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.
Police in Spain smash sham marriage network that charged migrants €12,000 for bogus nuptials
Spanish police have arrested 30 suspected members of a sham marriage network that facilitated illegal immigration by setting up partnerships of convenience.
In an operation backed by Europol, investigators from Spain’s Policía Nacional carried out 11 raids on multiple residential and business premises, seizing more than €10,000 ($11,093) in cash along with evidence that indicted those detained were involved in the facilitation of illegal immigration and document fraud.
Members of the network are said to have set up sham marriages between male illegal immigrants and Spanish women, allowing the men to formalise their stay in the European Union.
Migrants seeking to avail themselves of the gang’s services would be charged as much as €12,000, with their bogus partners being paid €3,000 for agreeing to enter into fake marriages.
Members of the gang, which was made up of members of both Moroccan and Spanish origin, used a complex web of shell companies to facilitate the conspiracy, and had also set up a sophisticated money laundering operation, through which their profits were funnelled.
The network was based in the Valencia town of Sagunto, but also had bases in Morocco, Belgium, France and Italy, a fact that triggered the involvement of Europol.
In a statement, the EU law enforcement agency said: “Europol provided coordination and analytical support and facilitated the information exchange.
“On the action day, Europol also deployed experts on-the-spot to cross-check operational information in real time against Europol’s databases and to provide technical expertise.”
The investigation that led to the dismantling of the network was launched after Spanish police were alerted to potential irregularities in residence permit applications in Sagunto.
The two alleged leaders of network, a Spaniard and a Frenchman both of Moroccan origin, owned several companies in Sagunto, through which the Spanish women to whom migrants were married were employed.
Migrants who used the network’s services would either remain in Spain or be transported by the gang to France or Belgium.
Investigators arrested 17 suspects in Belgium and a further three in Portugal in a series of coordinated raids in an operation that targeted a network that was said to have paid women thousands of euros to marry the illegal immigrants.
Back in August 2018, law enforcement agencies in Romania and Poland held five members of an organised crime gang suspected of being behind the arrangement of sham marriages for Indian and Nepali nationals looking to gain access to the EU.
US scientists develop edible security tags to thwart drug counterfeiters
Researchers at Purdue University have created a small edible tag that can be embedded into medicines in order to prevent the counterfeiting of drugs.
In a paper published in the journal Nature Communications, scientists from the institution explain that drug counterfeiters would need to decipher complicated patterns not fully visible to the naked eye to get round the new security system.
The edible tags serve as digital fingerprints for individual pills and capsules, and are intended to help pharmacists verify the legitimacy of their stock before dispensing it to patients as well as being a method to discourage the counterfeiting of medicines.
According to the researchers, their invention uses an authentication technique called physical unclonable functions (PUF) that generate a different response each time they are stimulated, meaning that even drug manufacturers would not be able to recreate tags.
Taking the form of a transparent film made of silk and fluorescent proteins, the tags are easily digestible, meaning they can be consumed by patients when they take their mediation.
Commenting on the new technology, Jung Woo Leem, a postdoctoral associate in biomedical engineering at Purdue, said in a statement: “Our concept is to use a smartphone to shine an LED light on the tag and take a picture of it. The app then identifies if the medicine is genuine or fake.”
The tags currently last for at least two months before the proteins start to degrade, but Leem and his team are working on extending their life so as they can last until the expiry date of the drugs they are intended to protect.
As well as holding a security key that can verify the authenticity of medication, the tags could also hold other information, such as dosage instructions.
Leem has made two patent applications to protect the tags through the Purdue Research Foundation Office of Technology Commercialisation.
According to a report published by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in November 2017, 10% of all pharmaceutical products circulating in low and middle-income countries at that time were either fake or of substandard quality.
The WHO said the trade in illicit pharmaceuticals is controlled by major organised crime networks who often channel their profits into other forms of illicit activity.
In March of last year, Europol revealed that a crackdown it had led on the sale of illicit pharmaceuticals across 16 countries in 2018 resulted in the seizure of some 13 million doses of counterfeit or smuggled medicines.
British charity Dogs Trust warns pet lovers about being ‘dogfished’ by puppy smugglers
UK animal protection charity Dogs Trust has revealed that thousands of Britons may have been conned into buying puppies smuggled into the country illegally by organised criminal gangs in a practice it has dubbed “dogfishing”.
In a survey of 2,000 owners of puppies designed to establish how many may have purchased their pet from gangs that smuggled young dogs into the UK from countries in eastern Europe, the charity spoke with many animal lovers who described puppy dealers offering discounts for quick sales and lying about the age and breed of dogs.
The poll found that more than half (51%) of puppy buyers were not allowed to see the animal they were purchasing more than once, while 43% were not offered the chance to visit the puppy with its mother, which Dogs Trust described as two signs all might not be well.
Nineteen percent of respondents said they were not able to collect their puppy from the seller’s home, of whom a “worrying number” said they were asked to collect their new pet in a carpark or layby.
One woman told Dogs Trust how she was left heartbroken after purchasing a puppy that she saw advertised online on Christmas Eve, only to have to rush it to a vet for emergency treatment on Christmas Day because it had contracted parvo virus, a highly contagious and potentially fatal condition that causes lethargy, vomiting and diarrhoea.
The puppy had to be put down.
Launching a new campaign named Don’t Be Dogfished, Dogs Trust Veterinary Director said: “People think they are getting a healthy, happy puppy but behind the curtain lurks the dark depths of the puppy smuggling trade.
“Many of these poor puppies suffer significant health conditions or lifelong behavioural challenges, and sadly some don’t survive, leaving their buyers helpless and heartbroken – as well as out of pocket.
“This is why we are touring the country in a van like those used by puppy smugglers to educate the public on the shocking realities of the puppy smuggling trade and advising them how they can take action to avoid being ‘dogfished’.
“If it seems too good to be true, as hard as it is, walk away and report it.”
Many organised crime gangs across Europe have moved into puppy smuggling owing to the huge profit it returns for relatively little risk.
- Police in Spain smash sham marriage network that charged migrants €12,000 for bogus nuptials
- US scientists develop edible security tags to thwart drug counterfeiters
- British charity Dogs Trust warns pet lovers about being ‘dogfished’ by puppy smugglers
- PayPal agrees to help US NGO Polaris tackle human trafficking
- US border guards arrest 14-year-old boy with three packages of methamphetamine taped to his stomach
9 February 2018
9 February 2018
8 February 2018
28 November 2017
28 November 2017
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