Criminal gangs monitoring enslaved sex workers via webcam with 'impunity'

Pimps are able to remotely watch trafficked women

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The Independent Online

Criminal gangmasters are running mass surveillance programmes via webcam, targeting the victims of human trafficking to ensure their continuing obedience as slave labourers, senior police have said.

Women tricked into travelling to Britain to work in the sex trade have been told they are being constantly monitored in a new trend that police say has the power to “industrialise” the nature of human slavery.

Members of a gang operating in London are due to stand trial in a case where women were told they could be monitored by criminal overseers from abroad, according to officials.

Senior officers said that this surveillance was part of a deeply concerning trend that has seen organised gangs harness the power of the internet to recruit, enslave and sell their victims - who represent the profitable assets of their illegal trade.

The technology and the failure of police forces to tackle the global problem has meant that slave masters are operating with “near impunity” in one of the most lucrative forms of criminal activity, said Rob Wainwright, the director of European police agency Europol.

He said that gangs were maintaining close surveillance of victims with live camera monitoring or daily online chat sessions, under the guise of personal safety, but designed to ensure they are working and earning money for the gang. Analysis has also suggested that women are being blackmailed into continuing to work for a gang or face having compromising pictures sent to their families.

“The level of entrapment and control is increasing directly as a result and as an abuse of the internet,” said Mr Wainwright in a speech for the Centre for Social Justice in London. “In the past, the pimps and traffickers had to do that by physically visiting them. Now they can just do it at the click of a button and therefore control 50 victims much more readily in a virtual form rather than in the traditional way. What that allows is an industrialisation of the problem.”

Mr Wainwright said social media sites like Facebook were being used as a tool to “interact and then enslave young vulnerable women”.

Instead of adverts in shop windows in Romania, women were being signed up under the impression that they were going to work in childcare, agriculture or cleaning before being to work in the sex trade. The victims were then marketed in “extensive online catalogues”, according to analysis by the agency.

Traffickers often buy their travel tickets using stolen or hacked credit card data to hide the identities of the people behind the trade.

The Global Slavery Index for 2014 produced by anti-slavery campaigners suggests there are 36 million people in modern slavery in 2014, more than 500,000 of them in the European Union. But European statistics lists only 10,000 registered victims – highlighting the failure of governments and police forces to tackle the problem, said Mr Wainwright. The trafficking of humans is worth £100billion in profits a year to criminal gangs with little risk of being caught.

A report this week by the UN Office of Drugs and Crime suggests that 70 percent of the global total of trafficking victims are girls or women.