Official Corruption and Human Trafficking: Power perverting justice to victimize those God loves

“There’s a God who sits on high, but he looks down low!” That’s a pretty apt paraphrase of the words of the Psalmist (Psa.138:6 – Though the LORD is on high, he looks upon the lowly, but the proud he knows from afar.)2015_TIP_REPORT_Cover_200_1

I’ve recently been reviewing the US State Department’s Annual Trafficking in Persons Report, released earlier this summer – particularly looking for lessons to be learned in Europe.

I began to discern a thread running through many of the “country narratives”: corruption. The turning of the mechanisms of justice by the powerful to abuse and victimize the weak.

I’ve excerpted some of these summaries to give you an idea about how the problem of human trafficking is NOT just a result of “people having made bad decisions and paying the consequences” (the sort of victim-blaming mentality that I still encounter far too frequently). Nor is it a problem of isolated victimization. When the “powers that be” are turned to serve the interests of those who abuse the weak and powerless, I am quite certain that God takes note. Do we?

At first blush, stories of official corruption can make US feel powerless – (how can WE change this messed-up system?) That’s exactly what the abusers are hoping. But we CAN unite our voices, our vision, our actions toward shining the light on corruption high and low… and in doing so we know that we are aligned with a powerful and just God whose Body we are.

So please – read, contemplate, react… and speak up and act. Join me in praying that God will empower us – individually and collectively – to act on behalf of those who are the victims. Let’s worry a little less about how “the culture” makes thing uncomfortable for us and start focusing the power the church has to advocate for those abused and to STAND UP against those who pervert justice.

Albania: Corruption and high rates of turnover within the police force inhibit law enforcement action to address trafficking. Official complicity in trafficking crimes remains a significant concern. A sitting member of Parliament had prior convictions for trafficking-related crimes….

corruptedBosnia: Police corruption creates an environment enabling some trafficking crimes. … local police accept bribes or sexual services in exchange for notifying brothel and nightclub owners in advance of police raids, while others work at establishments where forced prostitution takes place…

Bulgaria: Government corruption creates an environment enabling some trafficking crimes… police officers accused of bribery and blackmail, due in part to soliciting bribes from pimps… Investigations of other police officers included recruiting victims, forcing a woman into prostitution, and warning traffickers of planned police raids. (P)olice and prosecutors rarely pursued high-profile traffickers, and action against traffickers exploiting Bulgarian victims within the country was minimal… prosecutors arbitrarily drop charges against defendants… A former municipal councilor charged with leading an organized crime group involved in human trafficking.

Cyprus: Official complicity involving at least two senior officials and one former official who solicited services from a sex trafficking victim. The case was acquitted after the court ruled the victim’s testimony was unreliable. A police immigration official acquitted in 2012 for alleged involvement in a sex trafficking case won his suit against the government contesting his dismissal. He was rehired and placed in charge of the immigration service at Larnaca Airport(!)

Turkish Republic of North Cyprus” – police raid “nightclubs” (and) arrest of possible victims of trafficking… authorities complicit in facilitating trafficking… police retaining passports upon arrival of women “working in night clubs”… There was no “law” that punished traffickers who confiscate workers’ passports or documents, change contracts, or withhold wages to subject workers to servitude… Police confiscate victims’ passports, reportedly to protect them from abuse by nightclub owners who confiscated passports. Foreign victims who voiced discontent about the treatment they received are routinely deported… Victims of trafficking serving as material witnesses against a former employer were not entitled to find new employment and resided in temporary accommodation arranged by the police; experts reported women were accommodated at night clubs.

France: In July 2014, the government launched a preliminary investigation into allegations that French soldiers stationed in the Central African Republic forced boy refugees to perform sex acts for money and food…

Greece: Police reported suspending several corrupt police officers involved in bribery, blackmail, and the exploitation of women. A criminal ring involved in the sexual exploitation of foreign women; the alleged ringleader was a policeman… police officers arrested for involvement in a sex trafficking ring and charged with providing internal police information to traffickers…

Italy: Official complicity in human trafficking crimes occurs at the local level… Despite incidents of local government officials involved in trafficking, the government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government officials complicit in trafficking offenses.

