Traffickers exploiting social media
People traffickers are exploiting social media and the internet to entrap and control victims, forcing them into prostitution and other criminal activity, the head of the European policing agency has warned.
Europol director Rob Wainwright said that advertisements on sites like Facebook promising work in childcare or cleaning were used by criminal gangs to draw in vulnerable young women.
The traffickers then used internet technology such as webcams to monitor their victims, controlling their movements ensuring they turned up to work in brothels or other criminal enterprises.
Speaking to the Centre for Social Justice think tank in London, Mr Wainwright said the use of modern technology had enabled the "industrialisation" of the traffickers' activities, allowing them to control many more problems.
"Facebook is effectively being used in many cases as the means to attract and then enslave vulnerable young women," he said.
"They (the traffickers) are using the modern technological tools to more efficiently monitor an increasing number of victims. So instead of paying them a visit every day they can use the webchat services but also webcam cameras to confirm that they are where they should be, they are in that brothel waiting for the next customer.
"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 easily and readily in virtual form.
"What that allows therefore is a sort of industrialisation of the problem. Single traffickers and pimps can control many more victims."
Mr Wainwright said that people trafficking was regarded as a "low-risk, high profit" activity by criminal gangs generating an estimated 150 billion dollars a year (£100 billion) for organised crime.
Up to 36 million people worldwide are thought to be held in modern slavery - at least 500,000 in Europe. Most of the victims in Europe are from Romania, Bulgaria and Hungary with the UK, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands the main destinations for trafficking.
Mr Wainwright said there needed to be much greater co-operation among international law enforcement agencies to deal with the problem.
"As things currently stand, organised crime groups are going about the business of modern slavery and with little fear of being caught and pursued. We urgently need to do much better," he said.
"The international law enforcement community needs to trust each other a bit more. There is no point in sitting on a vital piece of information in one country if it can break a syndicate spread across five or more others. The culture of policing must change."