Athanassia Sykiotou: Cybercrime and human trafficking


© Sykiotou

Athanassia Sykiotou is Assistant Professor in Criminological Sciences at the Law School of Democritus University of Thrace (GR) and doctor of law of the University of Sorbonne. She is also international consultant (UN agencies and Council of Europe) and attorney at law at the Supreme Court of Greece. She has many publications on trafficking and cyber crime.

Relation of human trafficking to cyber crime

Cyber-crime is the crime committed in Internet environment. There are crimes committed in cyberspace and cyberspace related crimes that use Internet as means to their commission such as trafficking in persons.  Cyberspace related crimes can also be committed with the traditional way. In trafficking, perpetrators use all kind of means to recruit victims from traditional to more modern ones. When trafficking is committed with the use of Internet it is called “cyber-trafficking”.

Cyber-trafficking refers to the use of cyber-space for:
•    the recruitment of victims
•    advertisement of victims’ services
•    attracting clients

In some forms it refers also to the space of commission of the crime (e.g. if the exploitation is on line by cyber-sex or of procuring material of child pornography).
However, it needs to be noticed that there is no official definition of Cyber-trafficking, because there are no texts relating cybercrime with trafficking. The only text at supranational level that makes reference to trafficking through its form of child pornography is the 2001 Council of Europe Convention on Cybercrime (CETS No 185) that does not give the definition of cyber-trafficking.

Human trafficking and anti-cyber crime texts

From the moment traffickers use cyberspace as a tool, trafficking is considered as cybercrime and normally it falls under the scope of legal texts addressing to cybercrimes. However, as said above the only text on cybercrime at supranational level is the CoE Cyber Crime Convention. Other texts at EU level regulate mainly the issue of safety in the use of Internet, but do not refer expressly to cyber-trafficking; only to the issue of storing data for eventual prosecution in case of criminal activity.
Art. 9 of the CoE Convention refers to child pornography, but it is considered that any crime of common criminal law committed with the help of cyberspace can be prosecuted under this Convention. The legal basis for this argument is given by Art. 19 allowing the prosecuting authorities to access, research and seizure data stored in any computer system or portable media. In addition, the prosecuting authorities may impose an individual who possesses special knowledge for the preservation of data in PCs to provide law enforcement authorities with all necessary information. Further, there is provision on the obligation upon order of the prosecuting authorities to maintain the data that is stored on an individual's computer for as long as required (up to 90 days) in order to help the investigation. The convention is the first text at supranational level required to preserve data.
The reason why trafficking is not embedded as such in the Cyber Crime Convention is because the Convention is a general tool aiming to cover four large categories of cybercrimes:

  • against confidentiality, integrity and availability of data, such as illegal  access, illegal trapping-interception, data interference, or system
  • relating to computers such as forgery and fraud associated with PCs
  • crimes relating to the infringement of copyright and related rights and
  • content related crimes, such as trafficking where the Convention gives the example of child pornography as a form of trafficking which is considered to be more related to cyber-space.

Obstacles regarding the implementation of transnational conventions

© Nikolaus Herzog
© Nikolaus Herzog

Horizontal action taken through conventional cooperation of States makes the implementation of texts depending on the political will and also on the existence of financial resources suitable for the realization of its implementation. It is known that traffickers are often located in a country that has not ratified the convention or in a country known for its unwillingness to cooperate with the rest of community despite the fact that it may have ratified the specific convention.
Further, among the countries that have ratified the Convention (total 37) there is variation in relation to the telecommunications infrastructure and the corresponding Internet penetration. In addition, conventions leave room of implementation in every national legislature which results to emerging in practice various problems related to the qualification of acts, but also issues of jurisdiction.
What is more, transnational conventions are texts of regional character having reduced field of application and this is not enough for an effective implementation, in the sense of effectively fighting the crime, since many providers are established outside the region. They also offer only partial regulation of the subject since up to now existing texts attempt to cover either the issue of safety in Internet or of trafficking.
The legal framework that regulates cybercrimes is not enough since cyberspace is a field that advances with an extreme rapidity.

