About human trafficking

Human trafficking is modern slavery. It is the exploitation of one human by second for their gain. This can be monetary gain (regardless whether it is a lot or not), but also non-monetary like support in kind or favours.

Modern slavery is a lucrative criminal business involving the exploitation of men, women and children for monetary gain or benefit. The crime is the third most lucrative for criminals worldwide, only being surpassed by weapons and drug trade.

It is a grave violation of human rights, as it deprives victims of their freedom to make their own decisions and takes away their dignity.

Human trafficking can take place ‘underground’, in illegal markets or industries that cater to criminal activity, but it also occurs within legitimate settings such as nail salons, hotels and supermarkets. Victims range from labourers in sectors such as construction, mining, fishing, agriculture, hospitality industry and tourism, to sex workers, beggars and child soldiers.

Human trafficking does not necessarily involve migration across borders or physical movement. A person can be exploited in their own home, in their country of origin. And it takes places everywhere, also here in Belgium.

Laws on human trafficking

List of Belgian, EU and international legislative instruments addressing trafficking in human beings.

Types of human trafficking

Human trafficking is a broad term, as exploitation can have many different faces. There are therefore different forms that are often recognised as falling under the heading of human trafficking:

Economic or labour exploitation

Sexual exploitation

Forced begging

Forced criminal activity

Illegal organ trade

Exploitation by a loverboy or romeo pimp is not a seperate form or exploitation. The term loverboy is used to describe the specific method that perpetrator used to induce their victim in an exploitative relationship. The method often linked to sexual exploitation, but more and more victims tell us that it is often a mix exploitation that includes forced criminal activity.

Want to learn more about the loverboy-method?

Some numbers

2021 showed 1.137 referrals in Belgium for potential victims of human trafficking, among which were 134 potential victims of loverboys. This was lot more than the 963 referrals in 2020, but this is most likely due to the Covid-pandemic as the numbers are closer to the 1.117 in 2019.

Of these 1.137 referrals 121 persons were taken into care and started their guidance with one of the three specialised centers in Belgium (besides Payoke there is Pag-Asa in Brussels and Sürya in Liège).

The large difference between the 1.137 referrals and 121 victims taken into care shows that we receive a good proportion of referrals that turn out not to be victims of modern slavery but related crimes like interfamilial violence; smuggling; slumlording; etc. Underaged victims of loverboys receive care from youth facilities and are therefore not counted in the number of victims in care with the specialised centers.

Payoke received 436 referrals in 2021 (including the 134 referrals for victims of loverboys). 58 new guidances commenced, bringing the total amount of victims in our care to a total 150 in 2021. Again, there are no underaged victims in our care, so these do not include most victims of loverboys.

A little more than half of the victims we supported in 2021 (51%) were victims of economic exploitation. 40% were victims of sexual exploitation. The remaining 10% were other forms of exploitation or victims of smuggling with aggravating circumstances.

For more data, we refer to our annual reports, and the website of Myria (the organisation that studies the phenomenon of human trafficking in Belgium).

Serious suspicions?

Early detection of victims is essential to be able to help and protect them from further harm, but also for more efficient prosecution of the offender. If you have any suspicions about a situation, it is important to act or at least tell someone.

There are several indicators that could help you judge whether a situation could be human trafficking. These indicators are like red flags, if several show up, there is a good chance it is indeed human trafficking. You can find the a checklist with these indicators here (the checklist is available in English as well as several other languages).

Do you know a possible victim?

Do you have serious suspicions about the situation of a friend, family member or someone you know and you’re wondering what you can do, please contact us:

Phone: +32 (0)3 201 16 90 (available on workdays between 9:00-17:00h)
Email: info@payoke.be

Are you a care worker and do you suspect to have come into contact with a victim of modern slavery; you can find more relevant information on what you can do; what information you are allowed to share; and how to contact us here.

Victim of a loverboy or romeo pimp?

Do you know someone that might have fallen for a loverboy or romeo pimp? We have a specialised team that works with these victims, you can contact them via:

Phone: +32 (0)3 201 16 90 (available on workdays between 9:00-17:00h)
Email: TraffickingLBTP@payoke.be