Organized Crime
last updated September 1, 2005


Organized crime rings operate throughout Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union and are connected to organized crime throughout the world. Organized crime in the region includes activities such as money laundering, racketeering, extortion, bribery of public officials, trafficking of narcotics and weapons, and trafficking of women and children. According to the United Nations Center for International Crime Prevention:

Over the last decades, smuggling and trafficking have become a major activity and source of income of criminal organizations, at the national and international levels. Different criminal networks, both local and transnational, are facilitating and/or managing smuggling and sexual exploitation, while making substantial profits. . . . An ever increasing networking among different organized crime groups provides for economies of scale and for full control of the smuggling-trafficking sequence; from smuggling to the control of sex markets.



From Global Program against Trafficking in Human Beings: an outline for action, Center for International Crime Prevention and the United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute (1999). Citing Paul Holmes, author of the Regional Anti-Trafficking Law Enforcement Manual for South-Eastern Europe, the United Nations Development Program estimates that trafficking generates at least US$7 billion a year and, after drugs and weapons, has become the third largest criminal business worldwide.

The Center for International Crime Prevention also points out that the development of effective counter-trafficking strategies, at both the national and international levels, is hindered by the lack of research on "the size, nature and development of organized crime involvement [in trafficking]." The fact that criminal enterprises conduct much of their recruitment activities through legitimate front businesses, for example newspaper advertising, local travel agencies or visa services, makes it difficult to track who is conducting the illegal activity. Furthermore, local recruiters may often be acquaintances or family members (frequently they are women who were once victims of trafficking themselves) who have little information about the structure of the larger criminal enterprise. Thus, because of the difficulties in gathering high-level criminals, people with low-level involvement in trafficking are most often prosecuted.

Complicating information gathering and prosecution, trafficked individuals are either reluctant or unable to report traffickers or cooperate with authorities because of lack of confidence in the police and judicial system or because of the inadequate protection system once they do cooperate.  Guideline #5 of the Recommended Principles and Guidelines on Human Rights and Human Trafficking calls for ensuring an adequate law enforcement response to trafficking, which is made difficult because it is “dependent on the cooperation of trafficked persons and other witnesses.”  The cooperation of trafficked persons then is dependent on an appropriate and thorough response from authorities that keeps the safety and rights of the victims at the center of their actions.

In an report entitled “Human Traffic, Human Rights: Redefining Victim Protection, research conducted on the practices of law enforcement and government officials when dealing with victims of trafficking found that “countries which fared better in prosecuting traffickers…were the…countries which also had the most comprehensive measures for assisting victims…”  A victim’s story from the report illustrates the difficulties in going for help after being trafficked and forced into prostitution in Italy and then England from Albania on the promise of a better job:

In Italy and in England Daniela never even thought about going to the police for help.  She had no faith in the police in Albania, whom she knew were corrupt and complicit in the trafficking of women; why, she thought, would police be different anywhere else?  She was also scared of what would happen to her family.

The transnational and highly-organized criminal dimensions of trafficking make it unique from other forms of violence against women. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that advocate for women's rights must therefore approach the problem of trafficking with an understanding of the potential danger involved, the possibility of government complicity in trafficking and the need to cooperate extensively with NGOs in other countries.