The dismantling of a sophisticated human trafficking network in Chile has drawn attention to the fact that reports of human trafficking have increased five-fold in the South American country.
A November 5 police operation led to the arrest of eight people who were charged with trafficking and sexually exploiting Colombian women, between the ages of 18 and 29, Emol reported. The network was composed of two Colombians, who were alleged to be the ringleaders of the trafficking group, and six Chileans, one of whom is a professor and is accused of financing the group.
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According to investigators, the organization duped the women in Colombia with promises of work, and then provided for their travel by plane and tourism visas. Once they arrived in Chile, they were moved to various cities, including Temuco, Los Ángeles, Osorno y Puerto Montt, where they were forced to prostitute themselves.
The women told authorities that the traffickers had taken their cell phones and that they were constantly monitored via security cameras. The traffickers also threatened to publish photos of them, assault their families, and have them deported.
Temuco Attorney General Alberto Chiffelle said that it was akin to “modern slavery in the sense that they were victims of coercion and threats.”
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Despite having been recognized by the US State Department for having made advances in the combat of human trafficking, Chile still faces an uphill battle in taking on this crime.
According to Chile’s human trafficking investigative unit, Brigada Investigadora de Trata de Personas Metropolitana — Bitrap), new human trafficking cases jumped form nine in 2017 to 47 in 2018. These cases included both labor and sex trafficking.
Bitrap director Giordano Lanzarini said several factors explained the rise in human trafficking cases, including the increase in foreigners in Chile and the wider dissemination of information about human trafficking practices, which has led to more complaints.
With the exception of three Chilean woman in 2016, all of the human trafficking victims in the country have been foreigners, while the majority of those convicted are Chilean citizens, according to a Ministry of the Interior report examining human trafficking figures between 2011 and 2018.
According to authorities, the recently dismantled human trafficking network showed a level of organization, with clear operational roles and a wide geographic reach inside and outside Chile.
This type of sophisticated network underscores the challenge facing authorities in Chile, which are looking to ensure that the increase in human trafficking complaints translates to a reduction in the prevalence of this crime.