How Human Trafficking Fuels Erosion of Liberal Democracies—In Fiction and Fact, and from within and without
2. Problem 1: Conspiracies about Human Trafficking
2.1. Conspiracies about Human Trafficking including Pizzagate and QAnon
2.2. Four Explanations for the Corrosive Effect of Conspiracies about Human Trafficking
3. Problem 2: Actual Human Trafficking Cases
‘These events have ignited a crisis of public trust in the Department [of Justice] and exacerbated the erosion of trust that the American people have in our institutions of republican self-government more broadly’.
3.1. Human Trafficking Cases including the Epstein Case
- The Epstein case: Facts and procedure
- The Epstein case: Its corrosive effect
3.2. Four Factors That May Explain the Corrosive Effect of Human Trafficking Cases like the Epstein Case
4. Problems 3 and 4: The Interplay between Fictions and Facts and Corrosion from within and without
4.1. The Interplay between Conspiracies and Actual Human Trafficking
4.2. The Interplay between Corrosion from within and without
4.3. Concluding Remarks
5. Carefully Finding Solutions for Countering Organized Subversive Crime
5.1. The New Dutch Concept of Organized Subversive Crime: An Explanation
‘the rule of law refers to a principle of governance in which all persons, institutions and entities, public and private, including the State itself, are accountable to laws that are publicly promulgated, equally enforced and independently adjudicated, and which are consistent with international human rights norms and standards. It requires, as well, measures to ensure adherence to the principles of supremacy of law, equality before the law, accountability to the law, fairness in the application of the law, separation of powers, participation in decision-making, legal certainty, avoidance of arbitrariness and procedural and legal transparency’.
5.2. The Usefulness of the New Dutch Concept of Organized Subversive Crime for Criminal Law
5.3. The Usefulness of the New Dutch Concept of Organized Subversive Crime for Research
6. Conclusions and Recommendations
Institutional Review Board Statement
Informed Consent Statement
Conflicts of Interest
Lincoln’s Key Letter Foreshadows Second Inaugural 4 April 1864.
For an overview of data used to undergird this thesis and the conclusion itself, see the report by the Economist Intelligence Unit from 2021, available at: https://www.economist.com/graphic-detail/2021/02/02/global-democracy-has-a-very-bad-year (accessed on 22 November 2022). Cf. under the term ‘democratic deconsolidation’, e.g. Yascha Mounk and Larry Diamond (Mounk 2019; Diamond 2019). Some argue that these concerns about the decline of democracies worldwide are somewhat exaggerated but even they express concern about the degree to which what they call ‘spin dictators’ damage liberal democracies, oftentimes through erosion from without (See Guriev and Treisman 2022). Similarly, on the trend of the decline of liberal democracies itself, see for example Levitsky and Ziblatt (2018). Rather than decline through an outright coup, they argue that currently democracies rather ‘erode slowly, in barely visible steps’ (Levitsky and Ziblatt 2018, p. 3). More positive is a scholar like Steven Pinker (See Pinker 2018). However, the author did not find any writings on this topic from Pinker after 2018, who may also have changed his opinion at least somewhat after 6 January 2021. Pinker’s language expertise was used by the Epstein defense (Brown 2021, p. 156).
Supra note 2.
At the time of writing, the Dutch public prosecutor has charged the Mr. De Vries murder—and may in the future do the same for the person or persons who ensured the funding and/or gave the order—as a crime committed with ‘terrorist intent’. The latter is, unlike in the United States, in the Netherlands not reserved for foreign, international terrorism ‘only’. The Dutch courts have not decided yet. In the US, prosecutors have opted for charging the head of the Oath Keepers, Mr. (Elmer) Stewart Rhodes, and four of its members who stormed the Capitol (the four members) or planned it (Rhodes) with ‘seditious conspiracy’ ex 18 U.S. Code Chapter 115-Treason, Sedition, and Subversive Activities, more specifically 18 U.S. Code § 2384-Seditious conspiracy. This charge requires the prosecution to prove that two or more people conspired to ‘overthrow, put down or to destroy by force’ the US government or bring war against it, or that they plotted to use force to oppose the authority of the government or to block the execution of a law. This Civil War-era charge has been explained to mean that these Oath Keepers conspired to forcibly oppose the authority of the federal government and forcibly block the execution of laws governing the transfer of presidential power. Specifically, they are accused of conspiring to forcibly obstruct the execution of the Electoral Count Act and the Twelfth Amendment of the Constitution, which address the counting of electoral votes. It remains to be seen whether the (criminal) conduct of funders, planners and (other) inciters can also be indicted under this relatively specific seditious conspiracy charge. While it is understood that conspirators can perform a range of acts or omissions that are further removed from these specifically violent election-undermining acts and still be held accountable for their role in the conspiracy, it may prove difficult to charge the (inter)national funders, planners, and profiteers of all conduct leading up to January 6th and following this storming of the US Capitol under this specific charge, just as the Dutch are struggling to have the domestic terrorism charge fit the murder offense committed.
There is an important debate to be had about the degree to which the United States should fulfil this role of ‘policeman of the world’ regarding human trafficking by drafting these Trafficking in Persons (TIP) reports, but this discussion falls outside the scope of this article. Here, the TIP report will only be used where findings have also been confirmed by other sources such as the ILO or UNODC.
This means that this article cannot delve into the entire range of democracies including its most populated, India, and the many others in North America (Canada), western Europe, Central and Eastern Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean, Asia and Australasia, the Middle East and North Africa, and Sub-Saharan Africa. See Section 6.
As a consequence, this may also result in polarization which according to Levitsky and Ziblatt is a sure way to end democracy.
United States District Court, Western District of Virginia, Charlottesville Division, Sines v. Kessler, No. 17-cv-00072.
Dutch news service NOS, American conspiracy QAnon also on the rise in the Netherlands, 2020. Available at https://nos.nl/nieuwsuur/artikel/2349814-amerikaanse-complottheorie-qanon-ook-in-nederland-in-opkomst (accessed on 22 November 2022).
Hitler did the same in Mein Kampf: ‘The Jews were largely responsible, he [Hitler] says he found, for prostitution and the white-slavery traffic’ (Shirer  1990, p. 26).
‘The operative concept in the Russian language today is bespredel, boundary-less-ness, the absence of limits, the ability of a leader to do anything. The word itself arose from criminal jargon’ (Snyder 2018, p. 80).
The 2021 Trafficking in Persons Report includes Russia as one of 11 governments with a documented “policy or pattern” of human trafficking, trafficking in government-funded programs, forced labor in government-affiliated medical services or other sectors, sexual slavery in government camps, or the employment or recruitment of child soldiers: Afghanistan, Burma, China, Cuba, Eritrea, North Korea, Iran, Russia, South Sudan, Syria, and Turkmenistan. Sadly, the first time the European Court of Human Rights had to decide a case of sex trafficking concerned a Russian girl who was found dead on Cyprus (Rantsev v. Cyprus and Russia—no. 25965/04). Russia withdrew from this Court on 11 June 2022. President Vladimir Putin signed two bills into law that unilaterally removed Russia from the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) as of 15 March 2022. Therefore, all ECtHR judgments from 15 March 2022 onward are no longer legally enforceable in Russia.
Cf. Alegre 2022 who argues: ‘Despite its spiritual and political origins, attention capture has never really been a purely ideological endeavour; it has always been intertwined with money. The Catholic Church may have provided a spiritual home for billions through the centuries, but its success has rested equally on its ability to split from the humble roots of early Christianity to accrue vast amounts of wealth and power through the devotion of its adherents. And in democratic societies, political power and financial backing are inextricably connected to the ability to persuade people to vote for you, a trick that is increasingly reliant on the science of marketing rather than the art of political ideology. There is big money in mind control. Technologists and ethicists have begun to sound alarm bells about the potency of distraction in the digital world’ (Alegre 2022, p. 99).
Such a distinction is oftentimes complicated, inter alia, because of the many ‘gray zones’ in criminal law itself. That is, the notion of criminality is itself not always clear-cut (Reich 2021; Korf et al. 2018; Passas 2005; Boister 2018). Some government actions, business practices or individual’s activities can be ‘lawful but awful’, as will be explained further in Section 5 about Passas’s concept, in that the interfaces between mostly-legal and mostly-illegal actors become fundamentally questionable (Passas 2005). Criminal networks intersect at least with legitimate public and private institutions. Sometimes that is because criminal networks (ab)use the legitimate infrastructure for their illegitimate goals (Tops and Tromp 2017; Huisman and Kleemans 2017). However, oftentimes it is because those same legitimate public and private institutions are not ‘infiltrated’ but rather themselves develop improper dependencies (Tjeenk Willink 2021; Thompson 2018; Lessig 2015; Passas 2005; Reich 2021). As an effect, respected and legitimate actors do not only have to be crime victims or become ‘intruded’ or ‘corrupted’, but rather can and often are corrupting themselves (Passas 2005). This means that a clear line cannot always be drawn between unethical or unknowingly enablers, on the one hand, and organized crime, on the other.
