Addressing the complexities of prosecution in sexual exploitation cases | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, February 02, 2021 / LAST MODIFIED: 02:06 AM, February 02, 2021

Global Law Updates

Addressing the complexities of prosecution in sexual exploitation cases

A new report of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes (UNODC) sheds light on the complexities involved in prosecuting cases of human-trafficking, particularly with regard to trafficking crimes involving sexual exploitation.

The report found that trafficked and sexually exploited woman and girls often find themselves facing prosecution and conviction for those very same offences. The report shows that traffickers often employ these 'victim-defendants' in low-level roles which expose them to law enforcement authorities. These victim-defendants are more likely to be caught and prosecuted under the existing laws in many countries. Victim-defendants are usually assigned to roles such as recruitment of new victims, collecting proceeds, imposing punishments, or posting advertisements for victims' sexual services.

Zoi Sakelliadou, a UNODC Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Officer, who coordinated the development of the study, stated, 'We've also seen that the percentage of female perpetrators of trafficking who are at the same time victims of this crime, is steadily high too, especially if compared to female offenders in other crimes. The traffickers not only earned a profit by sexually exploiting the victims, but then made them commit crimes so they could escape liability and prosecution'. These facts and context create complexity in the prosecution of trafficking offence and necessitate that the law enforcement, prosecution and other justice actors are sufficiently aware of the existing mechanisms within the trafficking activities.

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The Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons Especially Women and Children, supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (the Trafficking Protocol), in Article 9(1)(b), directs state parties to 'establish comprehensive policies, programmes and other measures' in order to 'protect victims of trafficking in persons, especially women and children, from revictimization'.

Bangladesh recently became a signatory to the Trafficking Protocol and had earlier enacted the Prevention and Suppression of Human Trafficking Act in 2012. The 2012 is largely lauded for its elaborate provisions on victim and witness protection; however, Section 18 of the Act states, 'where any victim of trafficking or any material used for the commission of the offence of trafficking is rescued or recovered from the custody or a place under the direct control of any person and if such person is reasonably doubted to be, or is identified by the victim to be the trafficker, the person may be presumed, unless contrary is proved, to have committed the offence of human trafficking under this Act.' The 2012 Act, understandably so, creates stringent provisions with regard to human trafficking owing to the global acceptance of trafficking offences as a grave and heinous offence. But in light of these recently unveiled complexities, the provision of Section 18 may exacerbate the scope of prosecuting victim-defendants as it creates a legal presumption in favor of trafficking offences.

Furthermore, there is widely prevalent lack of sensitisation among prosecutors, judges and law enforcement actors and minimal efforts have been made in the past to bridge this shortcoming. Recent activities of the UNODC aims to create further awareness among stakeholders ranging from academics to members of the judiciary. In the past, programs such as the Bangladesh Counter Trafficking in Persons Program (BC-TIP) have worked to train stakeholders.

In Bangladesh, prosecution of human trafficking offences remains a pressing concern. Recently, the Government has established seven anti-trafficking tribunals in various districts of the country. While the efforts are appreciable, the Government needs to take effective measures to ensure a holistic, victim-sensitive and rights-based approach to prosecution of human-trafficking. 

Compiled by Law Desk (source:un.org).  

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