Open access peer-reviewed chapter

Traffickers: Are They Business People, Psychopaths or Both?

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Jennifer Okeke, Mel Duffy and Rosaleen McElvaney

Submitted: February 18th, 2019 Reviewed: February 25th, 2020 Published: March 28th, 2020

DOI: 10.5772/intechopen.91882

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Human trafficking has become a very contentious issue, constituting one of the most grievous human rights violations and most lucrative activities for criminal gangs and individuals. The selling and buying of human beings as a commodity has become so profitable and the industry so big that armed groups and terrorist organisations are turning to trafficking in people as a source of income to fund their organisations. Traffickers motivated by profit take advantage of vulnerable individuals, ignoring the consequences of their actions on those lives. The trafficker’s apparent lack of empathy or guilt and the ability to shut the self off from the impact of their actions is not unlike some of the noted characteristics of a psychopath. This chapter reviews published literature on trafficking and discusses whether there are psychopathic tendencies among traffickers or if they are primarily motivated by profit alone.


  • traffickers
  • victims
  • human trafficking
  • profit
  • psychopaths

1. Introduction

Trafficking in persons is a grave violation of human rights that affects every country in the world [1] It is a serious crime with significantly higher numbers of victims than are represented in official data and involves the buying and selling of girls, women, boys and men for economic gain with harmful costs for the individuals, the economy and society [2]. Measuring human trafficking is challenging. Progress has been made in the collection and provision of information on the characteristics of the victims. A further challenge is gaining an adequate understanding of the traffickers. This is essential given the increasing numbers of traffickers entering into the business [3]. Traffickers are sometimes written off, rather simplistically, as psychopaths [4], yet our increased knowledge of the business of trafficking, in particular, the profitability of such a business, suggests a more complex picture. This chapter explores the economics of the business of trafficking in human beings, by looking at recent statistics on prevalence of trafficking, the rewards that some have argued is the primary motivational factor for individuals and organisations and the place of the traffickers in the demand and supply chain. The chapter also explores the profile of the traffickers and the commonalities highlighted in the literature between traffickers and psychopaths, raising the question as to whether trafficking is motivated by profit or a consequence of psychopathic behaviour. Research in this area is limited, and it is difficult to reach clear conclusions, given the diversity inherent in trafficking and those who traffic. However, given the significant impact of trafficking on individuals who have been trafficked, their families and wider society, an understanding of traffickers is important to include in efforts to prevent this crime in the future.


2. Prevalence of trafficking

Modern-day slavery continues to grow and enslave people around the world. Human trafficking involves various forms of exploitation which can be widespread in different sectors [5] The International Labour Organisation (ILO) has, since 2005, classified forced labour into three main categories: (1) forced labour imposed by the state, which includes every type of job exacted by public authorities, paramilitary or military organisations, forced prison labour and mandatory participation in general work; (2) forced labour imposed by private agents for sexual exploitation, including all types of sexual activities; and (3) forced labour imposed by private agents for labour exploitation, covering forced domestic labour, bonded labour, forced labour of migrants in various economic sectors and forced begging for gangs [6]. As of 2014, over 21 million men, women and children were estimated to be trapped in forced labour, debt bondage, trafficking or working in a slave-like state [7]. By 2016, an estimated 40.3 million people were described as trapped in modern-day slavery, implying that on any given day there were an estimated 40 million people forced to work against their will or to live in a forced marriage, with girls and women disproportionately affected [8]. This report revealed that women and girls constituted 99% of victims of forced labour for commercial sex, 58% in other forms of exploitation and in the past 5 years, some form of modern-day slavery had been experienced by an estimated 89 million people.

