Senior police officers and security experts from across Europe have gathered today in Noordwijk, Netherlands, for a three-day regional conference. They will discuss policing and international security issues such as terrorism, human trafficking, illegal immigration, cybercrime, and the drug trade. RFE/RL interviews Hamish McCulloch, the assistant director of Interpol and the head of the agency's human-trafficking subdirectorate. He also discusses the problems of both trafficking and child pornography on the Internet.
Question: What is the state of cooperation between Interpol member countries in order to tackle this kind of cross-border crime?
McCulloch: I want to emphasize that we concentrate on the organized criminal groups which actually orchestrate the movement of people. [As for] the actual people who are smuggled, I think we need to look at those as victims of the criminal exploitation rather than criminals in their own right. And it's something which the organizers are making vast amounts of money out of. They are starting to diversify from the more traditional types of smuggling, of contraband and drugs, into the smuggling of people, because of the profits that can be made and because of the lower risks of detection and the less severe punishments that are actually dished or handed out by courts when their people are convicted.
Question: One of the main aspects of human trafficking is trafficking in women and children specifically for prostitution. How serious is this crime, and how successful is Interpol in bringing together police forces from across Europe, from the Balkans and Western Europe, to tackle this?
McCulloch: We have a specific project within my subdirectorate working on the trafficking of women and children for the sex industry predominantly. The last working meeting we actually had was only at the beginning of April and we had countries from many parts of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet states who attended that. Now the reception countries, obviously they realize they need to work with law enforcement in the countries where the women are being actually bought, sold, persuaded to leave their homes to travel to Western Europe. And certain western countries are actually sponsoring other law enforcement from, for example, Moldova, to actually travel to conferences to exchange information they have on the criminal groups involved. Now this crime area of trafficking is very much on the increase. The reasons for it are, if you look toward the tolerance levels, the sex industry in [Western] European countries particularly has risen over the years.
If you look at the tolerance level in France, in Germany, in the United Kingdom, and Belgium, and Spain, it's a much more acceptable level of openness to the sex industry and what's happening.... At the same time, because of the opportunities that have actually increased for women within their own countries in Western Europe, you have a reduction in the number of women who want to enter the sex industry in their own country. As a consequence, those people who are actually running the sex industry, many of those are criminals who are involved in other types of crime. They need to recruit women from somewhere to actually service the demand.
Question: In the Balkan countries, namely in Bosnia-Herzegovina and other areas where international peacekeeping troops are being stationed, this has been an area of concern for some time for many law enforcement agencies. Could you dwell upon this particular area -- trafficking of women within the Balkans?
McCulloch: Certainly, the Balkan region is a major source of women to Western Europe. Also, within the region itself, there is a growing number of women who are actually involved in the sex industry in that area. But, the truth of the matter is that the people who are actually running the sex industry in the richer countries, they will recruit women from wherever they possibly can. They will pay as little as possible and they actually manage to persuade women to leave their homes and their countries under the false promises of jobs or work -- some women know they will be entering the sex industry, but they don't know the extent of the actual suffering they'll be made to go through. It's very common practice to persuade a woman that she can work in Germany or the UK or France, and she can earn 100 euros ($115) a day, 200 euros a day quite easily, and the reality is that she will earn that much money and probably much more. However, she won't see any of it.
On arrival at the country where she's been trafficked to, tickets will be taken from her, visas will be taken from her, her passport will be taken from her, anything that she had been supplied with to make it appear as though she's actually on vacation or on a holiday and has means to support herself will be removed and, effectively, those women are imprisoned either financially or mentally or physically until they submit to entering the prostitution industry. And some of those women will be made to service as many as 10-15 clients every day. Now, the money that is made, they will see virtually nothing of it, and once she's made money for that particular criminal, she will then be sold on to another criminal.
And so, the actual recruitment is from the countries where they can possibly recruit people from, where they have contacts who speak the local language, who can persuade women to actually leave and basically say there is money to be earned there. Now the fact that the Balkan countries are relatively poor in comparison with some others is a reason why they're actually targeting those countries to recruit women from and they know that women in those regions can be persuaded to actually leave and move to the richer Western countries to -- well, they think -- work in restaurants or bars or work as dancers, but certainly, they don't know the conditions they'll be working under.
