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While so-called prostitution websites facilitate sex trafficking, banning them is not the answer

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prostitution websites facilitate sex trafficking

A cross-party group of British lawmakers last week called for the UK Government to follow in America’s footsteps by banning so-called prostitution websites, which are widely used by human traffickers to advertise the services of sex slaves. Suggesting there is mounting evidence that sites such as Vivastreet and Adultwork are fuelling an increase in the sexual exploitation and trafficking of vulnerable women, many of whom are smuggled into the UK to be forced into sex work, members of the All-Party Group on Prostitution and the Global Sex Trade urged the UK Home Office to make the owners of these sites accountable for profiting from sexual exploitation.

The move comes after US President Donald Trump signed a bill that gave prosecutors and victims of sexual exploitation the power to take legal action against websites that host adverts for sex work. The Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA) allows criminal and civil actions against a website if its conduct violates sex trafficking laws. Prior to the act coming into force, classified website Craigslist closed down its personal listings in a bid to make sure it did not face prosecution, arguing it could not risk jeopardising all of its other services in the event that its personal pages were misused. Reddit also took down pages relating to the sale of services that involve “physical sexual contact”.

On both sides of the Atlantic, sex worker advocates have said outlawing these types of websites is a disastrous idea, and will actually put prostitutes and trafficked persons in greater danger. Critics of the new US law argue that banning so-called prostitution websites prevents consensual sex workers from safely screening potential customers, and could actually aid traffickers by further isolating their victims. Many sex workers and trafficking victims use internet forums to access information and resources, raising fears that outlawing them could stop them from taking part in important conversations about education and safety. Speaking with Motherboard at the end of April, just after FOSTA had been signed into law, Laura LeMoon, co-founder and Director of harm reduction non-profit Safe Night Access Project Seattle, said she had seen evidence that the bill had actually increased sex trafficking, effectively pushing sex workers back into the hands of pimps.

In the UK, calls for a British equivalent of FOSTA have been met with similar opposition. As MPs debated the issue last week, a coalition of sex worker advocacy groups protested outside Parliament, describing the proposals as a “Trump-inspired” effort to remove sex workers from the internet and put them into “more exploitative and harmful situations”. Writing for the Conversation in response to the debate, academic Belinda Brooks-Gordon told readers that banning so-called prostitution websites will simply drive sex workers underground or onto the back streets, placing both trafficked and consensual prostitutes in greater danger. A recent study conducted by the University of Leicester found that online tools and social media platforms had actually improved the safety of sex workers, “enabling independent working and greater control over working circumstances, and improving safety strategies”.

But despite the wide-ranging criticism of FOSTA and opposition to discussion of the introduction of a UK equivalent, it is indisputable that the internet plays a key role in facilitating the crimes of sex traffickers. In both America and the UK, trafficking gangs have routinely used classified listing services to advertise the sexual services of their victims. In Britain, sex traffickers regularly set up so-called “pop-up brothels”, where prostitutes are forced to work for short periods of time before being moved on to avoid police attention. Trafficking gangs use websites such as Vivastreet and Adultwork to advertise the services of their victims as they move from location to location, making it easy for them to set up shop in new areas. In February, Airbnb teamed up with US anti-trafficking charity Polaris in a bid to prevent the service being used by human traffickers who sexually exploit vulnerable women and girls. Days later, police in the Canadian city of Toronto warned that traffickers were renting out Airbnb properties and using them as pop-up brothels staffed by victims whose details were posted on classified listing websites.

While there is little doubt that organised crime networks are using online personal listing services to sell the sexual services of trafficking victims, all manner of other online platforms are all too often used by criminals to facilitate a range of different forms of criminality, be it people smuggling, drug dealing or child sexual exploitation. Rather than banning online services that are used by consensual sex workers, the UK Government would be better advised to avoid following America’s lead and instead work with the industry on developing new methods to better identify cases in which personal listings are being used by sex traffickers. Pursuing the US model will only result in pushing sex trafficking further underground, and consensual sex workers being exposed to greater risk. As banning so-called prostitution websites will do little to tackle the problem of sex trafficking, legislators should look to address the root causes of the problem, rather than one of the symptoms.

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NGO Traffic warns of rise in international trafficking of glass eels

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Traffic warns of rise in international trafficking of glass eels

Wildlife trade monitoring network Traffic has warned of an increase in the international trafficking of glass eels as the new fishing season gets underway across Europe.

Urging law enforcement agencies across the continent to remain vigilant for wildlife smugglers involved in the illegal trade of eel species, the NGO noted that the European Eel is considered to be critically endangered on the IUCN Red List.

Regulators ended the international commercial eel trade to or from the EU back in 2010 after member states concluded it was too risky to allow it to continue, and imposed a zero-import/export policy that still remains in place today.

In a statement, Hiromi Shiraishi, Traffic’s eel trade expert, said: “Illegal trade in European Eels, particularly glass eels, is the most serious wildlife crime issue the EU currently faces

“Traffickers exploited the last fishing season as an opportunity to smuggle glass eels to lucrative Asian markets and while TRAFFIC applauds the professional and intelligence-led criminal investigations which helped to disrupt the organised criminal syndicates orchestrating the trafficking, Traffic urges relevant authorities to ensure they prevent further smuggling this season—European Eel populations simply cannot withstand the sustained illegal offtake.”