Despite the improved and updated methods being used to estimate the number of those trapped in one or other form of modern-day slavery, it may never be possible to get an accurate measure of prevalence due to the clandestine nature of the industry. For example, there are no data available on the numbers of migrant children trafficked from countries such as Pakistan, Bangladesh, and some East African Countries to Gulf state, such as the United Arab Emirates and sold to wealthy sheikhs as camel jockeys [9]. In 2005, the United Arab Emirate banned under 18 s from being used as jockeys in camel racing, a favourite sport in the Gulf region. The ban was as a result of pressure from human rights campaigners and the international community due to the severe injuries, trauma and sometimes death suffered by the young riders, who have either been bought or kidnapped from their country of origin. However, Anti-slavery International released photo evidence that suggests that children as young as 10 years continued to be used to race camels after the ban [10]. Neither is there accurate data on organ trafficking, a form of trafficking found mostly in Northern African, Central and Southern-Eastern Europe, and Eastern Europe despite the estimate of the United Nations Office of Drug and Crime (UNODC) that up to 10% of all liver and kidney transplants are carried out with unlawfully obtained organs [1].

The report from the UNODC observes that despite the trend analysis suggesting a global increase in trafficking convictions as a result of enhanced anti-trafficking measures, there are still “vast areas of impunity” ([1], p. 23). Conviction rates in Central Asia and some parts of Europe fell by 25% in comparison to the previous past 5 years despite the increase in the detection of victims. Kevin Bales, a professor of contemporary slavery in Nottingham University asserts that the fall in conviction rates in Europe results either from more stringent border controls across Europe or from an inability to recognise victims of abuse. Individuals who might have been identified as the victim of a crime in the past in most western European countries are now being treated as illegal migrants and not as victims, and are often deported [11].

According to the UNODC report, there are difficulties with relying on conviction data to establish prevalence rates. The Caribbean, Central America, North America, Central and South-Eastern Europe did not convict as many as traffickers as countries in Central Asia, East Europe, Western and South Europe, despite an increase in the detection of victims in the former regions. Similarly, in some regions such as Africa and the Middle East, convictions remain very low in spite of the rise in the detection of victims. Thus the trafficking business in Africa and the Middle East remains an almost risk-free enterprise for traffickers [1].


3. Profile of traffickers

Human trafficking is, without doubt, a complex and complicated phenomenon. To help understand it better, one needs to examine the perpetrators, those who engage in the trafficking of vulnerable individuals, their motives, their citizenship and the structures of the trafficking business. Information on the gender of suspected, arrested and convicted offenders in human trafficking indicate that the majority were men [12]. A study of 64 countries carried out by the United Nations Global Plan Action to Combat Trafficking in Persons during the years 2010–2012 highlighted the importance of citizenship and gender, particularly in cross-border trafficking, suggesting that there is often a citizenship connection between traffickers and victims [13]. An earlier report from UNODC also stated that most perpetrators (6 in 10 traffickers) were citizens of the countries where they were convicted, suggesting that victims are acquired and sold to criminal networks in destination countries by the local criminals [14]. The TIP study demonstrated that in spite of high international mobility, people still operated mainly from within their own countries. The report further noted how traffickers go to great lengths to gain the trust of their victims, and local contacts are used to threaten retaliation on family members of victims that resist [15]. Unsurprisingly, the report from the European Union for Law Enforcement Agency (EUROPOL) also noted the high level of foreigner involvement. Thus, traffickers are often involved in both domestic and cross border trafficking [3].

The UNODC report suggests that the importance of trust between traffickers and victims may in part be the reason for the high rate of female offenders in human trafficking than in other crimes. For example, analysis for the number of prosecuted traffickers carried out by the European Commission stated that 25% of prosecuted traffickers were female while 75% were male [16]. A report from the European Parliament noted that the rate of female traffickers within the EU was as high as 30% and that this number was higher in specific regions like the Eastern part of Europe where women become traffickers to escape sexual exploitation themselves. The role played by Nigerian women living in Europe in a highly structured and established system of madam criminal networks was also noted by the report [17]. Broad’s [18] study of individuals convicted for human trafficking offences in the United Kingdom confirmed these figures. In 71 cases, 68% of the offenders convicted for various types of human trafficking offences were men while 32% were women. Interestingly, data from the European Union report revealed that while 74% of suspected traffickers with EU citizenship were male, 54% of non-EU nationals were male [2], suggesting that the prevalence of women as traffickers is higher in non-EU citizens.