The latter are redolent of the “scare” or “threat” of white slavery (Allain 2017). Compared to the explanation of Riggleman, supra note 15, that emphasis on the realistic and actually needed protection of women and children is reflected in the name of the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons to the United Nations Convention on Organized Crime with its reference to ‘Especially Women and Children’.
As the latter was mob violence, it is important to also reference Alegre 2022 who explains: ‘The social psychologist Jonathan Haidt calls it ‘the hive switch’, the collective psychology that takes over when we gather together for a joint purpose. It is what Aldous Huxley called ‘herd poisoning’, which makes the individual escape ‘from responsibility, intelligence and morality into a kind of frantic, animal mindlessness’ (Alegre 2022, p. 92).
After, on 18 July 2016, a teenage refugee attacked passengers on a train near Würzburg with an ax and a knife, on 21 July 2016, an 18-year-old German shot and killed nine people in Munich. The Munich killer said he wanted to copy the Norwegian right-wing extremist and mass murderer Mr. Anders Breivik (Cf. Sauerbrey 2016).
This also goes to its pervasiveness, cf. Alegre 2022 who cites Albert Speer who stated: ‘Through technical devices such as radio and loudspeaker 80 million people were deprived of independent thought’ (Alegre 2022, p. 95).
Cf. Alegre 2022 who elucidates: ‘These [propaganda and brainwashing techniques] were the precursors to the memes, viral clips and fake news of the twenty-first-century authoritarian. And he [Huxley] warned that the dictators of the future would combine these techniques with the non-stop distractions that in the West were already drowning out rational discussions about liberty and democracy in a sea of irrelevance’ (Alegre 2022, p. 98).
Letter from US Senators Ben Sasse, Richard Blumenthal, Ted Cruz and Marsha Blackburn to the Inspector General of the US Justice Department (2 December 2019), available at: https://www.sasse.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/2019/12/ben-sasse-to-doj-inspector-general-finish-the-epstein-investigation (accessed on 22 November 2022).
e.g., This complexity is exemplified by inter alia the fact that human trafficking has the longest definition in the Dutch criminal code (e.g., Article 273f Sr; cf. Article 3a of the Palermo Protocol on human trafficking).
e.g., As the modern-day interpretations of the articles regarding slavery, enslavement, servitude and related phenomena, because the term of human trafficking was not common at the time, in Article 4 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), Article 8 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and Article 4 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). Later also referred to in Conventions like the one on the rights of the child and the prevention of discrimination against women.
e.g., police statistics are usually based on filed police reports and not every victim reports a crime they were victimized by, while global data, such as from UNODC or as gathered in the US TIP reports, are taken from reports by governments based on contact of victims with authorities.
Less than 1% of illegal proceeds derived from human trafficking are confiscated or frozen, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes (UNODC 2011a). I use this estimation, while I realize its limitations to which I also want to bring your attention. Even within countries there is a lot of uncertainty about even the definition of crime, so that a global estimation of profit is inevitably hindered by many assumptions. But nonetheless it gives us a—though imperfect—indication of the money potentially made through this crime. In ‘the European Union and several other developed countries’ the income of sex trafficking has been estimated to be 23.5 billion euros (ILO 2014).
To make the overall sum of money ‘earned’ by human traffickers of $150 billion worldwide more tangible, this is more money than the combined 2021 profits of four large companies: Meta (formerly known as Facebook), Disney, Starbucks, and Nike. This amount is also comparable to the economy of Morocco in 2022 and Kuwait in 2021. Also, it is some $11 billion more than the estimated wealth of Mr. Bill Gates in 2021.
In 2020, according to UNODC, worldwide 6% of victims were subjected to forced criminal activity (UNODC 2011b). Cf, on one such forcibly committed crime, i.e. the forced couriering of drugs, ECtHR 16 February 2021, V.C.L. and A.N. v. the United Kingdom - Applications nos. 77587/12 and 74603/12, 16 February 2021.
This is not to say that globally including in Europe these principles like the non-prosecution and non-puishment principles of victims who are mistaken for perpetrators (‘only’) are always complied with in practice, as UNODC has explained, for example in its report, UNODC, ICAT, The Inter-Agency Coordination Group against Trafficking in Persons, Special Issue 8, available at: https://www.unodc.org/documents/human-trafficking/ICAT/19-10800_ICAT_Issue_Brief_8_Ebook.pdf (accessed on 22 November 2022).
The US State Department’s annual TIP Report reviews responses by governments to combat human trafficking worldwide.
The description of the Epstein case with a view to explaining its corrosive effect is especially important because such human trafficking cases evidently stay hidden for a long time, at least insofar as their full scope and networked form are concerned. Due to the limited scope of this article, however, not all aspects of this large-scale sex trafficking case can be examined in full. Also, this would be impossible at present, given that, despite Mr. Epstein’s death, some elements are still being investigated in several jurisdictions around the world. The below description therefore focuses on the legal facts and procedure followed in the Epstein case that indicate how human trafficking can have a corrosive effect on democracy and the rule of law. Case details have been derived from, inter alia, Unites States Court of Appeals for the eleventh Circuit, case No. 19-13843, re: Courtney Wild, D.C. Docket No. 9:08-cv-80736-KAM, p. 5, available at: https://www.courthousenews.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/wild-epstein-ca11.pdf (accessed on 22 November 2022); United States District Court Southern District of New York, United States v. Ghislaine Maxwell, Defendant, Sealed Indictment, 20 Cr. 330, available at https://www.justice.gov/usao-sdny/press-release/file/1291491/download (accessed on 22 November 2022). Cf. https://www.justice.gov/usao-sdny/pr/ghislaine-maxwell-sentenced-20-years-prison-conspiring-jeffrey-epstein-sexually-abuse (accessed on 22 November 2022). Cf. Brown (2021).
By then the state prosecutor, according to the police, had already changed his position of seeking to prosecute Mr. Epstein. e.g., ‘Privately, Recarey and Reiter were baffled by the change in Krischer’s [the Palm Beach Florida state attorney’s] approach to the case. He went from ‘let’s get him’ to ‘why do you want to subpoena those records?’, Recarey recalled’. (Brown 2021, p. 83). Cf. Patterson et al argue that Krischer had been accused of sexual misconduct in 1992 (Patterson et al. 2020, p. 160).
This non-prosecution agreement listed the following federal crimes: (1) using and conspiring to use a facility of interstate commerce to persuade, induce, or entice minors to engage in prostitution, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 2422(b), 371, and 2; (2) traveling and conspiring to travel in interstate commerce for the purpose of engaging in illicit sexual conduct with minors, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2423(b) and (e); and (3) recruiting, enticing, and obtaining a minor to engage in a commercial sex act, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1591(a)(1) and 2. The Agreement extended immunity to Epstein’s named co-conspirators, ‘Sarah Kellen, Adriana Ross, Lesley Groff, [and] Nadia Marcinkova’, as well as ‘any potential co-conspirators’ of Epstein’s. The latter are thus unnamed possible co-conspirators.
‘Acosta would later contend that he agreed to give Epstein federal immunity from sex trafficking charges based on the unlikely success that prosecutors felt they would have at trial. Even with the little bit that I [Brown] knew about the case in 2016, this never made sense to me. After all, immunity is a benefit granted in exchange for something else of value to prosecutors. What, if anything, did federal authorities get for giving Epstein and his co-conspirators — both named and unnamed— immunity?’ (Brown 2021, p. xiii).
The introduction of prostitution charges —rather than trafficking charges—, may have put additional pressure on victims to not press for prosecution of Mr. Epstein and his co-conspirators because prostitution was at the time an illegal offense in Florida. Cf. ‘Belohlavek [the female prosecutor] was also concerned that, under state law at the time, minors as young as fourteen could be prosecuted for prostitution, meaning the girls could be charged’. (Brown 2021, p. 83).
Cf. Berman: ‘We agreed that our case could not be a rehashing of the Florida investigation. It should focus on assaults committed at the New York mansion, and we should try to find New York victims who were not interviewed in the prior investigation. While the non-prosecution agreement did not bind SDNY, because we did not sign it, the Miami US Attorney’s Office was bound by it. If our case was somehow perceived as a handoff from the Florida prosecutors or a carbon copy of that investigation, it might be thrown out. The last thing we wanted was to make a mistake and give Epstein another get-out-of-jail-free card. Thus, we agreed there would be no coordination with the Florida prosecutors’. (Berman 2022, pp. 153–54).
