The Netherlands: 50% of victims of human trafficking again victims of crime

Victims of human trafficking seem to end up in a cycle of violence and insecurity, the report alerts. In 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic made sexual exploitation less visible while it put light on forced labor when illegal workers lost their jobs.

Illustration human trafficking Netherlands
In the Netherlands, 76% of victims of human trafficking are women and two-thirds of cases related to minors are about sexual exploitation | © Gerd Altmann

The 2016-2020 Victim Monitor for Human Trafficking in the Netherlands shows that fifty percent of all victims of human trafficking become victims of a crime again within the next seven years.

The report is published by the national rapporteur on human trafficking and sexual violence against children, an independent team appointed by law for a four-year term to submit reports and suggestions to the government.

Research shows that 45% of victims of human trafficking are again victims of crime within the next 5 years. It goes up to 50% after 7 years. The crimes are often serious ones and can involve assault, threats, sexual violence or be about exploitation again.

In the five years after being victims of human trafficking, 33% of them are victims of a property crime, which encompasses theft, burglary, robbery, extortion, embezzlement or fraud. Twenty-five percent is a victim of abuse, 8% is again a victim of human trafficking and another 8% is a victim of sexual offenses.

Victims seem to end up in a cycle of insecurity and violence that is difficult to break” the report stresses out.

The situation is all the more true when a person was the victim of human trafficking as a child. They would suffer the consequences of a traumatic experience in the long term.

Covid-19 made vulnerable groups even more isolated

There are about 1,000 people reported as victims of human trafficking every year in the Netherlands. But in reality, there could be five times as many victims in the country some estimates suggest.

Victims are often part of a vulnerable population with difficult social backgrounds, and particularly hits minors or migrants. Victims and perpetrators are often young, and sometimes, people may be both victims and perpetrators. Seventy-six percent of victims are women and two-thirds of cases related to minors are about sexual exploitation.

Actually, the most common form of human trafficking in the Netherlands is sexual exploitation (75% of reported cases) where half of the victims are Dutch and the other half comes from abroad. In 2020, the number of cases reports fell for the third consecutive year. But as a lot of cases remain unnoticed, the rapporteur fears that the Covid-19 pandemic made the situation worse as prostitution activity became less visible and police controls decreased in 2020.

And in 2020, labor exploitation was by far the most reported form of human trafficking. In fact, the number of reported victims of labor exploitation increased by 72% in 2020 from 449 cases in 2019.

More than half of the victims of labor exploitation came from Poland, Hungary or Bulgaria. The report points out that the Covid-19 pandemic put light on some situations that would have remained hidden otherwise. In effect, that’s when illegal workers lost their jobs, their pay or their house because of the pandemic that they sought support and aid from organizations.

Municipalities should act more quickly

The Netherlands government is still “insufficiently successful” in the prevention, protection and assistance regarding human trafficking, the national rapporteur explains.

The report particularly points out the role of municipalities. Municipalities are the closest administrative bodies to the population and the report suggests local actions such as providing shelter should be quicker and strengthened with the support of the ministries of Justice and Health.

The rapporteur’s urgent recommendation is to “enable municipalities and professionals to provide appropriate assistance to all suspected victims of human trafficking on a long-term and sustainable basis“.

Next year, municipalities will receive an extra 1.3 billion euros (US $1.46bn) to make up for the shortfalls in youth care.

In June, the United States Trafficking in person report considered the Netherlands made sufficient efforts to reduce human trafficking, except for the islands of Curaçao, Sint Maarten or Aruba which are part of the Kingdom of Netherlands. But the country was in a much better position than Ireland, which was put on the U.S. human trafficking watch list.

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