims of violent deaths were men. And 41% of the victims of violent homicides were in the 15 to 29-year-old age group. Thus, the rate of violent deaths for men aged 18 to 29 years old is 3.4 times higher than the national rate of violent deaths.

Ten municipalities accounted for half of the country’s total homicides. On the other hand, 41 municipalities did not report any homicides during 2018.

With regard to sexual offences, in 2018, two out of three victims of sexual crimes were women under the age of 30. And 83% of reported sex crimes had female victims.

In domestic violence, eight out of ten victims were women aged 15 to 39. Similarly, 71% of domestic violence reports involved women between the ages of 15 and 39. Overall, 9 out of every 10 victims of domestic violence were women.


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Public safety in Guatemala continued to improve in 2019

The data for 2010-2019 was compiled from figures provided by the Guatemalan National Civil Police (PNC) and formalised by the Guatemalan National Institute of Statistics (INE).

During this period, the rate of violent deaths per 100,000 inhabitants maintained the downward trend of the current decade. By the end of 2019, it reached 21.5, representing the lowest rate of the entire period and almost levelling with the Latin American average (20.1). The reduced rate exceeds the target proposed by the Government’s 2016-2020 General Policy, which was to achieve a rate of 23.5 by the end of 2019.

Since 2010, the violent death rate has been following a steady downward trend. It has fallen by about half, from 41.8 in 2010 to 21.5 in 2019, representing a drop of 20.1 points.

Almost half of the victims of violent deaths in 2019 were young people between the ages of 18 and 30. The rate of violent deaths for this age group is 41.2 per 100,000 inhabitants, almost double the national rate.

In 2019, 85 out of every 100 victims of violent deaths were men. These male deaths decreased by almost 9% compared to 2018. Female violent deaths accounted for 15.4% of all fatalities in 2019 and decreased by only 3.2% compared to 2018. The overall proportion of female victims has increased from 11.1% in 2012, to 15.4% in 2019.

There were 33.2% fewer homicides in the first four months of 2020 than in the same period last year.

The overall incidence of crimes recorded in 2019 increased by 6.9% compared to 2018. This was mainly due to an increase in incidences of extortion, which rose from 29,497 in 2018 to 31,540 in 2019. Most worrying is the fact that in 2013 extortion accounted for 15% of all crimes, while in 2019 it accounted for almost half of the total number of crimes recorded by the PNC.

Since 2013, the number of reported extortions has practically tripled, which could be a result of increased trust in institutions, improvements in reporting mechanisms or a genuine increase in the criminal act.

Nevertheless, with the exception of the aforementioned extortions, incidences of all other crimes decreased compared to the previous year. The number of injuries has historically been higher than the number of homicides, but in 2019 there were fewer injuries than reported homicides.

Women experience a higher incidence of disappearances, rapes and domestic violence than men.

In contrast, the data on robberies and thefts showed 51.1 victims per 100,000 inhabitants, of which 8 out of 10 victims were men. Furthermore, 7 out of 10 robbery victims were aged between 18 and 40 years old.


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We need a European security ecosystem that encompasses the whole of society

In an increasingly complex world, the European Union continues to be widely regarded as one of the safest places in the world. This was made clear in the European Commission’s report to the European Parliament, the European Council and the European Committee of the Regions of 24th of July.

The Commission invited the European Parliament and the Council to endorse the EU Security Union Strategy as the basis for joint cooperation and action on security for the next five years.

The document explains that globalisation, free movement and the digital transformation continue to bring prosperity, make our lives easier, and spur innovation and growth. But alongside these benefits come inherent risks and costs. There are victims of terrorism, organised crime, the drugs trade and human trafficking, all direct threats to citizens and our European way of life.

Cyber-attacks and cybercrime continue to rise. Security threats are also becoming more complex:

  • They feed on the ability to work cross-border and on interconnectivity.
  • They exploit the blurring of the boundaries between the physical and digital world.
  • They exploit vulnerable groups, social and economic divergences.
  • Attacks can come at a moment’s notice and may leave little or no trace.
  • Both state and non-state actors can deploy a variety of hybrid threats.
  • What happens outside the EU can have a critical impact on security inside the EU.

The new EU Security Union Strategy lays the foundations for a security ecosystem that encompasses the whole of European society. It is based on the knowledge that security is a shared responsibility. Indeed, security is an issue that affects everyone. All government bodies, businesses, social organisations, institutions, and citizens must fulfil their responsibilities for making our societies safer.

Nowadays, security problems have to be viewed from a much broader perspective than in the past. We must overcome false distinctions between the digital and physical. The EU Security Union Strategy brings together the full range of security needs and focuses on the most critical areas for EU security in the coming years.

It also recognises that security threats do not respect geographical boundaries and that there is increasing interconnection between internal and external security. In this context, the EU must cooperate with international partners to safeguard the whole of the EU, and the implementation of the Strategy must be taken forward in full coherence with EU external action.

European security is linked to our fundamental values. All the actions and initiatives proposed in this Strategy will fully respect the fundamental European rights and values. These are the foundations of the European way of life, and they must remain at the core of all our work.


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No improvements to public safety in Peru

Recent surveys on the perception of public safety conducted by the Instituto de Estudios Peruanos (IEP – Institute of Peruvian Studies) indicate that the Peruvian citizenry’s perception of its security did not change between 2015 and 2019.

However, despite the results of these surveys, statistics from the Instituto Nacional de Estadística e Informática (INEI – Peruvian National Institute of Statistics and Information) paint an entirely different picture. According to the statistics, the annual percentage of people who fell victim to crime dropped, from 36% in 2013 to 27.5% in 2018.

Despite this seemingly contradictory data, the citizenship professes it continues to feel afraid. The INEI itself has published the latest data from September 2018-February 2019, which unequivocally confirms that 86.6% of Peruvians believe they will fall victim to a criminal act. And that figure rises to 89% in the 30 to 44-year-old age group.

Analysing the perception of public safety by territories reveals several regions where more than 90% of the population are scared they will be targeted by criminals. Arequipa, for example, where the figure is 93.2%, the province of Lima where it stands at 92%, or Huancavelica at 91.3%.

Serious in-depth studies are needed to identify the reasons behind this lack of confidence in public safety. And this is confirmed by sociologist Lucía Dammert in her study on the perception of safety in Peru.

Dammert believes the constant changes of ministers and their teams, as well as the rotation of leadership within the Policía Nacional del Perú (Peruvian National Police Force), make it difficult to identify political strategies. It’s hard to evaluate the various initiatives and priorities due to the constant changes.

Another issue is that police coverage is insufficient, and citizens feel unprotected. Furthermore, the justice system is ineffective and levels of impunity are high. The prison system neither punishes nor rehabilitates, which means the police are forced to act harshly, and this is not an effective policy for dealing with the problem.

Notably, despite high levels of domestic violence, especially against women, citizens identify the street as the place where they feel most vulnerable. As a consequence, they choose to lock themselves in their homes and limit their lives on the street; a reality that’s problematic for democratic coexistence.

In addition, corruption is omnipresent in the country’s institutions, which need to build their legitimacy based on just and effective actions. Failure to achieve this leads to a general feeling of vulnerability.

Lastly, Peru sits at the apex of the main organised crime routes. Its citizens see how illegal markets such as mining, logging and prostitution continue to thrive. Yet, the country still refuses to adopt any public policies to deal with those issues.


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