Advantages of the use of the internet for the traffickers

Internet offers enormous advantage to criminals because it is easy to use, rapid, of low cost and offers anonymity and/or disguise which allow traffickers to commit their crimes at a reduced risk. It can also bring victims directly to the perpetrators, who do not have to leave their home anymore to find them. Internet knows no borders and this enables offenders to act from a country distant from the victim’s, which may be located on the opposite side of the planet.
In addition, Internet addresses to a broad audience thus, it gives the opportunity for more victims and more options for recruitment since is offers also more targeted virtual spaces where individuals can be recruited, such as social networks and Internet dating.

Stereotypes in the field of cyber-trafficking

It is believed that sexist, patriarchal and racist stereotypes are perpetuated in the field of cyber-trafficking. However this is only partially true since the above question is related mainly to sex trafficking and to forced marriages which are only two out of many forms of trafficking. Stereotypes in the field of cyber-trafficking are mainly perpetuated, because in many areas of the planet men are raised with the mentality that women are objects they may use or buy. Cyberspace with its anonymity contributes not only to the maintenance of such mentalities, but also it leaves room for covering and releasing any type of perversion (9th September 2012).

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A selection of Ms Sykiotou's publications

The Misuse of the Internet for the Recruitment of Victims of Trafficking in Human Beings, Publ. Council of Europe, Oct. 2007. 

The Impact of Internet on THB, prepared for UN.GIFT for the 12th UN World Congress on Crime Prevention in Salvador, 2010.

The European Convention against Trafficking of Human Beings in Relation to the Case-law of the European Court for Human Rights on Art.4 of the ECHR and the Case-law of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia on Enslavement, in M. Kranidiotis, (Edit.), Volume in honor of Prof. Aglaia Tsitsoura, Sakkoulas Publs., 2009, pp.103-140.

Other sources

Bellini C. & Gratti A., “The Headway Database: An On-line Transnational Tool for Anti-trafficking Service Providers”, in: AA.VV., Headway – Improving Social Intervention Systems for Victims of Trafficking, Varsavia, pp.216-219.

Branigan Steven (2005), High-tech Crimes Revealed: Cyberwar Stories from the Digital Front, Boston: Addison-Wesley.

Casey Eoghan (edit.) (2002), Handbook of Computer Crime Investigation: Forensic Tools and Technology, San Diego, California, Academic Press.

Center for Democracy and Technology, (2000) Bridging the Digital Divide: Internet Access in Central and Eastern Europe

Council of Europe, (2005) Organised Crime in Europe: the Threat of Cybercrime - Situation Report for 2004, Octopus Programme.

ITU Telecommunication Development Sector (April 2009), Understanding Cybercrime: A Guide for Developing Countries, ICT Applications and Cybersecurity Division Policies and Strategies Department

Jewkes Yvonne (edit.) (2002), Dot.coms: Crime, Deviance and Identity on the Internet, Cullompton, Devon, UK: Willan.

Livingstone Carol - ECPAT International (2002), Protecting Children Online: An ECPAT Guide, Bangkok, ECPAT International.

Llyod Kathryn A. (2000), “Wives for Sale: The Modern International Mail-order Bride Industry”, Journal of International Law & Business, Vol. 20, pp.341-367.

Lomas John W. Jr. (2005), “New Jersey's Adult Internet Luring Statute: An Appropriate Next Step?”, Duke Law & Technology Review

Muir Deborah (2005), Violence against Children in Cyberspace, Bangkok, ECPAT International. Goodman Mark D. & Brenner Susan W. (2002), The Emerging Consensus on Criminal Conduct in Cyberspace

Save the Children (2004), Position Paper on Child Pornography and Internet-related Sexual Exploitation of Children, London, Save the Children.

Surtees Rebecca & Stojkovic Slavica (2004), Annotated Guide to Internet-Based Counter Trafficking Resources, International Organisation for Migration (IOM).

United Nations Asia & Far East Institute for the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders (UNAFEI) (2000), Crimes Related to the Computer Network: Challenges of the Twenty First Century, UNAFEI, Tokyo.

Wolak Janis, Mitchell Kimberly & Finkelhor David (Nov. 2003), Internet Sex Crimes against Minors: The Response of Law Enforcement, Crimes against Children Research Center University of New Hampshire, National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.

Library of Congress - Federal Research Division (Nov. 2009), Cybercrime: An Annotated Bibliography of Select Foreign-language Academic Literature, Washington D.C.