Online sexual exploitation addressed in the second TF-THB meeting under the German Presidency

The CBSS Task Force against Trafficking in Human Beings (TF-THB) expert group held its second meeting under the German Presidency in Berlin on 16-17 February 2023. The meeting, organised by the German Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth (BMFSF), focused on sexual exploitation, including the exploitation of children and online exploitation.

The meeting was opened by State Secretary Margit Gottstein, who emphasized the importance of combatting trafficking in human beings in the times where Russian aggression in Ukraine and the Covid-19 pandemic have both accelerated and altered the phenomenon. She stressed the value of the Task Force as a forum of open exchange and cooperation in this work.

During the meeting, the representatives heard several expert presentations on sexual exploitation, with a particular focus on online exploitation and the exploitation of children.

The use of online platforms to offer sexual services and the risks of online exploitation of children have increased rapidly in recent years globally and in the region, mainly due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The online dimension has furthermore made it increasingly more difficult to protect the victims and prosecute the perpetrators as the act of trafficking can take place in several countries simultaneously, while the authorities do not necessarily have enough means to prevent the exploitation. Initiatives, such as the THB LIBERI project of the German Federal Criminal Police (BKA), have tried to narrow the gap by developing tools for anti-trafficking stakeholders to better locate the victims and dismantle criminal networks. 

“It is encouraging to see good examples and developments to tackle the online dimensions of human trafficking, in particular the sexual exploitation of children. It is obvious that initiatives aimed at reducing demand should be a priority when countering human trafficking for sexual exploitation. It is important for our task force to have a holistic approach when we look at human trafficking, and that the multifaceted character of this crime is thoroughly addressed in our joint projects for 2023-2024.”

Edi Mujaj, CBSS Senior Advisor for TF-THB

In addition to discussing online sexual exploitation, the representatives of the CBSS Member States shared an update on their anti-trafficking responses to the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine. 

The number of detected human trafficking cases among displaced Ukrainians has remained relatively low in the region. However, there are signs that the continuation of the Russian aggression in Ukraine, connected to the overall economic situation, has increased the desperation of the displaced Ukrainians as they are trying to make ends meet and send financial support to their relatives in Ukraine. This desperation can lead to making risky decisions, such as taking precarious and underpaid jobs or engaging in prostitution.  

“In the face of the Russian aggression against Ukraine, and the following displacement of millions of Ukrainians, more attention needs to be paid to the integration efforts, including labour market integration, and support of the Ukrainian displaced persons to prevent their exploitation. This goes hand in hand with ensuring sufficient training and resourcing of law enforcement authorities to detect exploitative practices already before they can be considered as human trafficking.”

Veikko Mäkelä, CBSS Project Officer for TF-THB

The CBSS Secretariat presented the ongoing TF-THB projects, such as:

  • Initiating the CAPE III project in cooperation with the Swedish Gender Equality Agency (Jämställdhetsmyndigheten) focusing on labour exploitation.
  • Drafting of a summary report of the CAPE project to highlight the findings of the project and draft a roadmap on prevention of labour exploitation for the region. The summary is produced by the European Institute for Crime Prevention and Control (HEUNI).
  • Continuing the work of the THALIA project with a new project MAP (Media as an Anti-Trafficking Partner).
  • Initiating a new project FRAUD, focusing on tackling financial and benefit fraud in the Baltic Sea Region.
  • Organising a regional simulation-based training for anti-trafficking together with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

The last TF-THB meeting under the German Presidency will take place on 12-13 June 2023 in Berlin, focusing on fair recruitment as a way of preventing human trafficking, forced labour and labour exploitation.