Accurately understanding the phenomenon of trafficking in human beings (THB) is a persisting challenge with serious consequences on the capacity of criminal and social justice systems to counter it. In part, this is due to the inherent complexity of the crime, comprising a series of offences and manifesting itself in various forms exploitation and modus operandi. At the same time, the resistanceand ability of organised crime groups (OCGs) to adapt to external environmental changes presents anadditional challenge for all actors contributing to the prevention and countering of THB. In the past two years, three factors have driven change in the modi operandi of traffickers, further complicating the collection of reliable data and thus the ability to provide targeted response mechanisms. The first of these is the increasing digitization of the trafficking chain, from the recruitment of victims and advertisement of trafficked services to exploitation itself and movement of the proceeds. The second is the Covid-19 pandemic, which worsened socio-economic vulnerability, expedited digitalization, and changed the geography and forms of exploitation. The final factor is the mass displacement and subsequent humanitarian challenges resulting from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which has left millions-in precarious economic situations and more vulnerable to taking risks for the promise of housing, employment, and stability. Particular concern is reserved for minors, who are especially affected by the aforementioned factors fuelling changes in THB business models. The Covid-19 pandemic significantly reduced the number and frequency of contact that minors have with critical frontline staff, such as healthcare workers and teachers; it increased the time minors spent on the internet; and left many stuck at home with their exploiters. The forced displacement of 4.5 million Ukrainian children (of which 2 million abroad and 2.5million internally) further calls for enhanced efforts to prevent exploitation of precarious socio-economic and humanitarian crises, especially considering that long before the outbreak of the war, in 2018, Ukraine ranked 8th highest for number of third country victims of trafficking identified within the EU2. When preventing, investigating and prosecuting for THB, as well as when offering assistance and protection to its victims, it is fundamental that these particular vulnerabilities, be they due to sex, age, nationality, socio-economic status or any intersection of these and other factors, are taken adequately into account. Similarly, it is essential that external factors that affect the business models of traffickers are consistently monitored and responded, with particular reference to the digitalization of the trafficking chain.
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In the INTERCEPTED project the IPoS, together with the partners, will focus on two points of interception of the trafficking chain: recruitment and advertisement, consistently considering the ways in which methods differ in terms of language, platforms, targets, and strategies, according to the type of exploitation and profiles of the victims. INTERCEPTED focuses on disrupting the digital business models of traffickers, considering how evidence and strategiesidentified in the cyberspace can be used in concrete investigative, prevention, and protective measures in the physical world. It willtarget priority 3 of the call for proposals, aiming to strengthen the digital capabilities of law enforcement and judicial authorities in theframework of public-private cooperation, through a better and unbiased understanding of the phenomenon, an enhanced capacity to stayon-top of online trends from a technological and a policing perspective, and new tools for the detection and responses of recruitment forand advertisement of trafficked services online, fully exploiting the potentiality of the OSINT-HUMINT-SIGINT cycle. INTERCEPTEDis managed by public private partners led by the Prosecutor Office of Trieste, Italy, in cooperation with the Greek Ministry of Interior,and 3 foundations specialized in security and prevention.INTERCEPTED will elicit key trends in online recruitment and advertisementfor THB; design, develop and pilot customised investigative technologies for THB; develop all necessary training.