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Europol Sets New Record in Human Trafficking Crackdown

Europol announced it recently helped in dismantling an international sex trafficking ring.

The operation “held hundreds of Chinese women trapped in debt bondage across Europe,” according to a 8 February announcement from Europol. “The action is the biggest hit to date against Chinese human trafficking in Europe.”

Throughout parts of Belgium and Spain, 34 houses were searched on 7 February, and 28 people were arrested, including “five Chinese nationals considered as high-value targets by Europol due to their involvement in multiple high-profile cases in Europe,” Europol said. Nine of the arrested individuals were charged with human trafficking and money laundering, according to The Washington Post.

The Belgian Federal Prosecutor’s office announced that along with the arrests, law enforcement also seized €1.5 million ($1.6 million) in cash during the raids, The Post said.

These arrests were linked to multiple earlier arrests of members of the same group made in Switzerland in May 2022. The operation is part of an investigation that began in 2020, headed by the Belgian Federal Prosecutor and Federal Judicial Police East Flanders, with Europol and Eurojust coordinating and cooperation from law enforcement counterparts in Germany, Poland, Spain, and Switzerland.

The investigation discovered that the traffickers used popular messaging apps in China to lure and smuggle women into Europe—forged EU identification and residence documents were used, too. “Once in Europe, the victims were held in bondage and forced to work as prostitutes to pay off debts,” according to Europol.

Investigators identified more than 200 victims of the trafficking operation—the actual number of victims is suspected to be much higher, and only 20 women were freed as a result of the raids and arrests. A large number of the identified victims had no legal residence status, making them even more dependent on the traffickers, according to the Associated Press (AP), and some of the women were being “sheltered in a specialized reception center.”

“According to prosecutors, Chinese sex workers are increasingly present in Belgium, particularly in Brussels,” the AP said.

The traffickers used online advertisements and hotels to coordinate and conduct their business, moving the women throughout EU nations. The organization also used online rental platforms, using vacation homes to set up appointments with clients, ABC News reported.

Although government agencies and NGOs are working to combat elements of human trafficking, private businesses can assist through various means, including awareness training.

“Ideally, security managers would incorporate a training requirement for their personnel because sex trafficking victims are most likely to cross paths with security guards posted in locations corresponding to five critical infrastructure sectors: transportation, healthcare, commercial facilities, government facilities, and the food sector,” according to Lauren Shapiro in an article for Security Management, Training Security Guards to Identify Sex Trafficking Victims.”