Law enforcers from over 20 European countries came together earlier this month to clamp down on human traffickers found using online platforms to exploit vulnerable people, including Ukrainian women.
The EMPACT joint action day was coordinated by the Netherlands and described by Europol as the first region-wide “hackathon” against human trafficking.
Some 85 experts participated in the event, designed to identify criminal networks using social media and dark web sites to exploit Ukrainian refugees and others.
It focused on determining the key indicators of this activity, which can be harder to spot than other crimes such as drug trafficking, Europol claimed.
“The internet and human trafficking are interlinked. Many social media platforms, dating apps and private groups online are being ‘hijacked’ by individuals involved in human trafficking for sexual or labor exploitation. These individuals are trying to mislead law enforcement and avoid detection,” Europol said.
“The joint efforts of law enforcement in the monitoring of platforms which may offer sexual services, recruitment, and the harboring or transportation of victims increases the intelligence picture. The international cooperation, exchange of knowledge, expertise and technology, served the better mapping out of this criminal landscape and served new investigations.”
The one-day event involved the monitoring of 114 sites, of which 30 were related to Ukrainian refugees. Some 53 online platforms suspected of links to human trafficking were investigated, including a handful on the dark web linked to child sexual exploitation.
Investigators identified 11 suspects and 45 possible victims, 25 of whom were Ukrainian.
Among the surface websites monitored for suspicious activity were dating platforms, “advertising and aid” platforms, forums and messaging applications, Europol said.
The event follows an earlier EMPACT joint action day in June this year, which identified 42 human trafficking suspects.