Brown (2021, pp. xi–xii). Mr. Epstein also owned an apartment in Paris, France, and was there before his arrest in the US (Berman 2022, p. 157). The SDNY was worried about Epstein staying in France, because ‘In contrast to other countries in western Europe, France is problematic when it comes to extraditing criminal defendants to the United States. The most famous example involves the film director Roman Polanski, who fled there in the late 1970s after being charged with raping a thirteen-year-old girl in Los Angeles and has been out of reach of American law enforcement ever since’. (Berman 2022, pp. 157–58).
According to the Unites States Court of Appeals for the eleventh Circuit ‘Following a tip in 2005, the Palm Beach Police Department and the FBI conducted a two-year investigation of Epstein’s conduct’ (p. 3). The Dissenting opinion of Judge Branch, who is joined by Martin, Jill Pryor and Hull, makes this even more explicit ‘following a 2005 report by the parents of a 14-year-old girl that then 52-year-old billionaire Jeffrey Epstein sexually abused their daughter, local Florida authorities—and later the FBI—began investigating Epstein’. (p. 100). ‘In June 2008, Epstein pleaded guilty to the state crimes as agreed and was sentenced to 18 months’ imprisonment, 12 months’ home confinement, and lifetime sex-offender status’. (p. 5), in case No. 19-13843, re: Courtney Wild, D.C. Docket No. 9:08-cv-80736-KAM, available at: https://www.courthousenews.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/wild-epstein-ca11.pdf (accessed on 22 November 2022).
Formerly, Ms. Virginia Roberts who settled with Mr. Epstein in 2009. Earlier, in 2008, Mr. Epstein had also already settled with victims’ representative Mr. Brad Edwards.
e.g., Case 19 Civ. 3377 (LAP), Virginia L. Giuffre, Plaintiff, v. Alan Dershowitz, Defendant, 10-16-2019, available at: https://casetext.com/case/giuffre-v-dershowitz (accessed on 22 November 2022). Mr. Dershowitz countersued. Also, on 15 November 2022, two anonymous women who accuse the late Mr. Jeffrey Epstein of sexual abuse have filed separate civil lawsuits against JP Morgan Chase & Co. and Deutsche Bank AG, claiming the big banks enabled and benefitted financially from Epstein’s alleged sex trafficking operation, available at: https://edition.cnn.com/2022/11/25/business/epstein-accusers-sue-jp-morgan-deutsche-bank-alleged-sex-trafficking/index.html (accessed on 22 November 2022). (Beech 2022).
Both her series in the Miami Herald and her book, from which citations are provided, are entitled Perversion of Justice. For example, Brown argues ‘The Jeffrey Epstein story epitomizes our nation’s lopsided system of justice, and how victims of sexual assault, especially those who are young and poor, are discarded, shamed, and mistreated by the very people who were supposed to protect them.’ (Brown 2021, p. xiv). She also compares the regular course of justice with the one in the Epstein case: ‘Recarey [the lead detective on this case in South Florida], in a fatherly tone, tried to reassure them [the victims] that they would indeed be safe and that Epstein would be arrested, telling them: “It doesn’t matter how much money you have or how many connections you have, if you commit a crime then you will be punished. That’s the way our justice system works”.’. (Brown 2021, p. 16). She adds: ‘One of the many mysteries of the Epstein case is how he got away with such flagrant sex crimes at a time when the FBI was cracking down on child exploitation and putting away men for decades for far lesser sex crimes. In 2006, the Justice Department under President George W. Bush had launched a task force focused on sex crimes against children. Hundreds of arrests and prosecutions happened during these years. Although the effort focused largely on child pornography, combating human trafficking was also one of its aims, even though I [Brown] later came to learn that trafficking, at least back then, was seen by law enforcement as a largely foreign phenomenon perpetrated mostly by black and brown people who came from other countries. The Justice Department didn’t seem to fathom that sex trafficking could be a pervasive crime committed by well-to-do and powerful people in the United States. Or that pornography—especially child pornography—was fast becoming a multibillion-dollar worldwide industry’. (Brown 2021, pp. 17–18).
On the issue of celebrity, former R&B star R. Kelly was sentenced to 30 years in prison on 28 June 2022 (the same day when Ms. Ghislaine Maxwell was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment, and the sixth January 6th hearing took place), for racketeering and sex trafficking, charges stemming from nearly 30 years of allegations that he physically and sexually abused women and minors. Available at: https://www.justice.gov/usao-edny/pr/r-kelly-convicted-all-counts-federal-jury-brooklyn (accessed on 22 November 2022).
Letter from Sen. Sasse to Attorney General Barr (13 August 2019), available at: https://www.sasse.senate.gov/public/_cache/files/1b35b35b-5b79-4447-9cab-5c176cb8fa50/08-13-19-lettertowilliambarr.pdf (accessed on 22 November 2022).
United States District Court Southern District of New York, United States v. Ghislaine Maxwell, Defendant, Sealed Indictment, 20 Cr. 330, available at https://www.justice.gov/usao-sdny/press-release/file/1291491/download (accessed on 22 November 2022). Cf. https://www.justice.gov/usao-sdny/pr/ghislaine-maxwell-sentenced-20-years-prison-conspiring-jeffrey-epstein-sexually-abuse (accessed on 22 November 2022).
New York State, Department of Financial Services, in the matter of Deutsche Bank AG, Deutsche Bank AG New York Branch and Deutsche Bank AG Trust Company of the Americas, consent order under New York Banking Law §§ 39 and 4, available at: https://www.dfs.ny.gov/system/files/documents/2020/07/ea20200706_deutsche_bank_consent_order.pdf (accessed on 22 November 2022). Cf. ‘The story also alarmed Epstein’s financial institution, Deutsche Bank, where some employees had already been raising flags about Epstein’s accounts’. (Brown 2021, p. 282). Cf. Stewart (2020).
Patterson et al. (2020), who also includes original transcripts of interviews by, seemingly contemporaneous notes taken, or a letter written to the state prosecutor by criminal investigators like Reiter and interviews with other investigative journalists like Vicky Ward who profiled Mr. Epstein and (persons who know the) women who consider themselves friends with Mr. Epstein like Eva Dugin, Ana Obregón and Ghislaine Maxwell. One of the victims already identified others as “sex slaves” even though that same approach was ultimately not take by at least federal prosecutor Mr. Acosta (Patterson et al. 2020, p. xvii and p. 37).
This literature and case law review covered all the English-language major university library and google scholar databases without time limitation using key words of “effect(/s) of” “damage done by” “the Epstein case” or “Epstein (sex) trafficking case” on “the rule of law”, ”(US) (U.S.) (United States) (United States of America) (American) (criminal) justice system”, “the United Kingdom”, UK, U.K.” and “France”, “Deutsche Bank”, as well as “abuse of justice”, “perversion of justice”, “abuse of (criminal) procedure”, “(public) corruption”, “Crime Victims’ Right Act” as well as “(Ghislaine) Maxwell”, “(Jeffrey or Jeff) Epstein”, “(Jean-Luc) Brunel”, “Palm Beach Police Department”, “U.S. Attorney’s Office in South Florida”, “Palm Beach Sheriff”, “Special Victims Unit”, “U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of New York”, “SDNY”, “Public Corruption Unit”, “St. James”, “St. Thomas”, and based on Brown’s 2021 book: “(Virginia) Giuffre/Roberts”, “(Courtney) Wild”, “(Sarah) Ransome”, “(Maria and/or Annie) Farmer”, “(Michelle) Licata”, “(Alfredo) Rodriguez”, “Sarah Kelsen”, “Nadia Marcinkova/Marcinko” “(Lesley) Groff”, “(Adriana) Ross”, “(Alex) Acosta”, “(Juan) Alessi”, “(Ann Marie/ Maria) Villafaña”, “(Lanna) Belohlavek”, “(Carolyn) Bell”, “(Ric) Bradshaw”, “(E. Nesbitt) Kuyrkendall, “(Barry) Krischer, “(Joseph or Joe) Recarey, “(Michael) Reiter, “(Daliah) Weiss”, “(Jason) Weiss”, “(Matthew) Menchel”, “(Andrew) Lourie”, “(William) Harvey”, “(Preet) Bharara”, “(Geoffrey) Berman”, “(Jeffrey) Sloman”, “(Jack) Goldberger”, “(Cy) Vance”, “(Alan) Dershowitz”, “(Mike) Cernovich” “(Ken/Kenneth) Starr”, “(Martin) Weinberg”, “(Lilly Ann) Sanchez”, “(Guy) Fronstin”, “(Gerald) Lefcourt", “(Jay) Lefkowitz, “(Paul) Cassell”, “(Brad) Edwards”, “(Spencer T.) Kuvin”, “(David) Boies”, “(Sigrid) McCawley”, “(Jeff) Hermann”, “(Luke) McSorley”, “(Bruce) Reinhart”, “(Jan) Ford)”, “(John) de Jongh”, “Prince Andrew”. Cf. Academic research does cover the Epstein case in relation to how white collar investigative techniques could have better examined its networked form as well as how money and inequity disturbs the balance of power in the US criminal justice system while recognizing some influence of autocratic actors, but does not yet extend to researching its potential corrosive effect, neither from within nor outside of liberal democracies. Cf.. (Binder 2022; Jackson 2019).