So, it's not particularly because there is a region that they want to take women from, it's just a matter of where the women are available. And if you go to other parts of Eastern Europe, there is such a flow of women leaving the country, that you can actually see the reduction in the numbers of young women who are in society. It's something that law enforcement on an international basis have only just started working together on, because it was seen as it was noticed, there are more women who are actually in countries working in the sex industry who are actually from other parts of Europe or other parts of the world, and it's only in the last few years that they've actually started working together to target once again the organized criminals involved in the trafficking, not the women. And, of course, that's reflected in the UN convention on transnational organized crime, which specifically speaks about trying to protect the victims and giving them certain rights when they make complaints.
Question: How successful are European police forces in cooperating on the issue of human trafficking, particularly trafficking in women?
McCulloch: There are some good successes which are recorded. And I think although there are positive moves and there are certain criminal groups who have been infiltrated and prosecuted and arrested, things can only improve, which necessitates the exchange of information between law enforcement, hence the reason for being on the conference agenda here.
Question: Could you elaborate a little bit on cybercrime and especially child pornography on the Internet?
McCulloch: Child pornography on the Internet is something which now is widely available and I'm sure anybody with Internet access has probably received some message anonymously saying you can buy it if you want to. If you go back before the Internet was actually available or widely available, or even existed, then the same numbers of people had a sexual attraction to children, but it was much more difficult to actually obtain child pornography, which in reality is images of children being sexually abused. You couldn't walk into a shop and ask for it, because you risked, firstly, having people know that you are sexually interested in children and secondly, offending a vast majority of the population who would be angry and would actually report that person for trying to acquire that type of pornography.
With the introduction of the Internet, people can remain relatively anonymous and seek child pornography for their own gratification. So two groups have actually evolved: there's a group of people who are quite happy to exchange images of children being sexually abused between themselves, for their own sexual gratification, and then you have the commercial element, where people are developing websites, access to other websites to sell child pornography or access to child pornography for relatively small sums of money.
But the demand is enormous, and if I quote one site, one company in the United States, they operated for five months selling access to child pornography sites at $29.95 each, and they grossed $5.5 million in five months. The global demand is absolutely enormous and it's a demand from people who have a sexual attraction to children and they now have a source where they can find it and collect it and download it, and they can use it for their own sexual gratification.
Question: How important is cooperation between Interpol members in fighting this type of crime?
McCulloch: The reason the coordination is needed is because when people are in contact via the Internet on a global basis, you can't go and arrest one person and seize his computer and then another, because as soon as you do, they'll electronically notify everybody else that 'the police are on to us and dispose of what you have. So, in effect, everything has to be coordinated, arrests [made] simultaneously, at the same time. Since then we've been involved in many operations with member states from as far apart as the U.S., Canada, and Japan in the same operations with European countries. We regularly hold meetings of experts who come together to discuss what is new and what is available.
If you scan the Swedish media today, you will see details of an operation which involved the identification of many victims in a case which was known as 'Kindergarten.' Now those children are being identified as a direct result of bringing together law enforcement at Interpol and the supplying of images by Interpol to investigate this, to work on that. We've invested in a child pornography database, or a database of child abuse images which has a software that links images together into series so that we can actually supply law enforcement with the full picture of what is actually going on. And that software is something which we provide as a service to all member states and it's the only global database of child pornography that exists.
It's being worked on on a daily basis that all 181 Interpol members have access to it. At the current time, for many of those countries, child pornography is not a major problem because the Internet is not widely available in all member states. But certainly, in those countries where child pornography is available, and where people are collecting it, it's used to a wide extent.
The best way I can really describe how we've moved on is that the main object is to identify victims, that's the main objective of our work within the child pornography arena. When we started working two years ago, there were less than 30 victims who were known globally to law enforcement, who'd been identified. But that number has now risen to nearly 200 and although they are very small figures in comparison with the estimated 20,000 different children who appeared on the Internet being sexually abused, it is a significant increase in the number of identified victims whose pictures appeared there.