Trafficking for sexual exploitation may consist of coercing a person into prostitution, exploiting a person in the sex industry, or subjecting them to other forms of sexual abuse.
Psychological coercion and trauma bond are often used by traffickers to control their victims in complex ways that can be difficult to detect, e.g. through isolation, threats and humiliation in combination with occasional kindness towards the victim.
Victims of sexual exploitation may be forced to sign paperwork to establish fraudulent companies or take out loans or credit cards or claim benefits that are then used by the perpetrators to fund their criminal operations.
Recruitment and exploitation of victims taking place online are also increasingly common. Live streaming of sexual material causes problems, as it may be difficult to know whether the activity is done voluntarily or not.
The perpetrator may take advantage of the victim's vulnerable position (which may be brought on by e.g. poverty, disability, young age, or substance abuse), mislead them, threaten or blackmail them or their families, and/or trap them in debt bondage in order to subject them to sexual abuse.
Nowadays the criminals are less often organised. The offenders might be individual perpetrators and also the victim's close relatives.
Exploitation might not be visible for outsiders since the victims are not necessarily restricted from their everyday life activities. The offenders may pressure and force the victims in complex ways that are difficult to detect. These means of control lead to fear among the victims and prevent them from acting according to their own will.
The perpetrators or "pimps" often make travel and accommodation arrangements and create an online advertisement for sexual services, while collecting (inflated) fees from the victims' earnings.
Some victims are misled about the type of work they are recruited for, some start working in the sex industry willingly, but the conditions turn out to be exploitative, and some have existing vulnerabilities that make them easier targets for criminals.
Many of the trafficking victims with a Nigerian background have been exploited in Southern Europe.
Often the perpetrator, who is someone the victim knows, has lured them into Europe through promises of a study offer or a job. After arrival, the victims have been told that they owe the perpetrator a large sum of money and have to pay it back by selling sex.
Means of control include physical and psychological violence, threats to the victim's family members, and religious or spiritual coercion.
"Madams" who exploit the victims may have themselves been victims of trafficking before.
ICT platforms and forum-based advertisement sites in particular, are the main MO regarding marketing and contacting clients in the context of trafficking. Victims of trafficking and sex workers often use the same sites.
Live streaming of sexual material and "pay-as-you-go" video chat apps – difficult to identify who is a victim of trafficking.
Increased use of online platforms has influenced new forms of exploitation: e.g., so called sugar dating can be consensual, but it has also been associated with prostitution and different kinds of criminal activity.
A so-called lover boy method has been used reportedly by Romanian pimps in particular, where the pimp pretends to have romantic feelings for the victim or hires young men whose task is to make a girl, or a young woman fall in love with them.
Through this scheme, underage girls may be recruited into prostitution and once they turn 18, they are sent to work abroad. In some cases, the perpetrators lure the women abroad with promises of marriage and e.g., work in a hotel or a bar, and the reality is only unfolded in the destination country.
A Moldavian woman was looking for work abroad to financially support her ailing father. She found a website looking for escort workers and contacted the Romanian perpetrator. He told her that she could make up to 2 000 € a month. The perpetrator explained the deal to her: he would pay for all the travelling etc. costs, which would be deducted from the money she made from prostitution.
The perpetrator began controlling the victim in different ways. She gave all her earnings to the perpetrator. The victim received 500 € a week regardless of the actual amount earned. She was unaware of how much she had earned and what the actual costs were. Because her visa was expiring, she had to return to Moldova. She found out she was pregnant and returned to Finland because she needed money for the baby. Before giving birth, she travelled back home again with a small amount of money she received from the perpetrator.
The perpetrator eventually began recruiting more women into Finland. He worked with a person who recruited women from abroad. In total, they brought six women to Finland. The main perpetrator lived in the same apartment with the women. When the number of clients declined, he would yell at the women and start paying them more irregularly and in smaller sums.
In the spring of 2019, the main perpetrator was convicted of five counts of human trafficking and one count of pandering and sentenced for five and a half years of imprisonment.
The victims,most of them 18 to 20 years of age, had around 2 200 clients and earned almost 250 000 € in total. The perpetrator took almost 90 percent of the money to himself. The money made in this scheme was sent through Forex to several persons in Romania, Moldova, Great Britain, Russia and Latvia.
In 2016, the Lausanne Police established that an extremely violent OCG of 15 traffickers recruited in Romania around 15 young female victims using the 'loverboy' method and sexually exploited them in Lausanne. A parallel investigation was conducted in Romania. In May 2017, the case was opened at Eurojust by the Swiss liaison prosecutor. This had facilitated close coordination between the Swiss and Romanian judicial authorities, resulting in the signing of a JIT agreement in August 2017. On 16 January 2019, Swiss and Romanian investigators carried out simultaneous searches and hearings of 23 persons in an operation to dismantle the OCG. The criminal activity was estimated to have a value of more than EUR 2 million. During the Swiss investigation, one of the recruited Romanian victims suddenly disappeared at the end of November 2016. Two weeks later, the naked body of a young woman was found abandoned in a forest on the French territory. She died because of ill-treatment by unknown perpetrators. The investigations carried by the French and Swiss authorities made it possible to identify her as the disappeared victim of the OCG. Her murderer was one of her clients. He was arrested on 7 November 2017.