Furthermore, Broad [18] argued the importance of understanding the pathways through which women become involved as traffickers, stating that sometimes, intimate relationships between a male and female trafficker will ease the woman’s path into offending. The previous victimisation is also a critical pathway to trafficking for women. To further illustrate the complexities, intricacies and power relations between the male and female traffickers she cites an extract from her interview with a police officer in which he described a case involving a former victim

“….was, they were a couple, she’d used to work for him, but they got together, and she was sort of promoted to look after the place when he wasn’t there and didn’t have to, have to have sex with clients anymore. She said that he was violent with her and she’d known (name-victim) was there against her will, but she’d been too afraid to do anything about it, afraid of [name-p1]. I don’t know whether that was the case or not, but that was her story” (Broad [18], p. 1065)

The most recent research data collected by the European Commission show that between 2015 and 2016, over 7500 individuals were in contact with either the criminal justice system or police in connection with trafficking within the EU and that 78% of these cases concerned sexual exploitation [2]. Member states with the highest number of reported persons in contact with law enforcement in connection with human trafficking included Romania, Germany, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria and France [2]. The data revealed that the rate of citizenship for both EU and non-EU states varied depending on whether suspected, prosecuted and convicted traffickers are considered. However, over 84% of traffickers with EU citizenship were from Romania, France, Germany, Bulgaria and Latvia (in that order) while the top five countries of suspected traffickers with non-EU citizenship were China, Nigeria, Turkey, Albania and Morocco.

According to UNODC, more opportunists, such as those in armed conflicts and terrorist groups have become traffickers, taking advantage of this profit-rich and low-risk crime to fund their cause [1]. The United Nations Security Council Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Director (CTED) asserted that the Islamic State of Iraqi and the Levant (ISIL), a terrorist organisation, is known to openly trade and buy girls and unmarried women in slave markets. They are using encrypted applications to circulate details of their victims, such as age and marital status as well as photos and price of the women and girls before auctioning them off online [19]. ISIL is not alone as other terrorist groups are turning to trafficking in human beings, particularly women and children, to fund their organisations. The Kurdish Worker Party, now known as the Kurdistan People’s Congress, is another known terrorist organisation that uses trafficking in humans to financially support its organisation [20]. Al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) in West and Central Africa, Macina Liberation Front (FLM) in the centre and south of Mali [21], Boko Haram in north-eastern Nigerian, Al-Shabaab in Somali, are also some of the terrorist organisations that use one or another form of human trafficking to fund their organisation [22].

Cooper [23] referred to individuals involved in such terrorist organisations as psychopaths, maintaining that although the term ‘terrorist’ is not a medical diagnostic label, a medical approach comparable to that used in identifying psychopathy is required to describe the different manifestations and forms of terrorists. Cooper states that while not all psychopaths are terrorists, and not all terrorists have psychopathic personalities, the salient points of coincidence are too striking to be overlooked. Not everyone agrees with this. Rotman [24] has challenged the characterisation of a terrorist as a psychopath, asserting that while it is undeniable that some terrorists show traits of cold-bloodedness and insensitivity akin to specific personality disorder diagnostic criteria, this is insufficient rationale for conclusively diagnosing terrorists as psychopaths. Rotman warned against such labelling, arguing that it can lead to legal defences or act as a mitigating factor that undermines the criminalisation of serious human rights violations. Furthermore, others note that what is important is understanding the terrorist’s specific motivations, as there is evidence to suggest that terrorists are fundamentally ordinary people motivated by situational factors [25].

