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The Human Trafficking Initiative Series - Criminal Threats and EU Response

May 2, 2022

Speaker: Filippo Spiezia, National Member for Italy, Italian National Desk, Eurojust
Moderator: Alexandra Malangone, Associate Fellow, Johns Hopkins SAIS Europe
Intro and closing: Sara Pennicino, Adjunct Professor of International Law, Johns Hopkins SAIS Europe

Filippo Spiezia begins his talk with an overview of his latest publication, Criminal Threats and EU Response: An Atlas of Crime. He notes that he wrote the book as a way to reflect upon the work of his organization as well as the accomplishments and shortcomings linked to contrasting organized crime, including fight against human trafficking in Europe and beyond. He furthermore highlights that the book has prompted research and subsequent work in the field. Spiezia frames the discussion in the context of his publication and notes the key concepts, challenges, and recommendations for combating organized crime, including human trafficking.

Spiezia talks about the issue of human trafficking as economic, profit-driven crime perpetrated primarily by organized criminal groups. These groups are the ones that benefit the most from exploitation of human beings, which generates profit to invest. Likewise, the management of these criminal activities is complex and requires strong cross-sectoral partnerships to combat them effectively. It requires coordination between partner organizations, law enforcement, and even between countries. Finally, Spieza notes the international and digital dimensions of human trafficking as examples of current and future challenges.

He then moves on to major challenges that organizations and law enforcement face in the fight against human trafficking. First, he notes the difficulty in determining the successes of human trafficking prosecutions and convictions. Next, he proposes a question about the role that organizations such as Eurojust can play. Specifically, policy makers and legislators should lay out specific provisions for a concrete and well-defined role for organizations such as these.

The discussion then moves to concrete recommendations for preventing and fighting human trafficking. First, he notes the fundamental importance of a clear definition of exploitation. Specifically, he gave a variety of examples of differing legal definitions in countries of the European Union. Without a unified understanding of the concept, there is difficulty in unifying policy responses. Second, Spiezia considers the penalties of human trafficking and the minimum thresholds for such penalties. He more specifically argues that national law enforcement organizations should approach human trafficking crimes as organized, mafia-type crime. Third, he notes the evolving challenge of human trafficking in the digital sphere. The digital dimension has given organized crime opportunities to exploit victims as well as ways to elude law enforcement. Fourth, he highlights the importance of financial investigations in countering human trafficking networks. Because organized criminal groups use human trafficking for generating profit, only investigations in the financial realms of these organizations can produce results to disrupt these activities. Finally, he argues that the enlargement of jurisdictions is critical to prosecuting and convicting criminals.

Spiezia ends the discussion with brief remarks on the war in Ukraine as an acute area of concern regarding organized crime operations including for human trafficking. It is important to raise awareness about the specific modus operandi of organized crime trafficking networks in mass displacement situations in this context and to understand how to counter it. He concludes that human trafficking networks are improving and have been highly capable, but he notes that law enforcement and other organizations have done and continue doing tremendous work to counter these crimes.