Data alliance between CBS and National Rapporteur on Trafficking

/ Author: Miriam van der Sangen
Girl on her mobile phone
© Hollandse Hoogte / Robin Utrecht
Human trafficking and sexual violence against children are extremely serious crimes that have disruptive effects on the lives and well-being of victims. Insight into these issues is vital if we are to help victims more effectively and prevent others from falling victim to these crimes. The National Rapporteur on Trafficking in Human Beings and Sexual Violence against Children (National Rapporteur) reports to the government on the nature and scope of both phenomena and makes recommendations aimed at improving the approach. To that end, the National Rapporteur uses data from CBS, among other sources.

Criminal law chain

The National Rapporteur periodically publishes both Offenders and Victims Monitors on trafficking in human beings and sexual violence against children. This is because the approach taken to offenders is inextricably linked to the protection of victims. The ‘Human Trafficking Offenders Monitoring Report 2015–2019' was published on 21 January 2021. This monitor provides insight into the number of offenders of various forms of human trafficking in the period 2015–2019. In addition, the monitor presents an overview of recent developments in the approach to human trafficking and paints a picture of offender characteristics, incidents and victims. Roos Broere, senior researcher to the National Rapporteur: ‘In order to identify the nature and extent of human trafficking, we use information from the entire criminal law chain, such as the police, the Public Prosecution Service and the probation service.’

Human trafficking mainly online

To monitor trends and developments, the National Rapporteur mostly uses registration data, but this is increasingly proving insufficient. Robbert Hoving, Head of the Office of the National Rapporteur: ‘Human trafficking is increasingly taking place online. In particular, social media, where offenders and victims meet, play an important role. We have seen this increase even further during the COVID-19 period. As such, we are constantly looking for new data to gain an insight into this problem. We also wish to make use of multiple sources to compensate for underreporting. Good and reliable data are an essential part of this. The same is true for the privacy safeguards for the data we receive. These were the reasons for deciding to work with CBS.’ Broere: ‘First, in a 2019 pilot with CBS for the Victims Monitor on sexual violence against children, we showed whether and in what way help was provided after the imposition of a protection measure for victims of sexual violence. This revealed that 15 percent had still not received any help after six months.’ The pilot proceeded successfully, after which CBS and the National Rapporteur entered into a data alliance.


Tackling offenders inextricably linked to protecting victims

Analysis of the figures

In the Netherlands, it is the police that are primarily responsible for detecting and investigating human trafficking. In order to be able to present data on the detection of human trafficking, the National Rapporteur has made use of non-public pseudonymised microdata from CBS, among other sources. Rianne Verwijs, project leader at CBS: 'We have databases of incidents, suspects and victims registered by the police, which the researchers of the National Rapporteur were able to use under very strict conditions. The privacy of the individuals concerned is fully guaranteed. The researchers analyse the figures themselves, after which CBS carefully reviews these analyses in the Offenders Monitor. The same goes for the methodological justification. This was all done in close consultation.’

The most striking findings

So what are the most striking findings in the Offenders Monitor? Hoving: 'The human trafficking offenders are very young, as are their victims. One in three offenders of sexual exploitation is under the age of 23. That they commit crimes at such a young age is a serious matter. It is urgent that we gain more knowledge about the backgrounds of these offenders. The same applies to the victims. Who are they and how can we help them?’ Another finding of the National Rapporteur concerns exploitative situations in the labour market, also known as labour exploitation. ‘This occurs in all sorts of sectors, such as the meat industry or agricultural sector that employ labour migrants from eastern European countries. The COVID-19 crisis has also revealed that the Dutch labour market hosts a great many vulnerable workers. However, the extent and nature of this is still unclear.’

Human trafficking at the local level

What is also striking is that the use of CBS data has now provided insight into human trafficking at the local level for the first time. Until now, no nationwide figures had been available. Broere: ‘The ten municipalities with the most human-trafficking incidents detected by the police include the four major cities: Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague and Utrecht. This list also includes municipalities such as Arnhem, Leeuwarden and Den Helder. For example, partly as a result of our information, the mayor of Arnhem now wants to combat human trafficking using a targeted approach.’

Future cooperation

Roos Broere and Robbert Hoving look back on the cooperation with CBS with great satisfaction. ‘We experienced the cooperation as very enjoyable. The CBS researchers are well informed about the subject and actively think along with us to find solutions. We therefore mainly view our current cooperation as a partnership. And that is also the reason we wish to continue it. There is still a lot to accomplish, especially in the area of regional data in combination with human trafficking.’ Rianne Verwijs also experienced the collaboration as highly effective and constructive: ‘In the period ahead, we are going to examine how, by enriching and deepening the data sources, we can contribute even more to the wish of the National Rapporteur to monitor the nature and scope of human trafficking and sexual violence against children as closely as possible.’