In 2017, The United Nations Security Council in resolution 2388 reiterated its deep concern that trafficking in persons in areas affected by armed conflicts continues to occur [26]. An intersection of various elements characterising armed conflicts increases the risk of trafficking in humans. One common consequence of armed conflict is the loss of the rule of law which is meant to protect and defend people in time of peace [27]. Trafficking is part of the strategy employed by armed groups not just to instil fear in the local population by projecting a violent image of themselves, but also to increase their military authority and economic resources [1]. For example, the crime of human trafficking persists in Libya as different armed groups have filled the vacuum created by civil unrest, lawlessness, and lack of government [28]. These groups sometimes clash with each other over the control of the business of human trafficking which is highly profitable, particularly of vulnerable migrants en route to Europe. Migrant women, especially Sub-Saharan women are exposed to forced prostitution and sex trafficking in brothels, particularly in the south of Libya by these armed groups and smugglers [29]. One of such clashes is the violent confrontation that took place in the town of Sabratha in Libya where wealthy smugglers and militias involved in human trafficking teamed up to fight against ISIL, whom they saw as a threat to their profitable business of human trafficking [28].

Traffickers vary in how they are organised but trafficking operations generally fall within three categories. The first category may involve a loose network of organised criminals, soloist or individual traffickers, or a highly structured international trafficking network. Individual traffickers, also known as amateur traffickers or soloists, are at the far end of the continuum and are involved in the recruitment, transportation and exploitation of their victims. In the second category of traffickers, there are no soloist/individual operations, instead, it is a small group of organised criminals who may be part of a small scale international trafficking or involved in local trafficking. This category of the criminal network is highly flexible and often comprised of friends and family members. Another form of this category may consist of the more sophisticated and middle size group, which provides the international sex market with its victims, selling victims to brothel owners in destination countries. These traffickers are sometimes involved in organising the rotation of victims between towns and states. The third category is an extremely structured criminal network that controls the entire trafficking process, from recruitment to the exploitation and disposal of victims. Other services which they may provide include forged documents and ensuring the continuity of relationship with corrupt government officials [30].


4. The ‘rewards’ of human trafficking

An examination of the reward/value/and financial worth of human trafficking enterprise may help our understanding of why more people are entering this illegal business, as data from 2013 to 2014 showed a 7% increase in the number of traffickers that entered the trafficking industry [3]. The exploitation of human beings is profitable for criminal networks and is second only to the drugs trade as a source of illicit profit. The ILO estimated in 2005 that the total illegal proceeds from the trafficking of people in 2005 were $32 billion per year. As of 2012, the profit on forced labour, including sexual exploitation, had risen to $150.2 billion per year, with forced sexual exploitation accounting for $99 billion and labour exploitation 51.2 billion, making it the fastest growing generator of illicit proceeds [8]. The highest total annual profits were in Asia and developed economies, at $51.8 billion and $46.8 billion respectively, while the regions of Africa, the Middle East, Latin America/Caribbean, and Central/South-eastern Europe accounted $51.6 billion [22]. The report estimated that the global profit per trafficked victim varied significantly based on the nature of the exploitation, which ranged from $21,800 yearly for sexual exploitation to $2300 for domestic labour.

Despite the lack of consensus on the estimate of persons whose organs have been trafficked illegally, a report from the Global Financial Integrity estimated that 10% of all transplants are carried out with organs that have been acquired unlawfully. According to the report, 120,000 organ transplants were performed worldwide in 2014. Thus, 12,000 operations performed that year were illegal, and this estimate comprises of only the sales of the five organs most sought after i.e., kidneys, livers, hearts, lungs, and pancreas. The report estimates that the illegal trade conservatively generates between $840 million and $1.7 billion, with the kidney as the most frequently transplanted organ, both illegally and legally [31].

