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.
European police agencies seize 550 tonnes of counterfeit pesticides in latest edition of Operation Silver Axe
The latest instalment of a Europol-coordinated operation targeting agricultural fraudsters has resulted in the seizure of 550 tonnes of counterfeit pesticides across Europe and the arrest of three individuals.
Now in its fourth year, Operation Silver Axe, which is supported by the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) and involves law enforcement agencies in nearly 30 countries, saw investigators in search of fake pesticides carry out inspections at major seaports, airports and land borders.
Law enforcement officials in 29 participating nations also searched production and repackaging facilities looking for pesticide products that had not been tested to make sure they pose no risk to the environment or the health and safety of users, consumers and members of the public.
First launched in 2012, Operation Silver Axe is also intended to target the sale of counterfeit pesticides that infringe intellectual property rights such as trademarks, patents and copyright.
The bogus pesticides seized during this year’s operation would have been enough to spray 49,000km2 (30,447m2), an area the equivalent to the whole of Estonia.
Ahead of this year’s operation, OLAF provided participating nations with intelligence on 120 suspicious shipments of pesticides transported into member states.
Last year’s operation, which took place across 27 countries, saw investigators confiscate some 360 tonnes of illegal or counterfeit pesticides.
Since its inception seven years ago, Operation Silver Axe has resulted in 1,222 tonnes of illegal and fake counterfeit products being removed from circulation.
In a statement, Hans Mattaar, Technical Director of the European Crop Care Association (ECCA) said: “Every new Silver Axe operation shows how improving cooperation between law enforcement agencies leads to more efficiency in the fight against illegal pesticides.
“ECCA is pleased to see the result of Silver Axe IV, but at the same time concerned about the ongoing illegal business.
“We look forward to continuing our contribution to Europol in broadening the scope of Silver Axe.
“To increasing the pressure is the only way to discourage to discourage the criminal organisations behind this illegal trade.”
According to the European Crop Protection Association, the illicit global trade in counterfeit pesticides is growing at a swift rate, with increasing amounts of bogus agricultural products being sold to farmers across the globe by organised criminal networks.
The agency warns that fake pesticide products could be made from chemicals that are banned or restricted, and may lead to the total loss of treated crops, potentially compromising the livelihood of farmers.
It is estimated that counterfeit pesticides make up some 15% of the global $60 billion crop protection market.
Criminal money mule recruiters increasingly targeting middle-aged Britons, UK fraud prevention agency finds
A new report from UK fraud prevention service Cifas has revealed that criminals ae increasingly targeting middle-aged Britons in a bid to persuade them to act as money mules.
In the latest edition of its annual Fraudscape study, Cifas said that it received more than 40,000 cases which “bore the hallmarks” of money mule activity in 2018, which was up 26% compared to the previous year.
While a rise in money mule activity was recorded across all age groups, the largest increase (35%) was seen among those aged between 41 and 60 last year.
Money mules agree to allow their bank accounts to be used by criminals to launder the proceeds of their illegal activities, and are typically offered a cut of the money they move as a commission, or high-value items such as expensive trainers in return.
Recruiters typically target potential mules online via social media platforms, historically seeking out young male victims who might be in financial difficulty, such as the unemployed or students.
While Cifas’ latest report shows that young people under the age of 30 are still by far the primary target of money mule recruiters, last year saw a marked rise in the number of older people becoming involved in the crime, albeit from a very low starting point.
More widely, the report reveals that Cifas members recorded almost 324,000 cases of fraud last year, which was up 6% on 2017.
Commenting on the contents of the study, Cifas CEO Mike Haley said: “Fraud in the UK continues to rise and fraudsters are constantly finding new methods of committing fraud.
“From identity theft through to using the young and naïve as money mules to launder money, the economic and social harm to the nation is growing.
“The only way to fight the threat is to combine communication and collaboration, working together to present a united front against the perpetrators.”
Acting as a money mule might seem like an easy way to make some quick cash, but those caught allowing their accounts to be used for the laundering of the proceeds of criminal activities can face stiff penalties, and will rarely be able to plead ignorance if they are caught.
Back in April of this year, police in Ireland warned students thinking of acting as money mules that they could face as many as 14 years behind bars if they allowed their bank accounts to be used by criminals to launder money.
Wastewater analysis shows Australians taking more methamphetamine, heroin and MDMA
Consumption of heroin and MDMA has risen to the highest levels ever recorded in Australia by an annual study that measures the presence of illicit substances in the country’s wastewater.
The seventh National Wastewater Drug Monitoring Programme report, released by the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC), also showed that Australians now use twice as much methamphetamine as any other illicit drug.
According to the study, Australia ranks second for methamphetamine and MDMA use among 25 countries that produce comparable stimulant data, but has relatively low comparative cocaine consumption.
The study revealed that while the consumption of nicotine and alcohol fell across the country in the 12 months to December last year, use of methamphetamine continued to outstrip the consumption of all other illicit drug types and pharmaceuticals.
The report estimates that Australia’s annual consumption of methamphetamine has reached nearly 10 tonnes, which compares to just over four tonnes of cocaine, and 750kgs of heroin.
Australian drug users are thought to favour synthetic narcotics on account of the cost and expense of shipping substances such as heroin and cocaine into the country from the regions in which they are grown.
The study also found that while use of synthetic opioid fentanyl plateaued in the final six months of 2018, oxycodone consumption rose over the same period.
On a regional basis, South and Western Australia were found to have the highest average use of methamphetamine, while Victoria had the highest rate of heroin consumption, and New South Wales the top level of cocaine use.
Unveiling the latest edition of the report, Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission Chief Executive Officer Michael Phelan said: “The Australian community continues to consume illicit drugs at concerning levels and the National Wastewater Drug Monitoring Program is providing an important, unified and consistent guiding tool for developing holistic drug responses.
“We are only now starting to realise the full benefits of the ongoing programme.”
The study found that average heroin consumption decreased in both capital city and regional areas, while average cannabis consumption increased in both city and regional sites.
The ACIC noted that the report covered 54% of the Australian population, which equates to about 12.6 million people, and that 50 wastewater treatment plants across Australia participated in the December 2018 collection, monitoring the consumption of 13 substances.
Earlier this month, the Australian Border Force (ABF) announced that it had seized 1.6 tonnes of methamphetamine, which was said to have been the largest shipment of the drug ever discovered in the country.
- Western nations must ban the ‘transplant tourism’ that is costing Chinese prisoners of conscience their lives
- European police agencies seize 550 tonnes of counterfeit pesticides in latest edition of Operation Silver Axe
- Criminal money mule recruiters increasingly targeting middle-aged Britons, UK fraud prevention agency finds
- Wastewater analysis shows Australians taking more methamphetamine, heroin and MDMA
- European Union funds new coalition to tackle online wildlife traffickers across member states
9 February 2018
9 February 2018
8 February 2018
28 November 2017
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