A joint operation involving authorities in Paraguay, Spain and France has broken up a multi-country sex trafficking network, illustrating some of the lesser-known international dynamics of this illicit business.
In a recent press release, the Paraguayan Attorney General's office announced that the National Police, in conjunction with their French and Spanish counterparts, had broken up an operation that trafficked Paraguayan women to Europe for the purpose of sexually exploiting them.
The suspected traffickers allegedly lured women from one of Paraguay's poorest areas, the department of Caaguazú, and from the criminal hotspot of Ciudad del Este by offering them false promises of well-paid jobs in Europe. Once they were in Europe, the women were coerced into prostitution at private residences in France and massage parlors in Spain.
A June 3 press release from the European Union law enforcement body Europol, which supported the investigation, stated 15 victims were identified for protection and 14 suspects were arrested, some of whom are also being investigated for money laundering and drug trafficking.
According to the investigation, the trafficking ring was based in Ciudad del Este and was led by the Aquino Arca family, whose members include current and former members of the local police force.
InSight Crime Analysis
Despite its relatively small population of less than 7 million people, Paraguay serves as a major source country for sex trafficking in Europe.
In a recent interview with Ultima Hora, Irma Pérez Vecvort, the director of the Association for the Prevention, Reinsertion and Attention to Prostituted Women (Asociación para la Prevención, Reinserción y Atención a la Mujer Prostituida - APRAMP), said over a third of women working as prostitutes in Spain are Paraguayan. According to a December 2015 report from APRAMP, many of these women fell victim to schemes similar to the one described above.
The factors driving the sexual exploitation of Paraguayan women in Europe are complex. Poverty and lack of opportunities in Paraguay make it relatively easy for traffickers to lure with false promises of future employment. But the Paraguayan government's general lack of attention to this issue has also likely contributed to the persistence of the problem.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of Human Trafficking
The most recent Trafficking in Persons report from the US State Department (pdf) found that the government "does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking," and that the "law enforcement response in some parts of the country was severely limited or delayed." The report also described measures aimed at identifying and protecting victims of human trafficking as "uneven."
However, the report recognizes Paraguay is "making significant efforts" to comply with international standards, a statement reinforced by this recent international action.