For example, in the sentencing memo of the prosecutor in the case of the co-conspirator Ms. Maxwell no reference has been made to the impact of this case on the rule of law, while the prosecution did take into account the aspect of the need to promote respect for the law. Cf. Berman adds about Maxwell: ‘The evidence at trial proved that Epstein had given Maxwell €30 million. It wasn’t credible that he paid that simply to compensate her for managing his houses’. (Berman 2022, p. 180). That aspect has been used to sustain the reason for asking the court to impose a fine, which Ms. Maxwell argued she would not be able to pay due to lacking funds. Cf. https://www.courthousenews.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/06/maxwell-government-sentencing-memo.pdf (accessed on 22 November 2022).
Cf. Even only for the SDNY that did prosecute the Epstein case, during Mr. Berman’s term alone, there was no priority given to human trafficking beyond sex trafficking. Berman relates the following convictions: cases involved a sex-trafficking ring where girls, some as young as thirteen years old, were recruited from the child welfare system at Hawthorne Cedar Knolls, a now-shuttered residence and treatment center for at-risk children in Mount Pleasant, Westchester County; the nine trey gang; Larry May; and Peter Nygard. While the SDNY prioritized (or perhaps still prioritizes) sex trafficking but not yet other forms of human trafficking, in the aforementioned Larry May case also human trafficking for the purpose of labor exploitation was included in the conviction because boys were required to conduct forced labor for the convicted person (Berman 2022, pp. 125–81).
Cf. Section 2. With the notable exception of Shelley (1995), although even this research does not deal with human trafficking specifically—or the Epstein case for that matter—but rather refers to the corrosive effects on states caused by transnational organized crime more generally. Another exception is Snyder (2018) who does not refer to human trafficking or any other specific crimes either, but does mention the effect of illicit financial flows more broadly, as is explained in Section 4.2.
The description of these corrosive factors is inevitably hampered by the fact that it will take years –if not decades– to fully understand the Epstein case in its networked form, in part because the integrity of public and private institutions as well as their representatives who should have investigated these crimes in full seem to have been, at best, manipulated or, at worst, have gotten eroded themselves. However, it is possible to trace some of the most relevant corrosive factors from the Epstein case based on literature that seeks to explain democratic deconsolidation worldwide, as done here in line also with the UNODC’s practice as explained in footnote 55 below (e.g., Diamond 2019; Mounk 2019; Levitsky and Ziblatt 2018; Guriev and Treisman 2022).
The UNODC which examined human trafficking-related corruption examined consequences such as fraudulent travel or identity documentation made by bribed customs officials or actual illegal border crossings facilitated by agents who turned a blind eye (UNODC 2011a). From such consequences, the potential corruption can be inferred. The same will be done here. Cf. supra note 54.
‘Epstein didn’t need to use flamboyant charisma or to showboat his smarts to build his international network of influential people; he did that the old-fashioned way—with his money’. (Brown 2021, p. 128).
Cf. Patterson et al. who argue that this approach changed in or around 2002: ‘Another source, one who had worked with Epstein, said, “He’s reckless, and he’s gotten more so. Money does that to you. He’s breaking the oath he made to himself—that he would never do anything that would expose him in the media. Right now, in the wake of the publicity following his trip with Clinton, he must be in a very difficult place”.’. (Patterson et al. 2020, p. 144).
‘I [Brown] also learned that Epstein likely conducted video surveillance in every home he owned. As insurance, he probably had tapes and photographs of important visitors—mainly men—in compromising situations. Whether that was true or not, even the possibility that he had blackmail material was enough motive for many powerful people to do everything possible to cover up Epstein’s crimes’. (Brown 2021, p. xiv). Cf. Patterson et al. who explais that two surveillance cameras in the West Palm Beach house were installed by the local police itself, though the images could only be seen by Mr. Epstein (Patterson et al. 2020, pp. 76–77).
‘One of his specialties was helping the super wealthy—as well as himself—to avoid paying taxes. Yet he was never in the Forbes 400 list of the wealthiest Americans, largely because the magazine was never able to determine the true size of his fortune’. (Brown 2021, p. 128).
e.g., ‘This seemed suspicious to Michelle [Licata, one of Epstein’s named victims]. So she hired another lawyer, not paid by Epstein. As a mediation, Epstein’s lawyers gave her an offer she would have to accept or reject immediately. She was troubled when her attorney informed her she couldn’t talk to her parents about the settlement first. By then, Epstein’s lawyers had already sent a message that they intended to destroy her and her family’. (Brown 2021, pp. 111–12).
Cf. Berman argues: ‘Even now, it is mind-boggling—and enraging—to look back on the seven-page document [the non-prosecution agreement]. If I had to pick out the most astonishing passage, it might be this one: “The parties anticipate that this agreement will not be made part of any public record. If the United States receives a Freedom of Information Act request or any compulsory process commanding disclosure of the agreement, it will provide notice to Epstein before making that disclosure”.’ (Berman 2022, pp. 151–52). About the impossibility to investigate any prosecutorial or other corruption in this regard, Berman states: ‘What we found out, rather quickly, was that the statute of limitations on any potential corruption charges related to the non-prosecution agreement had long since expired’ (Berman 2022, p. 154).
Citation from Unites States Court of Appeals for the eleventh Circuit, case No. 19-13843, re: Courtney Wild, D.C. Docket No. 9:08-cv-80736-KAM, p. 5, available at: https://www.courthousenews.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/wild-epstein-ca11.pdf (accessed on 22 November 2022).
Initially Judge Marra ruled that this lack of informing the victims about the NPA had violated the rights of the petitioning victim Ms. Courtney Wild under the Crime Victims’ Rights Act, 18 U.S.C. § 3771 (VCRA), but the cited court’s majority did not reach that conclusion. Ibid cited in supra note 62. Berman argues about the impossibility of granting monetary compensation for the victims: ‘Justice was imperfect in other ways as well. We had sought forfeiture of Epstein’s Upper East Side mansion, the scene of so much of his abuse, as part of the indictment. The money could have gone out to victims. But without a conviction, ownership reverted to his preferred heirs. The town house was later sold to a Wallstreet executive for €51 million’ (Berman 2022, p. 173).
‘Two weeks later, Epstein donated money for the firearms simulator. Reiter [the local police chief] assigned someone to start looking into purchasing the equipment. But shortly thereafter, he learned about the investigation into Epstein and put a hold on the purchase. As time went on with the case, Reiter began to suspect that Epstein’s altruistic endeavors were aimed more at influencing the police than they were at helping them. Reiter was smart enough not to return the money immediately. He didn’t want to alert Epstein or jeopardize their investigation’ (Brown 2021, p. 125). ‘“His enthusiasm in making contact and in finalizing the donation was somewhat suspicious, different in manner than when he made previous donations and suggested that he may have become aware of the investigation at that time”, Reiter wrote in a later report’ (Brown 2021, p. 126).
This reference to at least a decade has been made, because it is hard to know when the Epstein human trafficking operation began. As Brown states: ‘It’s difficult to know how and when Epstein’s scheme began. What is known is that in 1998, Epstein’s then girlfriend, the British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell, began visiting colleges, art schools, spas, fitness centers, and resorts in and around Palm Beach County [Florida, the United States], under the guise that she wanted to hire young and pretty masseuses or “assistants” to come to Epstein’s home and work for him’ (Brown 2021, p. 10). Also, ‘Epstein promised to rescue them, but at a cost: not only were they expected to perform for him sexually, but in some cases, they were pressured to have sex with other men old enough to be their grandfathers’ (Brown 2021, p. 10). ‘Epstein’s houseman, Juan Alessi, was ordered to drive Maxwell from resort to resort for her to hand out business cards and recruit massage therapists for Epstein. Alessi was skeptical of her motives, especially when the first who began coming to the house looked as young as Alessi’s daughter’ (Brown 2021, p. 10).