In the context of terrorism and armed conflict, both the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the Financial Task Force (FATF) have described in detail how the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) fighters buy and sell Yazidi women, in slave auctions and online, for amounts ranging from $200 to $1500 [32]. An earlier report from FATF had reported on how internal guidance was provided to ISIL fighters on the number of slaves they were allowed to keep and maintain, and that the soldiers were allowed to pay as low as approximately $13 for a slave [33]. In 2016, ISIL gave the Yazidi families the choice of paying $850,000 for the return of 200 victims kidnapped from the Yazidi community in the town of Sinjar or for the victims to be sold in the slave auction. Evidence suggests that in 2014 alone, ISIL earned between $35million and $45million in payment from the Yazidi community alone [22]. The United Nations Security Council’s report states that Mahamadou Ag Rhissa, a businessman alleged to be involved in terrorism and human smuggling, holds women captive and allows them to be sexually exploited until payment of between 150,000–175,000CFA Franc, approximately $300–$350 is paid to him United Nations Security Council [34].


5. Trafficking as part of the demand and supply chain

Human Trafficking is a market that treats people like commodities through buying and selling. Demand for cheap labour and prostitution has always existed, and while the intricate and complex link between demand and supply is undeniable, increased wages in highly industrialised nations, specifically in the unskilled labour market, has contributed to this growth in demand [30]. According to Taylor and Jamieson [35], the supply of trafficked persons from specific developing countries is a function of specific economic conditions in these countries, while the demand for the services they are expected to give is also a function of specific social and economic processes in the industrialised nations. This aligns with Siddharth Kara’s analysis of sex trafficking, who explains that for market forces to create a supply that meets a specific demand, other market forces must have generated the demand for that particular product in the first place since an industry needs both forces to exist [36]. Collins dictionary defines demand as to claim as a right (www.collinsdictionary). Referencing the Nordic model on prostitution, Raymond asserts that without male demand, the supply of women for commercial sex will decrease, as the market cannot survive without its consumers [37]. The implication is that traffickers must be sure of the profitability of the business to continue in the industry. Thus, the profit traffickers make from trafficking their victims must exceed the cost of bringing these victims from the source countries [38].

Using the analogy of sex trafficking as a disease infecting humanity to illustrate his point, Kara notes that trafficking has two components, slave trade (supply) and slavery (demand). He asserted that an understanding of sex trafficking’s molecular anatomy acquisition, movement and exploitation, means understanding the modus operandi of the industry, which in turn will expose the business’s vulnerable points, the forces of demand and the drivers of profit. He claimed that not only will the best strategies for treating the infection (sex trafficking) be found but it will also ensure that the long-term eradication of the condition in the “host organism”, namely economic globalisation and poverty that gave rise to the infection in the first place, is addressed [36]. While traditional market theories operate on the presumption that it is a demand that creates supply, other scholars have challenged this theory, arguing that constant supply of unskilled migrant workers forced or willing to provide specific services or accept jobs can generate the demand for such services/labour rather than vice versa [39]. To support their argument, these scholars provide the following as an example:

“For example, in the poor and developing world, many children work as “shoeshine boys”, whereas few do so in the affluent world. The absence of this form of child labour in affluent countries and its presence in the poorer nations cannot be explained through reference to different levels of absolute demand for shoe shiners’ labour. Here, as elsewhere, the relationship between supply and demand is mediated by a range of economic and social factors, as well as by government policies on employment (including child labour), immigration, education, and welfare” ([39], p. 26).

Agreeing with this argument, Aronowitz [40], posits that the availability of certain services creates the demand for them. He argues that the market supply of trafficked women as a result of various socioeconomic factors has generated the demand for them and that the exploitation of these women in the destination country should be blamed on the uneven power relations that occur in patriarchal communities, that objectifies woman for consumption, and other factors that disempower and marginalise. These authors concluded that demand does not just happen, waiting to be answered and that individuals are not born needing or wanting particular products and services. Instead, they learn to want what is available and seen as normal by society.

