Education and increased awareness needed to detect and identify human trafficking
A study commissioned by the Ministry of the Interior examined the reflection periods granted to victims of human trafficking during which the victims can decide whether to cooperate with the authorities in apprehending those suspected of human trafficking. The study also examined how suspicion of trading in sexual services was applied as grounds for denial of admittance or stay.
The study carried out by the European Institute for Crime Prevention and Control (HEUNI) aimed to find out whether there are any challenges or shortcomings in legislation, its application or in the practices of the authorities that prevent the detection of human trafficking and, consequently, prevent the referral of victims of sexual abuse in particular to assistance, prevent the realisation of their rights, and thus also the enforcement of criminal liability. The report is based on implementation of the Action Plan aganst Trafficking in Human Beings from 2021.
The report covers the period 2015–2021. It is based on written decision material from the Assistance System for Victims of Human Trafficking, the police and the Finnish Border Guard as well as interviews of 17 specialists and one expert by experience. The interviewees represented the police, the Finnish Border Guard, the Assistance System for Victims of Human Trafficking managed by the Joutseno reception centre and organisations assisting victims. As far as possible, the materials for the study were analysed both quantitatively and qualitatively.
Reflection period was considered a good practice in general
Under the Aliens Act, a victim of trafficking in human beings may be granted a reflection period of at least thirty days and a maximum of six months before issuing a residence permit. The reflection period is intended for legalising the stay of a suspected victim of human trafficking who is residing in the country without the right of residence. During the reflection period, the victim can begin to recover from the experience and consider cooperation with the police.
During the period examined for the study, 78 new reflection periods were granted, 73 of which were granted by the Assistance System for Victims of Human Trafficking. The authorities and experts interviewed for the report generally considered the reflection period a good practice as it gives the victims of human trafficking time to consider cooperation with the police. The reflection period promotes recovery and may also increase the victim’s trust in the authorities. The challenges related to the reflection period included the lack of information by the criminal investigation authorities on the possibility to grant a reflection period, the unpredictable length of the reflection period and the grounds for suspending the reflection period in a situation where the victim has re-established relations with persons suspected of human trafficking.
Fear of denial of stay is a challenge
Under the Aliens Act, a foreign national may be denied stay if there are reasonable grounds to suspect that they may sell sexual services. According to the report, this grounds for denial of stay was applied only rarely in recent years. In 2015–2021, a total of 75 decisions on denial of admittance or stay were made on the basis of suspicion of trading in sexual services, and the number has decreased in recent years.
According to the report, it is often difficult for criminal investigation authorities to identify whether the trading in sexual services involves human trafficking and abuse. The threat of denial of admittance or stay may hamper the detection of human trafficking, as migrants selling sex fear denial of stay and a possible entry ban. In the worst case, denial of stay may increase the vulnerability of people already in a difficult position, and it therefore does not promote the detection of human trafficking or the enforcement of criminal liability.
Awareness of the authorities must be increased
The report gives several recommendations aimed at improving the detection and identification of human trafficking, thereby promoting the rights of victims and the enforcement of criminal liability in Finland. Firstly, the report recommends that criminal investigation authorities receive more training in order to increase their awareness about the possibility to grant reflection periods. In addition, it proposes that trading in sexual services as grounds for denial of admittance or stay be removed from the Aliens Act.
Based on the study, possible needs for legislative amendments or other development measures can be assessed.
Senior Programme Officer Anniina Jokinen, HEUNI, tel. +358 50 351 7044, [email protected]
Senior Specialist Roope Jokinen, Ministry of the Interior, tel. +358 295 488 362, [email protected]