Kosovo: Government corruption creates an environment enabling some trafficking crimes. Several police officers, labor ministry officials, and other government officials have been charged or convicted of trafficking crimes.

corruptionLithuania: The approximately 4,000 boys and girls institutionalized in state-run orphanages are especially vulnerable. Officials of several orphanages are allegedly complicit or willfully negligent to the sex trafficking of girls and boys under their care… reports of children subjected to trafficking or vulnerable to trafficking by complicit officials in the orphanages. Investigators, police, prosecutors, and judges did not receive sufficient training to more consistently apply the anti-trafficking statute or to treat victims appropriately.

Macedonia: Traffickers frequently use a portion of the proceeds from exploiting victims to bribe police and labor inspectors. Police have been investigated and convicted for complicity in human trafficking… police and labor inspectors reportedly accept bribes related to trafficking crimes. A police officer was prosecuted for organizing a criminal group for migrant smuggling and human trafficking…

Corruption in the judicial system poses an acute challenge for bringing traffickers to justice. Official complicity in trafficking is a significant problem in Moldova. … The government increased law enforcement efforts, but judicial corruption hindered the successful conviction and sentencing of traffickers…  The government did not initiate any prosecutions of officials for trafficking-related crimes in 2014. Courts convicted only one complicit official, a police investigator sentenced to three years’ imprisonment for compelling a person into prostitution, though two of those years were suspended. The government prosecuted the head of a human rights agency for forcing children to beg in Russia and a bailiff for compelling two persons into prostitution. In January 2015, police placed under house arrest the director of Fashion TV-Moldova while investigating his involvement in human trafficking and related crimes; the suspect previously headed the interior affairs ministry’s division to combat organized crime and worked in the anti-trafficking center. Courts acquitted the former head of the Biathlon Federation of Moldova of child trafficking charges and applied a 3,000 leu ($164) fine for organizing illegal migration.  No verdict yet in a 2013 case against a police officer who allegedly accepted a bribe to convince his colleagues to close the investigation of a trafficking case. The government’s appeal of a June 2013 Supreme Court decision that overturned the conviction of the head of a child trafficking ring was rejected as inadmissible. Observers suspected corruption in the anti-trafficking center’s investigative section and expressed concern over inaction by local and regional law enforcement officials on trafficking cases… the government does not adequately protect victims participating in investigations and prosecutions. Shelters have little security and corruption undermines police protection.

Scales-of-InjusticeRussia: Criminal cases involve Russian officials facilitating trafficking in Russia, for instance by facilitating victims’ entry into Russia, providing protection to traffickers, and returning victims to their exploiters. Employers sometimes bribe Russian officials to avoid enforcement of penalties for engaging illegal workers.

Foreign victims of trafficking in Serbia are from neighboring countries including Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Romania, and Moldova. Bribery reportedly influences some trafficking cases.

Spain: Police and other officials have been investigated, charged, and convicted for complicity in human trafficking crimes.

Turkey: While NGOs claimed some officials were complicit in the trafficking of Syrians, the government’s investigation of such claims found no evidence of trafficking crimes.

Ukraine:  The approximately 82,000-200,000 children institutionalized in state-run orphanages are especially vulnerable to being subjected to trafficking. Officials of several state-run institutions and orphanages are allegedly complicit or willfully negligent to the sex and labor trafficking of girls and boys under their care.… the government’s anti-trafficking capacity was constrained by the need to dedicate resources to improving the security situation caused by Russian aggression. Government efforts were also constrained by poor coordination at the national level, a lack of understanding in government agencies about the issue, and corruption, which undermined governance and the rule of law… The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government officials complicit in human trafficking offenses, despite reports of government corruption and official complicity in the sex and labor trafficking of children housed in state-run institutions and orphanages… Courts have the authority to order compensation for victims that sought restitution, but the administration of these decisions was hampered by unavailability of assets, corruption, and low effectiveness of the enforcement process.

UK: An independent inquiry detailed systematic child sexual exploitation, including sex trafficking, in the city of Rotherham between 1997 and 2013 and identified wide scale negligence and willful ignorance on the part of police and social services.

USA: The government reported at least four new instances of complicity of government officials in human trafficking. An Army service member was arrested on charges of sex trafficking involving a 17-year-old. A Navy service member was arrested in Hawaii on charges of sex trafficking a 16-year-old. Another Navy service member was investigated on allegations of child sex trafficking and was sentenced in Virginia to five years’ imprisonment on lesser charges.

Deut. 27:19 “Cursed be anyone who deprives the alien, the orphan, and the widow of justice.” All the people shall say, “Amen!”

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