Some of these influences of money on politics and from politics on the criminal justice system in the US may not be felt –at least not to that extent– in other liberal democracies that do not elect their sheriffs, prosecutors and/or judges, for example, such as in the Netherlands. However, dirty and dark money does not have to negatively impact elections ‘only’, of course, as it can be used in other corrupting practices such as (threats of) bribes, campaign financing so as to exert pressure on the legislative branch and (threats to) use violence against criminal justice actors. Cf. Brown who argues that some such influence was at least perceived in Palm Beach: ‘Recarey [the investigating agent] knew full well that the grand jury schedule set by prosecutors—and Epstein’s lawyers—was designed to fail, and, in an interview, he told me how and why he believed that they were throwing the case. It was part political, he said, because Epstein was a million-dollar donor to the Democratic Party, which controls Palm Beach. Krischer was reminded that Clinton was friends with Epstein, and there were a lot of other political heavyweights also tied to Epstein, including George Mitchell. If Epstein’s secrets got out in a big way, it would hurt the party. Krischer was a powerful force in Palm Beach politics, and it was up to him to contain the case’. (Brown 2021, p. 90).
e.g., then Former President Mr. Bill Clinton whose former top advisor attests he had been on the island St. James where some of the abuse took place and now Former President Mr. Donald Trump who is also alleged to have sexually assaulted some of the victims). In New York Magazine: ‘“I’ve known Jeff for fifteen years. Terrific guy”, said Donald Trump, fifteen years before he would be elected president. ‘He’s a lot of fun to be with. It is even said that he likes beautiful women almost as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side. No doubt about it—Jeffrey enjoys his social life”.’ (Brown 2021, p. 42). For example, Brown details: ‘The truth is there were powerful people on both sides of the political rails—as well as people in the worlds of finance, academia, and science—who were involved with Epstein or, at the very least, complicit with what he was doing’ (Brown 2021, p. xiv).
e.g., ‘The message pads [found in his West Palm Beach house during its search] also contained a who’s who of influential people calling Epstein: Donald Trump, Les Wexner, former J.P. Morgan banker Jes Staley, real estate mogul Mort Zuckerman, former Maine senator George Mitchell, and Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein’ (Brown 2021, p. 81). Cf. ‘Maybe they [Epstein’s victims, after seeing Acosta’s confirmation hearing in which Epstein’s name barely came up] had something to say about Acosta running a massive government agency with oversight of human trafficking and child labor laws.’ (Ibid., p. 6). Cf. ‘William Barr, the attorney general, recused himself from the case because of his ties to the Kirkland firm [apparently not because of his father’s hiring of Mr. Epstein for Dalton College and/or potentially knowing him as they were the same age at that time].’ (Ibid., p. 332). Cf. ‘What is noteworthy, besides Epstein’s unrelenting endeavor to game the system, was that he managed to enlist New York District Attorney Cy Vance’s office to help him. Piuckholtz noted that in all her years on the bench she had never seen a prosecutor try to ease the registration burden for a convicted sex offender.’ (Ibid., p. 345). Cf. ‘Then Assistant U.S. Attorney Alex Rossmiller dropped a bomb. “Any doubt that the defendant is unrepented and unreformed was eliminated when law enforcement agents discovered hundreds of thousands of seminude photographs of young females in his Manhattan mansion on the night of his arrest, more than a decade after he was convicted of a sex crime involving a juvenile,” he wrote. Rossmiller also revealed that a phony Austrian passport and millions of dollars in diamonds, some as large as 2.38 carats, together with a pile of cash were found in Epstein’s safe. Epstein had used the now expired passport with a fake name to enter countries in the 1980s, including France, Saudi Arabia, and Spain, prosecutors said. Rossmiller also raised the specter of witness tampering, pointing out that Epstein had recently sent payments to two of his 2008 co-conspirators. Rossmiller said it was clear that Epstein was trying to send a message to the two women that they should keep their mouths shut.’ (Ibid., p. 346). Cf. ‘At the same time that the New York Times was poking into Epstein’s science ties, the Wall Street Journal was dissecting Epstein’s financial and personal relationships with some of the wealthiest people in the country, including Leslie Wexner; Leon Black; Jes Staley, then a top executive at J.P. Morgan; and Glenn Dubin, the cofounder of Highbridge Capital Management, one of the fastest-growing hedge fund firms in the 2000s.’ (Ibid., p. 376)
Cf. ‘I [Brown] had been trying for months to carve out some time to visit St. Thomas and take a trip out to Epstein’s “Pedophile Island,” which was also sometimes called “Orgy Island”.’ (Brown 2021, p. 355). ‘Both Chef James and Island Mike claimed, without proof, that Epstein had the fix in with the former governor of the U.S. Virgin Islands, John de Jongh Jr., and Epstein had even hired the governor’s wife, Cecile, to work for him at his St. Thomas-based company, Southern Trust, which was purportedly a data-mining venture. St. Thomas is a poor island, and it wouldn’t take a lot to get the local politicians to look the other way when it came to doing what Epstein wanted’ (Brown 2021, p. 356). ‘By the time Emily and I [Brown] arrived on St. Thomas, the feds had already raided Epstein’s island. I was talking to a woman who worked on the compound briefly, and whose boyfriend was still employed by Epstein at the time of his arrest. The couple told me that, immediately upon Epstein’s July 6 arrest, one of his employees, Lesley Groff, arrived from New York and began dismantling the camera system on Epstein’s island. His computers were moved, as well as boxes of unknown items. They also said a giant steel safe in his office was carted away. (Groff’s spokeswoman said Groff was not on the island after Epstein’s arrest, and Groff was not aware of any cameras on the island). The couple was afraid, however, and wouldn’t talk on the record. They claimed they had been required to sign nondisclosure agreements with a one-million-dollar penalty. The male employee said when the FBI agents arrived, all the employees were asked to leave. “By then, all the cameras were already gone,” the employee said. “We were surprised that they waited so long to raid the island”.’ (Brown 2021, pp. 356–57).
The Frederick Douglass Trafficking Victims Prevention and Reauthorization Act was passed on 28 July 2022 in a 401-20 vote. Also, the other way around, the Epstein case still translates into many (QAnon) conspiracies including about not only his suicide—also because Mr. Brunel’s suicide similarly happened by way of hanging with bed linen as Mr. Epstein’s—but also how the Clintons—rather than former president Trump or others—are supposedly connected thereto.
Cf. Berman who states: ‘I’m aware of all the conspiracy theories and have looked at them, searching for even a trace of plausibility. There isn’t any’ (Berman 2022, pp. 164–65).
Cf. ‘Her [Ginni Thomas’s, wife to US Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas’s] text went on to suggest the issues with voting machines were somehow connected to human trafficking, a central fear for believers in the QAnon conspiracy theory’ (Riggleman and Walker 2022, p. 18).
The Australian bank Westpac has agreed to conclude a record transaction of $1.3 billion to settle legal action over money laundering and human trafficking for the purpose of child exploitation allegations levelled against it by the financial intelligence agency, Austrac. Westpac is also one of the largest banks in New Zealand. Available at: https://www.austrac.gov.au/news-and-media/media-release/austrac-and-westpac-agree-penalty (accessed on 22 November 2022). This literature and case law review covered all the English-language major university library and google scholar databases without time limitation using key words of key words of “effect(/s) of” “damage done by” “(sex/human) trafficking” on “the rule of law”, ”Australia”, “Philippines”, “Westpac”, “Austrac”, “live streaming of child sex shows and offering children for sex”, “conviction for child exploitation”, “travel”, “flights”, “Peter Scully”, “Brian Hartzer”, “Customer 1” paid $136,000 over five and a half years”, “Customer 5”, paid $75,000 over four years and repeatedly travelled to south-east Asia”. Cf. (Butler 2019).
Although the first case before the European Court of Human Rights concerning sex trafficking involved a Russian national who was found dead on Cyprus (ECtHR, Rantsev v. Cyprus and Russia, Application no. 25965/04, 10 October 2010), Russia has now left the Council of Europe, thereby leaving its nationals without protection from this Court.
This lack of research can be explained somewhat because of the surrounding secrecy because, while it is well known that Russia’s current and former officials and oligarchs are known to store their illegal gains in established democracies, the vast majority of Russian-owned foreign assets are shrouded in secrecy (e.g., Snyder 2018; Bullough 2018; Burgis 2020; Vogl 2022). The sanctions on Russian companies and individuals by the United States and the European Union to which the Netherlands is a member pierce that veil of secrecy to some extent. These sanctions may have an effect on human trafficking given that by estimation 90% of human trafficking happens in the private sector but benefits the Russian government (e.g., Investigative journalists explore leaks like the Panama and Paradise Papers as well as the effects of US and EU sanctions on the Russian state and its oligarchs so as to examine what is known about secret finances of oligarchs in the West, available at: https://www.icij.org/investigations/pandora-papers/as-the-west-takes-aim-with-russian-sanctions-heres-what-we-know-about-oligarchs-secret-finances/) (accessed on 22 November 2022). Nonetheless, (foreign) human traffickers or oligarchs can still often hide that amount of money through shell companies and anonymous ownership. By estimation, the amount of current offshore money is $7 trillion, with 10% of world GDP held offshore (UNDESA 2020). Hence, dirty and dark money has its tentacles in a network of liberal democracies and other states around the globe in all the aforementioned ways. This is why further initiatives including by the Biden Administration to create a global register for ultimate beneficial ownership intends to prevent financial secrecy and promote financial integrity in the future can also assist such much needed research (e.g., Memorandum on Establishing the Fight Against Corruption as a Core United States National Security Interest, 3 June 2021, Presidential actions, available at: https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/presidential-actions/2021/06/03/memorandum-on-establishing-the-fight-against-corruption-as-a-core-united-states-national-security-interest/) (accessed on 22 November 2022). Such research will then also have to extend to the (corrupted) enablers in Western democracies who assist organized crime (cf. Vogl 2022; Guriev and Treisman 2022). All of this is important, without losing sight of the fact that also some of the actions of Western democracies themselves have a damaging effect on democracy and the rule of law including on the international rule of law such as the invasion of Iraq by the United States.
