Building a case

Building a case on evidence other than (only) the testimony of the victim is encouraged. In order to build a case, the police and other criminal investigation services could:

Build a case independent of the victim’s testimony

In almost half of the member states, a victim has to make a criminal complaint before a criminal investigation into THB for labour exploitation can begin (source: Eurojust). In other countries, law enforcement agencies can investigate and prosecute THB for labour exploitation on their own initiative (‘ex officio’), without the report of a victim.

A case that relies solely on the evidence of a victim may be vulnerable. If a case can be proven independently of the testimony of the victim, this may (in some countries) diminish the pressure on the victim to provide the bulk of the necessary evidence in court. In other countries it may release the victim from testifying in court completely. It could also make the case stronger: it diminishes or even removes completely the possibility for the defence to question the consistency of the evidence given by the victim. This is even more important if the victim does not consider himself or herself to be a victim.

More information on how to treat a victim of THB for labour exploitation during an investigation.

Use different ways of gathering evidence

Detectives may want to consider using innovative methods when building a case of THB for labour exploitation. National legislation of course determines which investigative techniques and / or sources can be used in cases of THB for labour exploitation, which data can be used as evidence in court and how.

Evidence may be found by:

  • talking to witnesses
  • gathering the relevant paperwork: contracts, applications, permits, registrations
  • using special investigative methods: tapping of phone and internet communications, observation, the use of tracking devices
  • looking at social media
  • gathering information from digital devices such as phones and laptops
  • using financial investigations: with some additional knowledge, the use of underground banking, bitcoins and so on may be investigated, in addition to the use of regular banking methods.

Collect information about the victim’s background

Information about the background and environment of the victim may help explain to a judge why this person became a victim of THB for labour exploitation. Where did the victim live before they were trafficked? What was their education and work, how was their family situation, and so on.

Adopt a three-dimensional approach

The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) recommends that criminal investigation services adopt a so-called three-dimensional approach, which focuses on:

  • ‘the past: reconstituting how the criminal offence was committed to provide evidence for the prosecution of the case and for the confiscation of the proceeds of crime,
  • the present: opening new investigation avenues (domestic and / or international) by identifying new leads and identifying or confirming links between individuals, legal entities, activities, addresses and bank accounts,
  • the future: identifying the modus operandi of the crime and relevant typologies to improve the understanding of THB, refine preventive measures and detection tools and identify early warning signals of THB-related activities.’ (Source: OSCE)

Beware when investigating a related crime

Sometimes it will only become clear that investigators are dealing with a case of THB for labour exploitation during the investigation of another crime. Investigators therefore need to keep an open mind when investigating crimes related to THB for labour exploitation.

For example, crimes like theft from food shops may be the result of victims resorting to petty crime to feed themselves, because they have not been given enough food or money. Similarly, a case of THB for labour exploitation may begin with someone encountering twenty people living in a single-family dwelling, or uncovering a case of migrant smuggling.

Remember that victims do not always see themselves as victims

When conducting an investigation, it may be wise to keep in mind that many victims may not see themselves as victims. Victims often lack information on what it means to be a victim. They may feel the trafficking situation is still an improvement, especially if they are paid more than a job back home might pay. If the money is not forthcoming or less than was agreed, or if the traffickers use violence or threaten to use violence, the victims may start to realise the situation they are in.

An explanation by the police or by an NGO of why they are considered to be a victim of THB for labour exploitation may also help to change their mind in some cases. The steps to take when explaining the situation could include:

  1. Providing information to the victim on their labour rights in the country of destination. Giving the victim a single point of contact and developing a relationship built upon trust, may enable them to recognise (but maybe not immediately) that they have been exploited.
  2. Letting the victim decide whether action will be taken. If the victim would like an investigation to take place, they may decide to provide the police with information on the exploitative situation.
  3. Respecting the victim’s decision.

Remember it may be necessary to intervene early

Knowledge about the inhuman situation that victims find themselves in often means that Law Enforcement Agencies (LEA) have to intervene earlier than they would in other kinds of investigations. The intervention may alert the traffickers to the fact that the authorities are on to them. This may make it more difficult to collect enough evidence on all people involved in the trafficking organisation. However, rescuing the victims is more important.

Build a network of relevant partners

It may be useful at an early stage to talk to all relevant organisations that may be able to help with information about the organised crime group under investigation. This could include the police in destination, source and transit countries, the border guards, and municipalities. That way, investigators may collect information from different sources and establish personal contacts they may need later on in the investigation.

Cooperate with NGOs

NGOs may also be useful partners. Victims may trust NGOs more than they trust the police and may therefore confide in NGOs.

In the Czech Republic, the Ministry of Interior set up a special programme for support and protection of victims of THB. Specialised NGOs or the police can nominate people for placement in the programme.

Use support and information from Europol

Europol can provide support in cross-border cases.

Get a second opinion

In a complex case, it may be worth getting a second opinion from a criminal investigator who is not connected to the case.

Create an expertise centre or specialised unit or team

A unit or centre at the national level can make sure that expertise on how to handle cases of THB for labour exploitation is collected and shared across the country. This unit could provide advice on criminal investigations, for example through trained investigators. Specialised teams may also increase the chances of successful investigations.

For example, in the United Kingdom, the UK Human Trafficking Centre (UKHTC) is part of the National Crime Agency. It has tactical advisers, an intelligence development capability and manages part of the National Referral Mechanism for victims of trafficking. Belgium has specialised teams of labour inspectors who have been trained in detecting situations of possible trafficking and labour exploitation.

Register all signs of THB for labour exploitation, even though they may not seem important

Collecting minor indications of THB for labour exploitation can be very helpful. On their own, these signs may only be a piece of the puzzle, since most organisations only see a fragment of the trafficking process. They may not provide a recognizable pattern that suggests that exploitation is occurring. However, when taken together, several minor indications may give a clearer picture and enable the start of a case of THB for labour exploitation.

The ‘Practical tool for First level identification of victims of human trafficking for labour exploitation’ has a list of indicators.

Monitor bilateral intelligence

The police liaison office at an embassy could monitor the intelligence exchange between the police forces of their own country and of the country where they are posted. This information could lead them to discover travel movements of possible victims of THB for labour exploitation.

Further reading

The International Centre for Migration Policy Development (ICMPD) has published a training manual for law enforcement officers. The manual can be downloaded from the ICMPD website.