While their argument has merit and cannot be overlooked, how then can the supply of certain services, particularly in post-conflict areas where large military and predominantly male peacekeeping forces are sent, be explained if not that there was a demand for that specific services? [1] Perhaps one could agree that increased supply can lead to increased demand, but it is quite a different thing and possible going too far to suggest that supply can create demand where no demand previously existed.


6. Links between psychopaths and traffickers

Robert Hare has expanded the construct of psychopathy as a personality disorder, first developed by Hervey Cleckley, exemplified in what is now known as the Hare’s Psychopath Checklist-Revised (PCL-R), a 20-item clinical rating scale used in the diagnosis of psychopathy [41]. Cleckley described a small group of patients who appeared sane yet lacked empathy and remorse, were deceptive, impulsive and manipulative, and suffered from “emotional poverty” ([42], p. 230), detailing symptoms that Hare has subsequently developed upon [41]. Hare and colleagues, building on Cleckley’s work, developed the PCL-R, which describes psychopathy as a pattern of interpersonal, affective, lifestyle and antisocial traits and behaviours. High scores in this area are associated with outcomes such as greater criminality [43].

The PCL-R 20 items include glibness and superficial charm, grandiose sense of self-worth, need for stimulation and/or proneness to boredom, pathological lying, cunning and manipulation, lack of remorse or guilt, shallow affection, callousness and/or lack of empathy, parasitic orientation, poor behavioural controls, promiscuous sexual behaviour, early behavioural problem, lack of realistic, long term goals, impulsivity, irresponsible, failure to accept responsibility for own actions, having had many short term marital relationships, juvenile delinquency, revocation of conditional release [41]. The PCL-R has evolved from a two factor model of (1) interpersonal and affective factor, reflecting unemotional and callous traits and (2) lifestyle and anti-social factors reflecting reckless, impulsive and criminal behaviour to a four-factor model that identifies features in four domains: (1) interpersonal, (2) affective, (3) lifestyle, and (4) antisocial [44].

Malatesti and McMillian [45] have defended philosophically the use of Hare’s concept of psychopathy against criticism from some quarters questioning the validity of the scale as a diagnostic tool for identifying psychopathy. They asserted that in a practical sense the PCL-R is a robust scientific (p. 12) concept because it allows empirical research to be conducted upon the neural bases of individual functional impairment. The view of psychopathy as a personality disorder has also been criticised. Cowan [46] argues that the diagnosis of psychopathy as an antisocial personality disorder reduces the appalling moral insanity of the psychopath. According to Cowan, psychopaths, are capable of learning the rules of public interaction and social conducts, not because they care about these things but because it serves their purpose. The problem is not necessarily what the psychopath does, but his relationship to what he does; the psychopath understands right from wrong but does not understand why [47].

Cowan ([46], p. 296) describes psychopathy as an ‘absence and deficit’ of relatedness the absence of Aidos (the winged goddess of ancient Greece, also known as “shame”, that exposes us to condemning eyes for what we have said or done that we should not have), and Eros (the ancient Greek god that brings things out of chaos, infusing a conscience in us that allows desires to be fulfilled in such a way that our loving is rewarding to ourselves and our beloved). She therefore focuses on the principle of relatedness and those capacities that allow us to be able to relate to each other ethically. She maintained that being a psychopath means that the character structures lack something important at the core that enables individuals to relate to each other empathically. This deficit is understood to explain the apparent absence of morality, ethics, shame or guilt.