Justice Breyer’s dissenting opinion in McCutcheon et al v. Federal Election Commission, available at: https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/13pdf/12-536_e1pf.pdf (accessed on 22 November 2022).
Cf. Frank Vogl, the founder of Transparency International, in his 2022 book: ‘Across the world, leaders of authoritarian governments, and their cronies, are robbing their people. These leaders are kleptocrats and they are pocketing staggering sums of cash, which they move through the world’s financial system into investments in the wealthiest Western nations. These crimes perpetrated by kleptocrats governing Russia, China, Iran, Egypt, Hungary, Nigeria, and many more nations not only impoverish their own citizens but all of us. More gallingly, we are assisting them in their greed and their grand corruption. Even more worrying, we are complicit in their quest for ever greater power. Central to Western complicity with kleptocrats and their associates across the globe are the armies of financial and legal advisors, real estate and luxury yacht brokers, art dealers and auction house managers, diamond and gold traders, auditors, and consulting firms, based in London and New York and in other important global business centers, who aid and abet the kleptocrats in return for handsome fees– these are the enablers. They are motivated not only by the widespread failures of law enforcement across the Western democracies to impose punishments that are sufficient to serve as meaningful disincentives. At the major banks, for example, who have been prosecuted at times for multi-billion dollar laundering of dirty cash, not a single chairman or chief executive officer has personally faced criminal charges for such activities, while the fines that are agreed to settle legal actions appear, quite simply, to be viewed by bankers as just the costs of doing business’ (Vogl 2022, pp. 1–2). Vogl’s book, however, refers mostly to the crime of corruption but does not examine what underlying crimes—such as human trafficking—provide the funding for such bribes or other means to ensure abuse of power. Oftentimes there is only a reference to organized crime at the aggregate level, which is oftentimes followed by an overemphasis on drug crimes (Vogl 2022).
Cf. Guriev and Treisman who explain how the new class of autocrats which they call ‘spin dictators’ because, just as conspiracies, they have changed into a more subtle and insidious group of dictators who use spin rather than the less sophisticated propaganda and force from previous centuries, ‘recruit and corrupt Western elites much as they co-opt their own educated class.’ (Guriev and Treisman 2022, p. 147). ‘Today’s spin dictators turn Tito’s double game into an art. They participate in Western institutions in order to extract benefits, exploiting the design flaws and weaknesses of these bodies. They trade with Western countries, while denouncing them. They recruit networks of corrupt partners in the West, simultaneously pursuing concrete goals and eroding Western cohesion. At the same time, they make hypocritical speeches about the West’s hypocrisy’ (Guriev and Treisman 2022, p. 152). Cf. ‘Leaders of Western democracies have done little to guard against the backflow of ‘freed capital flows, deregulated business, and opened trade with their former adversaries’ (Guriev and Treisman 2022, p. 209).
Cf. ‘Russia in the 2010s was a kleptocratic regime that sought to export the politics of eternity: to demolish factuality, to preserve inequality, and to accelerate similar trends in Europe and the United States. This is well seen from Ukraine, where Russia fought a regular war while it amplified campaigns to undo the European Union and the United States’ (Snyder 2018, p. 11). ‘In this particular way, the American politics of inevitability, the idea that unregulated capitalism could only bring democracy, supported the Russian politics of eternity, the certainty that democracy was a sham’ (Snyder 2018, p. 262).
Cf. Reich, who argues: ‘History shows that oligarchies cannot hold on to power forever. Oligarchies are inherently unstable. This was as true in ancient Rome as it was in America’s antebellum South, where fewer than four thousand families owned about a quarter of America’s capital in the form of enslaved human beings’ (Reich 2021, p. 166).
Previous examples are the so-called accidental murders outside the ‘criminal milieu’ (vergismoorden) and the detection of a full-fledged torture chamber in the province of Brabant in the Netherlands.
In Dutch: derived from the noun of ‘to undermine’: ondermijnen, the noun ondermijning, which is a shorthand for rechtsstaat-ondermijnende criminaliteit). This is not to say that there is not some debate between Dutch scholars as to what defines this as of yet, as is the case for organized crime itself, of undefined category of crimes. See below in this section (Section 5.1).
In keeping with Snyder’s explanation, this article follows the meaning given to ‘oligarchy’ as used by Aristotle, meaning rule by the wealthy few; the word in this sense was revived in the Russian language in the 1990s, and then, with good reason, in English in the 2010s. (Snyder 2018, p. 11).
The indices measuring the quality of democracy—such as those of the Economist Intelligence Unit, Freedom House, Varieties of Democracy, and International IDEA—includes disrespect for the rule of law in addition to crackdowns on civil liberties, populism’s rise, declines in popular trust in politics and political parties, and falling democratic participation.
Cf. Alegre, who states: ‘Democracy may not have done much for Socrates’ freedom of opinion, but throughout the twentieth century, more and more countries adopted democracy and respect for human rights as the basis for their political and governance structures. To support these shifts, electoral laws developed to protect the democratic ideal of free and fair elections. Limitations on the levels or sources of funding for political campaigns in many countries reflect fears that either oligarchic elites or foreign powers could exert undue influence on the opinions of the electorate. In liberal democracies, there are commonly laws that prevent campaign tactics that might either entice voters to turn out or discourage others from going to vote. These safeguards are crucial to prevent corruption in the election process through votes being either bought or suppressed’ (Alegre 2022, pp. 170–71).
Consequently, this article also juxtaposes the notions of liberal and illiberal democracies currently advocated by elected leaders who corrode their own democracies such as in Hungary, Turkey, and India.
Article 2 (a) ‘Organized criminal group’ shall mean a structured group of three or more persons, existing for a period of time and acting in concert with the aim of committing one or more serious crimes or offences established in accordance with this Convention, in order to obtain, directly or indirectly, a financial or other material benefit. Article 2 (b) ‘Serious crime’ shall mean conduct constituting an offence punish able by a maximum deprivation of liberty of at least four years or a more serious penalty. Article 2 (c) ‘Structured group’ shall mean a group that is not randomly formed for the immediate commission of an offence and that does not need to have formally defined roles for its members, continuity of its membership or a developed structure. There is no definitive list of organized crime, although human trafficking is included as defined in the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children to the United Nations Convention on Organized Crime (Article 3 (a) Palermo Protocol).
The author thanks the two anonymous reviewers for their remarks that ‘hate speech’ and corruption are more familiar to the audience of this journal.
The ideal is that transnational criminal law ensures that the corrosive effects of human trafficking, corruption and money laundering are reflected in laws that criminalize these offenses beyond borders of states, so that one cannot pick and choose the ethical and legal frameworks as a criminal changes country. However, in practice, the reality does not live up to that ideal in all three crime areas, as explained in Section 2, Section 3 and Section 4. Cf, for the idealized picture on corruption and human trafficking, Alegre (2022, p. 315).
The importance of prosecuting not only the proverbial foot soldiers such as those who stormed the Capitol on a whim on 6 January 2021, but rather its planners and those who funded and orchestrated this mob violence from afar also relates to the prevention of class justice (Cf. Rawls 1971). People notice that often lower rungs of criminal networks rather than masterminds are held accountable. This causes erosion of trust in the state because there is a flipside to this too. People do see how supposedly legitimate business, which are oftentimes more responsible for sustaining the (financial) structures of organized subversive crime, usually remain scot-free. Class justice even happens within criminal procedure because ‘(t)he more sophisticated and knowledgeable the criminal, the more valuable is his cooperation and the more benefit he can obtain and offset the punishment which might otherwise have been imposed’ (Burgis 2020, citing Judge Glaser, p. 87). So low-level drug dealers, couriers, or money mules who have no information to give to the government, do suffer the sentence which the law requires (Cf. Sandel 1998).
In the absence of a universally agreed definition of the term, various terminology describing the notion of ‘terrorism’ can be found within its outputs. One notable exception though is the example discussed here of article 2 of the International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism of 1999.
