• 30 July 2021

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    Category : Reportage

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    Corruption: the hidden face of trafficking

    Every year more than 1.7 million women and girls are victims of sexual exploitation. Although the criminal networks and pimps are the ones committing these crimes, they are often able to act thanks to corrupt officials who allow these activities or even participate in them. On World Anti-Trafficking Day, we focus on this dimension of human trafficking and on the commitment of the Latin American Prosecutors' Offices to combat it.

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    Gabriella is 15 years old, but her ID card says she has just turned 19. For two years, a network of pimps has had her locked in a brothel where they sexually exploit her. Six months ago she managed to escape from them. When she saw a police station in the distance, she thought she was safe. On arrival, she was seen by a police officer, who led her into a room and took a statement from her. When Gabriella finished speaking, the police officer left the room for a moment to make a call. Fifteen minutes later, a car turned up at the police station to take her back to the brothel from which she had escaped. The next day, the policeman stopped by to get the pimps to return the favour.

    Gabriella does not exist, but her story is lived every day by more than 1.7 million women and girls who are victims of sexual exploitation. Although pimps are often singled out, corrupt officials who look the other way or cover up these crimes are equally responsible. “Corruption is a scourge that permeates all structures, both public and private. The area of human trafficking is not outside this”, affirms María Soledad Machuca, a prosecutor with the Specialised Unit for Crimes Against the Economic Order and Corruption in Paraguay.

    Some public officials not only look the other way, they even actively participate in or benefit from sexual exploitation. “Often corrupt officials negotiate with traffickers and exploiters for payment in bribes or sexual favours in which the victims themselves are the exchange currency used to make these payments”, explains María Alejandra Mángano, a prosecutor with the Prosecutor’s Office for Trafficking and Exploitation of Persons in Argentina .

    For Rosario López Wong, a coordinating prosecutor with the Specialised Prosecutors for Trafficking Crimes in Peru, one of the problems that facilitate trafficking is advanced warning about police operations: “We feel great frustration when a planned victim rescue operation is not carried out or is halted because the traffickers have been alerted and the victims have been hidden, even minors.”

    Other officials give licences for cafeterias to brothels, falsify identity documents to make girls appear to be of legal age or intimidate victims so they do not report crimes, as Marcelo Colombo, a prosecutor with the Office of Human Trafficking and Exploitation in Argentina, describes: “There are public officials who threaten victims and witnesses, either so they do not denounce the acts of corruption or so they do not appear as witnesses at the trials”.

    The Latin American Prosecutor‘s Offices, within the framework of the Ibero-American Association of Public Ministries (AIAMP), work to detect and combat the public corruption that conceals trafficking. The Public Ministries are aware of the importance of working together and cooperating to end this scourge. “We are strengthening the cooperation and coordination between the Specialised Units for People Trafficking and Anti-Corruption in order to carry out an effective and timely investigation,” explains Carina Sánchez, a prosecutor with the Unit for the Fight against Human Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation in Paraguay.

    At FIIAPP, through programmes such as EUROsociAL+, EL PAcCTO and A-TIPSOM, we are working to promote cooperation between public administrations and jointly combat human trafficking. We do this by addressing the criminal chain as a whole. This implies working with both the police dimension (investigation and detention), going through the judicial route (drafting legislation and prosecuting in accordance with current laws) and finishing off with the penitentiary dimension (application of the penalties imposed).

    With the # FiscalíasContralaCorrupciónylaTrata campaign, we reveal  the hidden face of sexual exploitation. Although corrupt officials are only one part of an administration, detecting these ‘bad apples‘ is essential to ending trafficking. As Sergio Rodríguez, the head of the Argentine Anticorruption Prosecutor’s Office, states: “There is no human trafficking without corruption“.

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