In analysing the link between psychopathy and crime, Hare and colleagues [41] highlight disproportionate representation of those diagnosed as psychopaths, using the PCL-R, in the criminal justice system. Hare and his colleagues particularly noted that psychopaths have high crime rates, arguing that their poor behavioural control and impulsivity might lead to reactive forms of violence and aggression, which is perhaps why they can easily intimidate and victimise the vulnerable with force as a tool to achieve control and power over others. It has been argued that these traits of violence, aggression, control and power are not unlike those associated with human traffickers. Spidel et al. [48] comment on the prevalence of psychopathic offenders with regard to sex trafficking, expressing their discontent at the fact that little attention has been paid to examining the role of psychopathy in traffickers who pimp women in prostitution for profit. In their analysis of 22 perpetrators using the PCL-R, they found that one-third of the pimps examined met the diagnostic cut-off point in the PCL-R for a diagnosis of psychopathy. The characteristics of the pimps were consistent with those of a psychopath. Spidel and colleagues described how at the recruitment stage, these pimps employed charm by professions of love/friendship for his victim, and the promise of material and financial gains to lure his victim into the sex trade. As he becomes more controlling and domineering, he eventually resorts to violence, or the threat of violence to control the victims that resist. Reid [49] made a similar observation in her analysis of the parallels between the characteristics and strategies employed by traffickers to entrap and keep their victims and those associated with psychopaths. Some of the characteristics and tactics used by the traffickers that Reid identified include romancing or flattering the victim, building trust or becoming an ally with her, drugging or isolating her, lies and false promises, and the use of coercion through intimidation or the threat of violence.

A review of the literature on the methods used by traffickers on their victims also demonstrates this similarity, as traffickers use manipulations to charm and lure victims into the sex industry, seize their earning and use psychological coercion, violence and intimidation to extract complete obedience and authority [50]. Greer and colleagues compared the characteristics of traffickers to those of psychopaths that include acts of brutality and violence, lack of guilt, empathy or remorse for their victims. Referencing several court cases where traffickers have used the most extreme kind of violence and threat to control and manipulate the victims, they stated that when a comparison is made on the most extreme sexual offenders, it is essential to remember that traffickers have similar character and behaviour profiles to psychopaths.


7. Conclusion

The above discussion has highlighted trafficking as a profitable industry and raised the question as to whether the business rewards of trafficking act as a primary motivator for trafficking or whether motivation for trafficking might be better or alternatively explained by the presence of psychopathic features in traffickers. Research is limited on this question preventing us making definitive conclusions. It must also be acknowledged that there is considerable diversity inherent in the phenomenon of trafficking and it may be too simplistic to consider all traffickers within the same lens. However, given the cost to society of trafficking, the physical and mental health consequences of trafficking for victims that places a considerable burden not only on those individuals trafficked but also on health systems, it is important to examine the motivations and characteristics of those who traffic if attempts to intervene in trafficking are to be successful. While mental health-related issues are the most dominant in trafficking cases due to psychologically traumatic events, other experiences associated with trafficking includes chronic physical pain, sexually transmitted disease such as HIV/AIDS, reproductive and sexual health complications, unwanted pregnancies, complications from unsafe termination, physical disability, acute injuries, sleep problem, torture and even death [51]. The financial gain to traffickers is undisputed. However, the authors suggest that in order to understand the motivation for trafficking better, it is necessary to examine the characteristics of the trafficker. It is evident from the research conducted in this field that traffickers are often charming and display a grandiose sense of self-worth to convince their victims of their importance. There is also evidence to suggest that they are pathological liars, cunning and manipulative as they knowingly make false promises of jobs and a better life to vulnerable victims, but more importantly, they have no remorse for their action, as the victim is seen merely as a commodity to use and re-use for profit. In the global efforts to prevent human trafficking, a better understanding of the motivation for trafficking is essential. This understanding will shape interventions for prevention. The question of whether human traffickers are in it for the profits or are motivated by psychopathic tendencies, or both, is one worthy of further investigation.



The authors wish to acknowledge Dublin City University for providing funding towards the first author’s dissertation work.


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Written By

Jennifer Okeke, Mel Duffy and Rosaleen McElvaney

Submitted: February 18th, 2019 Reviewed: February 25th, 2020 Published: March 28th, 2020