Earlier this month, Europol announced that police forces across Europe confiscated 5,789kgs of smuggled glass eels with an estimated value of €11.58 million ($12.6 million) during the 2018/19 fishing season.

The latest edition of Operation Lake, which was coordinated by Europol, Eurojust, Interpol and the EU Wildlife/CITES Enforcement Group, saw the detention of more than 150 suspected eel traffickers, and the reintroduction of all seized eels back into their natural habitat.

Huge quantities of European eels are smuggled out of EU member states every year by traffickers seeking to profit from demand for the animal in Asia, where its meat is considered a delicacy and domestic stocks are too low to meet high local demand.

At the end of October, the AFP news agency reported that two Chinese nationals had each been handed 10-month jail terms and slapped with fines of €7,000 by a court in France after being convicted of attempting to smuggle 60kgs of live baby eels in their luggage onto a flight to China.

The man and woman were stopped by customs officers at Paris Charles de Gaulle airport and were found to be in possession of the eels, which were contained in plastic bags filled with water inside four suitcases.

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Woman carrying cannabis bricks in bogus baby belly arrested by Argentine police

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cannabis bricks in bogus baby belly

Law enforcement officers in Argentina have arrested a woman close to the South American country’s border with Chile for attempting to smuggle cannabis concealed inside a fake baby bump.

The woman was searched after police discovered that her travelling companion was in possession of a smaller quantity of cannabis while the pair were on a long-distance coach journey from the city of Mendoza to Caleta Olivia in province of Santa Cruz.

After stopping the pair at a police checkpoint in Valle de Uco close to Mendoza, police found that the woman had hidden 15 packages of cannabis in her bogus baby bump.

The man with whom she was travelling was discovered to be in possession of two packages of the drug in his hand luggage.

Police stopped the pair while conducting routine checks on passengers using the coach route.

In total, the woman and the man were found to be carrying in excess of 4.5kgs of cannabis.

The improvised fake pregnancy bump was held together with a starch-based paste and secured to the woman’s stomach to make it appear as though she was with child.

Posting a picture of the fake baby belly on Twitter, Argentine security minister Patricia Bullrich told her followers: “She made a belly with glue, and hid 15 packages of marijuana inside it while pretending to be pregnant and attempted to move it from Mendoza to Santa Cruz .

“Police arrested the false pregnant woman and her accomplice, preventing her from trafficking the drugs she was carrying.”

In a statement, Argentine police said: “While carrying out control checks, officers stopped a group travelling from Mendoza to Caleta Olivia.

“During the inspection, police observed that a passenger was carrying a black bag that contained two brick-like packages.

“Continuing with their inspection, officers came across a young woman who had a lump in her belly, pretending to be pregnant.

“The two passengers were asked to get off the bus and were later arrested.”

In September 2013, the BBC reported that police in Colombia had arrested a Canadian woman when she attempted to board a flight to Toronto while wearing a fake baby belly that was filled with cocaine.

Police said the woman was searched after she became agitated when asked by a customs officer how far along she was with her pregnancy.

She was found be carrying two sealed bags that contained 2kgs of cocaine.

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Lithuanian and Spanish police smash violent sex trafficking gang that forced scores of women to work as prostitutes

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Lithuanian and Spanish police smash violent sex trafficking gang

A joint operation carried out by law enforcement agencies from Lithuania and Spain has resulted in the break-up of an organised crime network that trafficked women for the purposes of prostitution.

In a day of action coordinated by investigators from both countries, and supported by Europol and Eurojust, 50 searches were conducted at several locations across the two nations, resulting in the seizure of a quantity of cash, drugs, counterfeit documents, weapons and ammunition.

The operation also saw the detention of two leaders of the criminal network in Spain, the arrest of 13 suspected members of the gang in Lithuania, and the identification of 118 suspected trafficking victims from a number of countries including Ukraine and Belarus.

In a statement, Lietuvos Policija said the effort was the result of a two-year investigation into the illegal activities of the trafficking network, which is said to have used extreme violence to force victims to work as prostitutes in Lithuania.

Those arrested are said to have previously been convicted of a range of offences, including robbery, human trafficking, profiting from prostitution, and criminal damage.

All of those held, who were taken into custody where they are currently awaiting trail, have had their assets temporarily frozen.

“Europol supported the investigation by providing coordination and analytical support since the early stages of the joint investigation in 2018,” Europol said.

“Europol supported the action day by providing on-the-spot technical and analytical support in Lithuania and Spain, and by activating the virtual command post to speed up operational information exchange.

“Europol also deployed experts to Lithuania to cross-check operational information in real-time against Europol’s databases.”

Last week, four members of an eastern European sex trafficking gang were jailed for a total of over 36 years for smuggling Slovakian women to Scotland and forcing them into sham marriages, slavery or prostitution.

Vojtech Gombar, Anil Wagle, Jana Sandorova and Ratislav Adam were convicted in October of what the High Court in Edinburgh was told were “utterly repugnant” crimes.

Back in February, a pair of brothers from Romania who trafficked women into Spain before forcing them to work as prostitutes were handed jail terms totalling 108 years.

A Spanish court heard Cristian and Sebastián Sandulache, who were said to have made as much as €11,000 ($12,096) a night by forcing their victims to sell sex, inserted metal balls into their penises in order to cause maximum pain to their rape victims.

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