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23 October 2014
Call for online warnings over human trafficking

Call for online warnings over human trafficking

Internet sites could carry pop-up warnings on the risks of human trafficking under plans being considered by the UK’s top law enforcement agency.

National Crime Agency deputy director of organised crime, Caroline Young, claimed the step could act as a preventative measure to stem the number of potential victims in today’s digital age.

Latest figures released by the NCA - commonly referred to as Britain’s FBI - found that the number of potential victims of human trafficking increased 22 per cent between 2012 and 2013, with 55 identified in Scotland.

Eastern European victims reported being offered work in the UK as part of a package that included transport and accommodation with offers of employment found via internet advertising on recruitment websites.

“The genie is out of the bottle in terms of social media and the use of the internet for all criminality and not just human trafficking,” Young told Holyrood last week, as law enforcement agencies and prosecutors from the UK and Ireland met in Edinburgh for a high-level summit. 

“And it just adds another layer of complexity and challenge to law enforcement to be able to tackle that. But that doesn’t mean that they can act with impunity. So, for example, we can look at some of the sites around offering jobs or escort services and we can start to try and get behind that. 

“As our experience about tackling cyber-enabled crime increases, our ability to tackle that increases. Some of this as well, though, is about actually working closely with the businesses to make sure that they have a level of social responsibility and are aware about what might be happening on their sites.”

Young revealed one of the ideas officials are currently “batting around” is more frequent use of warnings across various websites.

“There are little things that we need to think about doing,” she added. “For example, if you could have something like a little pop-up on some of those websites saying, ‘are you sure this is a proper job, there are dangers of human trafficking, go to this site to find out more’, [that] is a very small thing that we could get an internet site to do which would help educate as we go along and just make people aware before perhaps they take that step.”

Young admitted engagement from internet service providers and digital platforms on helping to tackle human trafficking was happening “slowly but surely”.

“It’s important to be able to make the case to them and be able to demonstrate to them the problems that it causes and how they have a part to play in that and what they can do about that,” she said. “We have had some good examples of that. It is not going to happen overnight, but we need to continue to work closely with them. 

“Human trafficking is not something I think you’re ever going to really be able to always prosecute your way out of. It is much better to be able to stop people getting into it in the first place, so the awareness raising amongst potential victims is as important as the law enforcement response.”

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