Human trafficking: a problem of a few or everyone’s problem?

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After a raid carried out by the Mexico City District Attorney’s Office at a famous nightclub, in which more than 40 women victim of sexual exploitation were released and resulted in 14 apprehensions, human trafficking has positioned itself strongly within the public agenda. Before starting the analysis, it’s worth to remark that, even though human trafficking is strongly linked with sexual exploitation, it is not limited to that aspect alone. Human trafficking is an activity with several purposes that range from forced labor to illegal adoption, forced begging and even organ trafficking. Given that it’s a complex phenomenon, any possible solution is bounded to identifying the major obstacles that difficult its prosecution.

During 2007, the first specialized law on the matter was issued and, derived from it, an Attorney’s Office was created with the purpose of prosecuting this practice. Nevertheless, results in the following years were poor. Thus, a new General Law for Preventing, Sanctioning and Erradicating Human Trafficking Crimes, was published last year with the goal of correcting the faults of its predecessor. It is important to highlight that, unlike the previous law, the new legislation establishes the unofficial prosecution of this offence. The aforementioned is a positive trait that should ease prosecution given that in many cases, the victim is unable to issue a legal complaint. As can be observed (without disregarding the legislation’s perfectibility), the cause of the lack of results is not within the absence of legal instrumentation.

In principle, the offence’s continuance is due to a lack of ability from the State to apply the law. The seriousness of the State’s absence is increased with the cynical presence of signs from which it’s possible to assume the commission of the offence. Nevertheless, the main obstacle that prevents prosecution of human trafficking – without diminishing the State’s responsibility – is the existence of a high degree of tolerance and permisiveness from society. It is well known the prevalence of zones within Mexico City and nightclubs that hold activities that should be investigated, at the very least, by authorities. A major part of the social tolerance is due to the direct involvement in practices that are highly likely of being linked with criminal activities: from hiring sexual services to giving handouts to persons forced to beg. All this is aggravated given that it’s a crime that on many occassions affects illegal immigrants, which is an obstacle for identifying victims and hinders the society’s empathy in demanding a solution for this issue. Human trafficking victims add up to the figures of dissappeared individuals without being able to determine how big the problem actually is.

The scenario is not flattering at all. It is clear that the fight against human trafficking will not be achieved through the issuing of a new law or the creation of a specialized prosecution office alone. The decrease of this crime depends, along with state prosecution, from a change in the cultural paradigma. The chances of success of this legislation will be maximized if its implementation is supported by a process of awareness that allows the observance of crimes behind the phenomenons that society deals with every day and, in many cases, enhances with its behavior.


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