Article 2 (b) of the International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism of 1999.
Currently debates are ongoing whether some aspects of the January 6th attack should be considered stochastic terrorism. While the exact definition has morphed over time, stochastic terrorism has commonly come to refer to a concept whereby consistently demonizing or dehumanizing a targeted group or individual results in violence that is statistically likely, but cannot be easily accurately predicted.
Cf. Alegre, but insofar as the freedom to think is concerned: ‘No one can enslave another person for any reason. Torture and slavery are prohibited absolutely, as they are anathema to human dignity and an affront to humanity. So too is anything that interferes with our inner freedom’ (Alegre 2022, p. 26).
Human trafficking can qualify as organized subversive crime and even other offenses like drug trafficking involving forced couriers who are victims of human trafficking can fit that bill. However, this should not be misread to mean that all organized subversive crime involves trafficked persons who are forced to work in (sex) labor or commit offenses. But some may be. As a related point, this also does not imply that organized subversive crime cannot be committed without any laundering of illegal proceeds derived from criminality. For example, some offenses will still be committed through violence ‘only’ and some of the illegal proceeds will exclusively circulate among criminals. However, oftentimes these organized crimes that are specifically committed because of their significant financial or other material gain can be better understood if the damage to liberal democracies will also be taken into account. As a final qualifying remark, it does not mean either that all organized subversive crime necessarily involves ‘upperworld’ enablers like tax advisors, lawyers and consultants. Some of this criminality can fully stay within the realm of the criminal milieu. However, it does mean that sometimes human trafficking is coupled with money laundering or corruption so that it becomes necessary to fully understand its contribution to the erosion of democracy and the rule of law by also taking into account its corrosive effect on liberal democracy.
This conclusion should not be misunderstood as if this article argues that perpetrators of human trafficking inevitably commit a crime that does not exploit but even undermines state structures and results in a sense of injustice and a loss of trust by the general public in democracy and the rule of law. For instance, there may be instances where a human trafficker abuses one victim without the intent to or larger effect of eroding liberal democracy more broadly. To give a potential example, usually a trafficker who exploits a single victim domestically in a one-on-one pretend loving relationship merely out of financial gain may not have the larger effect of hurting democracy or the rule of law to the extent needed to legitimately qualify as a corrosive effect on liberal democracies (the poor term developed by the Dutch: ‘loverboy’; Bovenkerk and Pronk 2007). While the individual victim and their family or community may consequently lose trust in democracy and the rule of law, oftentimes it will require a larger scale human trafficking operation to have the wider more fundamental corrosive effect on liberal democracy more generally. However, this is not to say that the accumulation of many such cases of one-on-one exploitation cannot create the inadvertent permissive environment that results in erosion of liberal democracies.
Cf. Alegre who bases a similar conclusion about spreading of disinformation on the case of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda insofar as incitement to genocide is concerned: ‘Those who control such media are accountable for its consequences’ (RTLM media case ICTR)’ (Alegre 2022, p. 111) ‘The appeal court ruling provides some interesting insights into the way hate speech and incitement are considered in international criminal law. It found that direct and public incitement to genocide was a crime that could be established even if genocide itself did not follow from the incitement’. (Ibid., p. 111) ‘But the message of the media case is clear—if you use your power and your platform to warp the minds and destroy the lives of others, you will be punished, and your right to freedom of expression will not protect you’. (Ibid., p. 112)
As enablers, this may even require civil and perhaps criminal liability—when, like for banks, due diligence obligations are neglected—of (social) media companies for spreading of human trafficking conspiracies as well as facilitating the actual crime. Cf. Alegre (2022): ‘As technologist turned philosopher James Williams puts it: ‘The effect of the global attention economy—i.e., of our digital technologies doing precisely what they are designed to do—is to frustrate and even erode the human will at individual and collective levels, undermining the very assumptions of democracy. These are the distractions of a system that is not on our side’ (Alegre 2022, p. 143).
Cf. Alegre (2022, p. 291). Cf. ‘The shift from preventing terrorism to preventing ‘extremist ideology’ pulls the focus from preventing actions and behaviour to truing to prevent thoughts, beliefs and opinions’. (Ibid., p. 292) ‘The UN Special Rapporteur on human rights while countering terrorism has pointed out that ‘the perception that a government can authorize or control the way that individuals think or what they believe through targeted ideological or theological interventions or what authorized thoughts or beliefs are has no place in societies governed by the rule of law and respect for human dignity’. (Ibid., p. 292). In his speech in September 2016, the then UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Jordanian Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein, made the direct link between fear, the appeal of the populist and the manipulative potential of new information delivery methods in the digital age: Populists use half-truths and oversimplification—the two scalpels of the arch propagandist, and here the internet and social media are a perfect rail for them, by reducing thought into the smallest packages: sound-bites; tweets. Paint half a picture in the mind of an anxious individual, exposed as they may be to economic hardship and through the media to the horrors of terrorism. Prop this picture up by some half-truth here and there and allow the natural prejudice of people to fill in the rest. Add drama, emphasizing it’s all the fault of a clear-cut group, so the speakers lobbying this verbal artillery, and their followers, can feel somehow blameless. The formula is therefore simple: make people, already nervous, feel terrible, and then emphasize it’s all because of a group, lying within, foreign and menacing. Then make your target audience feel good by offering up what is a fantasy to them, but a horrendous injustice to others. Inflame and quench, and repeat many times over, until anxiety has been hardened into hatred’. (Ibid., pp. 295–96). Cf. Miller-Idriss 2022 who similarly points out that one should no longer refer to conspiracy theories but rather conspiracies without the theory, the supposedly explanatory part.
Intended in common law terms; in the Netherlands this would be membership of an organized crime group because, in short, civil law countries in these instances place more emphasis on conduct than intent (the objective element also known as actus reus rather than the subjective element also known as mens rea), whereas in common law countries generally the subjective element takes priority.
The problem of charnging seditious conspiracy is, in short, that it does not yet capture the notion of ‘erod[ing] slowly, in barely visible steps’ (Levitsky and Ziblatt 2018, p. 3). Instead, the focus is still very much on the public-facing violent components of how elected governments got overthrown in the earlier days. While ultimately violent behavior did occur during the storming of the Capitol itself, many of the related conduct leading up to it was non-violent, such as the funding, planning and incitement of this seditous conspiracy. Since those acts are oftentimes internationalized now as well, it remains incredibly difficult to decide how to charge all relevant acts or omissions best. This also relates to the problems with a domestic terrorism charge, yet mentioned in relation to the Dutch prosecution of the Mr. de Vries murder case. Translating those problems to the United States, which has a criminal definition of domestic terrorism ex title 18, section 2331 of the United States Code, but no specific domestic terrorism laws for its enforcement. Per that section, the term ‘domestic terrorism’ means activities that—(A) involve acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any State; (B) appear to be intended—(i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping; and (C) occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States; and (6) the term ‘military force’ does not include any person that—(A) has been designated as a—(i) foreign terrorist organization by the Secretary of State under section 219 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (8 U.S.C. 1189); or (ii) specially designated global terrorist (as such term is defined in section 594.310 of title 31, Code of Federal Regulations) by the Secretary of State or the Secretary of the Treasury; or (B) has been determined by the court to not be a ‘military force’. (Added Pub. L. 102–572, title X, § 1003(a)(3), Oct. 29, 1992, 106 Stat. 4521; amended Pub. L. 107–56, title VIII, § 802(a), Oct. 26, 2001, 115 Stat. 376; Pub. L. 115–253, § 2(a), Oct. 3, 2018, 132 Stat. 3183). As a related issue, the US may be especially sensitive to a new charge or aggravating circumstance focused on subversion of liberal democracy due to its history of McCarthyism. However, with the right focus on conduct rather than thoughts or words used, it may solve current problems with the newer forms of assaults on liberal democracies that are much more subtle and insidious as a consequence of which a focus on violent coups alone no longer works.
Anti-Defamation League, ‘The Oath Keepers Data Leak: Unmasking Extremism in Public Life’, 9 June 2022, available at: https://www.adl.org/resources/report/oath-keepers-data-leak-unmasking-extremism-public-life (accessed on 22 November 2022).
Because of all the complexities noted above, it is reasonable to conclude that human trafficking is, as a research notion, a wicked problem (e.g., Cels et al. 2017). A wicked problem ‘lacks clarity in both its aims and solutions, and is subject to real-world constraints which hinder risk-free attempts to find a solution’ (Ibid.). It is ‘a social or cultural problem that is difficult or impossible to solve because of its complex and interconnected nature’ (Ibid.). Consequently, research will have to pay special attention to the detection of human trafficking, particularly in spheres that are less known as susceptible to this crime such as labor sectors, domestic work, the forced commission of crimes, and organ removal. For this, it helps to use both empirical and normative findings to understand the systemic issues of organized subversive crime. It helps that financial data can be, as for example in epidemiological research such as into COVID-19, used for modelling. This has the added benefit of testing potential real-world effects, without having to test those in practice.
