What role security sector can play in dealing with demand or being involved in tackling the demand side of human trafficking?

What role security sector can play in dealing with demand or being involved in tackling the demand side of human trafficking?

Dr. Stela Haxhi & Suzanne Hoff

Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces (DCAF) & La Strada International (LSI)

September 2017


Key international instruments define the crime of human trafficking and determine the approach to be taken by states. However, there is no clear definition of the ‘demand that fosters all forms of exploitation related to human trafficking’, which states are required to ‘discourage and reduce’. The term demand in the context of human trafficking is not a clear concept and often conflates different understandings – and moreover is not used equally or understood similarly by all relevant stakeholders.

As part of the DemandAT project the DCAF research team analysed the security sector role in addressing the demand-side of human trafficking through the experiences of four European countries: the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Switzerland and the United Kingdom (see the Working Paper and Policy Brief on the security sector role in addressing the demand-side of human trafficking). In the scope of this research the ‘security sector’ was taken to refer to stakeholders involved in maintaining general public security, law and order. This includes both, state and private actors such as police, intelligence, border guards, immigration authorities, prosecutors and judges, in so far they deal with criminal law or public administrative law and private security companies.

Interviews with representatives of the security sector showed that they consider the prevention, deterrence, disruption, prosecution and conviction of human trafficking, if structured on the basis of criminal laws, as ‘addressing demand’. Primarily actions disrupting situations of human trafficking and forcing traffickers out of the business (such as through investigations, raids and confiscations) are seen as demand-side measures. In addition, deterring potential perpetrators by enforcing legislation, conducting patrolling and performing inspections on suspected criminal activities are also regarded by them as having an important preventive effect vis-à-vis trafficking and thus affecting the ‘demand-side’. According to this law enforcement approach, stronger enforcement of the legal framework increases the risk factor for perpetrators, and hence in theory lowers the ‘demand that foster human trafficking or exploitation of persons’.

However, the effects of combining the legislation and the increase in severity and penalty, either as a deterrent for criminals or as an enabler for the security sector to pursue legally are yet to be ascertained and a conclusion on the effects is not possible to access.

With regard to the domestic legal framework, criminal proceedings are not normatively framed in terms of demand, but rather with reference to the criminal intent of perpetrators. Security sector actors therefore clearly interpret demand practically and flexibly, perceiving the trafficker or those engaged in or benefiting from related criminal activities as demanders instead of seeing demand as relating to possible end users or consumers of services and products provided through exploitation. Unless the purchase of a particular good or service is criminalised there is little scope for security sector actors to tackle the demand-side of trafficking from the end-users perspective. If a demand-side action or activity falls out of mandate, i.e. if the services or the products offered are technically not criminal or is difficult or impossible to prove that it violates the law, it is arduous for the security sector actors to play a role.

However, to identify and group all preventive and other measures taken by law enforcement actors as demand side measures, seems a too broad approach and therefore less useful. Yet those law enforcement actors, who took a more narrow view of the term demand as relating specifically to the demand for services and goods produced with human trafficking and exploitation saw very limited options ‘to take action with regard to addressing demand’ in cases when services or the purchase of products was not criminalised.  

Therefore, we found that traditional security sector measures in CTHB have been reactive, either from victim or victim-associated instigation or intelligence generated through detective work that leads to uncovering of a trafficking situation. The measures have rarely been proactive or demand-side led, such as addressing in particular those services or goods that are expected to foster exploitation and abuse. There is the potential for law enforcement to become more proactive in addressing demand by focusing on particular sectors where the risk of trafficking occurrences is greater. The sex work sector for example, is an area where law enforcement could be very proactive in monitoring policy and law, as persons working in the sector are regarded as vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.

Other legal sectors or provision of services that can foster human trafficking are not controlled by them. Moreover, even though measures have been taken by countries to criminalise the use of services, with the knowledge that the person providing the services is a victim of human trafficking according to article 18.4 of the EU Directive on trafficking, it remains difficult for security sector actors, to detect ‘the knowingly abusers’ users when the provision or buying of the services is legal.

Hence, the security sector role in proactively addressing demand seems tied to its legal framework i.e. mandates and jurisdictions and restricted to criminalised activities. In case the security sector should be involved in addressing demand, which can be questioned, a clear definition of the demand-side of trafficking is needed, as well as further discussion on how to best to translate this term into domestic legislation and in their mandate.


The views expressed in the blog post do not necessarily reflect the views of the DemandAT Consortium as a whole.