While research should not be involved in improving criminal investigations, research findings can be used to improve suspicious activity reports regarding human trafficking by banks and other reporting entities under anti-money laundering and anti-terrorism financing legislation. Cf. Berman who states: ‘The traditional way for a US attorney’s office to become involved in a case is that it is brought to them by the FBI or another federal agency. Law enforcement agents come across possible criminal conduct through data analysis, an informant, a victim, or various other means and are often already investigating when they approach prosecutors. We did not always have to wait for that. The Southern District’s resources allowed us to be entrepreneurial, to proactively seek new investigations. I have already mentioned that our public corruption unit would scour complaints filed with the SEC. Similarly, our securities unit did not depend on the SEC referring us cases. We regularly reviewed SARs that banks are required to file and looked for what seemed like egregious violations. Or, through the use of sophisticated data analysis, we spotted patterns of possible white-collar criminal activity that invited more digging on our part. Keep in mind that financial crimes always have victims, and the worst of them ruin people’s lives. The reason we pored over those SARs was to make sure we were doing everything possible to identify financial predators. They didn’t have to be as big as Bernie Madoff to severely hurt people’ (Berman 2022, p. 129). However, Berman thus argues for quite a siloed approach, with SARs being used for the investigation of financial crime rather than all sorts of crime including human trafficking. The question remains: what if the potential SARs from Deutsche Bank regarding Epstein would have been criminally investigated?
Even in the Mueller investigation into the interference with the US election by Russia no structural financial investigation took place; cf. one of its prosecutors Andrew Weissman: ‘In this investigation, that tenacity was as much an asset as a curse: The inability to chase down all financial leads, or to examine all crimes, gnawed at me, and still does’ (Weissmann 2020, p. 264).
It stands to reason that the corrosive effect of dirty and dark money on democratic and rule-of-law institutions is far greater where governments have placed decades-long austerity measures on the public sector including on criminal investigators and the prosecution (so-called ‘more with less’-policies; Reich 2021; Tjeenk Willink 2021). In liberal democracies, the oftentimes squeezed public sector will have to investigate the crime of human trafficking and (related) money laundering and corruption.
Nowadays most corporations are also aware that they may (in)directly cause or facilitate human trafficking or use goods or services made with forced labor (e.g., Shelley 2010). Tech companies, hotels, recruitment agencies, and other legitimate companies appear to play a central role in facilitating human trafficking (e.g., The Texas Supreme Court on 27 June 2021 ruled that Facebook can be held liable for sex traffickers that use its platform to recruit and prey on child victims. Available at https://search.txcourts.gov/SearchMedia.aspx?MediaVersionID=a1c6da82-96ba-48b8-87d3-e5556420b8b4&coa=cossup&DT=OPINION&MediaID=2b5b90ae-2e7e-41ac-9ad6-aceaa1159fc0) (accessed on 22 November 2022). For instance, human trafficking is front and center in debates about how Meta and other Big Tech giants fail to ensure integrity on their platforms (e.g., A leaked SEV (or Site Event) report shows, referenced briefly by The Wall Street Journal’s Facebook Files reporting, indicates that Apple threatened to pull Facebook and Instagram from iOS on 23 October 2019. Available at: https://www.theverge.com/22740969/facebook-files-papers-frances-haugen-whistleblower-civic-integrity) (accessed on 22 November 2022). The Facebook papers showed that, after a BBC investigation into domestic servitude, Facebook scrambled to address human trafficking content after Apple threatened to kick its apps off the iOS App Store. Also, for sex trafficking, there is an intersection of the legitimate economy in the hotel sector and locales such as Airbnb or Vacation Rentals by Owner (VRBO); e.g., The initiative of the Dutch prosecution and police to work with all sex sites to counter forced prostitution; cf. launderettes for the hotel sector in relation to human trafficking for the purpose of labor exploitation. Court of Amsterdam, ECLI:NL:RBAMS:2018:1631.
Cf. Eric Williams who states: ‘(t)hese economic changes are gradual, imperceptible, but they have an irresistible cumulative effect. Men, pursuing their interests, are rarely aware of the ultimate results of their activity. The commercial capitalism of the eighteenth century developed the wealth of Europe by means of slavery and monopoly. But in so doing it helped to create the industrial capitalism of the nineteenth century, which turned round and destroyed the power of commercial capitalism, slavery, and all its works. Without a grasp of these economic changes the history of the period is meaningless’. (Williams  2000, p. 199). Given the emphasis on the Netherlands, it is important to note that, according to Eric Williams, the Dutch East India Company VOC made five thousand percent in profits, and that the profits from the slave trade were smaller than those made by the British East India company (Williams  2000, p. 33).
Cf. Eric Williams: ‘(t)he features of the man, his hair, color and dentifrice, his ‘subhuman’ characteristics so widely pleaded, were only the later rationalizations to justify an economic fact: that the colonies needed labor and resorted to Negro labor because it was cheapest and best’. (Williams  2000, p. 17). Cf. Jill Lepore citing Ohio Democrat Thomas Morris who in 1839 held the fiercest antislavery speech on the US Senate floor yet: ‘(b)orrowing from the Jacksonian indictment of the ‘money power’, he coined the phrase ‘slave power’. Morris described the struggle as a battle between democracy and two united aristocracies: ‘the aristocracy of the North’, operating ‘by the power of a corrupt banking system’, and ‘the aristocracy of the South’, which operated ‘by the power of the slave system’. (Lepore 2018, p. 224).
Cf. Jill Lepore who explains ‘slavery seemed like a monster that, each time it was decapitated, grew a new head’. (Lepore 2018, p. 318). On corrosion from within in the United States, MacLean argues ‘But take a longer view—follow the story forward to the second decade of the twenty-first century—and a different picture emerges, one that is both a testament to Buchanan’s intellectual powers and, at the same time, the utterly chilling story of the ideological origins of the single most powerful and least understood threat to democracy today: the attempt by the billionaire-backed radical right to undo democratic governance’. (MacLean 2018, p. xv).
Cf. Williams: ‘(t)he hope has been expressed that the white servants were spared the lash so liberally bestowed upon their Negro comrades. They had no such good fortune. Since they were bound for a limited period, the planter had less interest in their welfare than in that of the Negroes who were perpetual servants and therefore ‘the most useful appurtenances’ of a plantation’. (Williams  2000, p. 14). But there is an important difference insofar as the legal protections for lifelong enslavement are concerned: ‘Defoe bluntly stated that the white servant was a slave. He was not. The servant’s loss of life was of limited duration, the Negro was slave for life’. (Williams  2000, p. 15).
So, liberal democracies will have to work in concert to tackle the corrosive effect of human trafficking and its related money laundering and corruption within their states and when such corrupting influence comes from outside by autocratic states. The latter should ideally also themselves want to counter this crime. A government of a liberal democracy must be active in countering human trafficking by taking a whole-of-society approach and, where relevant, collaborating internationally including with the private sector (Reich 2021). Corporations should do enough to end their role in facilitating this crime, also through corporate social responsibility (CSR; Reich 2021). Banks specifically should be wary that human trafficking usually involves so much money that perpetrators have to give it a pretend legal origin. Even if earned in cash bills or coins, in our increasingly cash-free societies they or their stooges must usually ‘bring’ these ‘profits’ into the legitimate digital financial sector. When reinvesting proceeds in the crime business or using it on their luxurious lifestyle, this intersects with the digital financial market (Tjeenk Willink 2021; Reich 2021). Even cryptocurrencies or underground banking can be understood as modeled on financial flows through this infrastructure. NGOs should support victims of human trafficking, while also seeking to examine related corruption. The general public in a liberal democracy must be wary to not inadvertently contribute to human trafficking and related corrosion of their state, for example, when purchasing goods made or services provided by victims of trafficking in persons. As a final example, academia should study both human trafficking and related corrosion of liberal democracies.
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Coster van Voorhout, J.E.B. How Human Trafficking Fuels Erosion of Liberal Democracies—In Fiction and Fact, and from within and without. Soc. Sci. 2022, 11, 560. https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci11120560
Coster van Voorhout JEB. How Human Trafficking Fuels Erosion of Liberal Democracies—In Fiction and Fact, and from within and without. Social Sciences. 2022; 11(12):560. https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci11120560Chicago/Turabian Style
Coster van Voorhout, Jill E.B. 2022. "How Human Trafficking Fuels Erosion of Liberal Democracies—In Fiction and Fact, and from within and without" Social Sciences 11, no. 12: 560. https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci11120560