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Organized Crime’s Involvement in Sex Crimes and Human Trafficking

By Dena Weiss, professor of criminal justice at American Military University

Organized crime plays a significant role in human trafficking in countries worldwide. Often beginning as a voluntary action, human trafficking quickly turns into the recruitment, transport, and control of an individual. The criminal act not only involves trafficking an individual, but also the demand for exorbitant fees to transport a person and create fraudulent passport documents. Once an individual has arrived in a new country, the organized crime members remain in control and usually force the immigrant into prostitution or forms of slavery such as working in a sweatshop.

Human smuggling is considered the recruitment, transport, and harboring of illegal immigrants, however, it does not involve misrepresentation of illegal immigration fees or extortion. Immigrants involved in smuggling transactions pay fees upfront and the business transaction and contact with the recruiter ends at the border (Grubb, 2009). Immigrants rarely have any additional interaction with the group that assisted them and are not obligated to the organization financially. They are expected to find their own work and accommodations once they have arrived at their destination.

Transnational human trafficking is believed to have become one of the least dangerous and most profitable enterprises for organized crime groups. Organized crime has easily adapted to the technology changes mandated for travel abroad. Unlike the 19th century when distinct ethnic groups dominated during different time periods, organized crime has no prejudice at present. Many different criminal groups all over the world work together and often share profits, which makes controlling human trafficking next to impossible for law enforcement.

Asian Gangs and Human Trafficking
China has experienced economic growth within urban areas of southeastern provinces; however, the rural areas have suffered with little agricultural progression. Most available jobs are reserved for those who are well educated and living in the city. Migrant workers who live a transient life quickly fill factory jobs that pay low wages and require long hours. The United States is seen as the ultimate escape where there are no limits on family size and citizens have endless opportunities for employment.

Due to poor economic conditions in China, the business of trafficking Chinese citizens into the United States has become a lucrative business for organized crime. One specific Asian crime organization is referred to as the “Triads.” The group has been very successful in the United States creating cells in New York, Miami, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, and Houston (Abadinsky, 2010). Human trafficking has become the crime of choice not only because it is safer than offenses such as drug trafficking, but because there is low overhead. Century old cargo carriers are used for travel and occupancy is triple what it should be resulting in rancid conditions onboard vessels. Traffickers may charge as much as $35,000 per immigrant but only require a $100 deposit (Logan, Walker, & Hunt, 2009). Once the person arrives in the United States they are obligated to pay the remainder of their debt or become enslaved by the Triads either in sweatshops or prostitution houses. Gang members threaten death or violence against them or their families if they attempt escape.

The home base for the Triad organized crime group is believed to be in Hong Kong; however, they have heavy control of Taiwan where billions in profit flow through legitimate businesses. In Spain, the Triad gangs have infiltrated a small Chinese community and have corrupted both law enforcement and government agencies. When someone dies in this town, the Triad gangs simply give the person a new identity by recycling their legal citizenship documents. Nobody ever questions why the population is skewed and there are no deaths year after year. Triad groups are masters in exploiting foreign government and often pay large sums to agencies masked as donations to the military or economic development when the money is actually bribe money for access to ports and facilities needed for their operations. Although there are many hierarchical groups within Asian organized crime it is decentralized making it difficult to obtain information regarding international connections when an arrest is made (Logan 2009).

Russian Mafia and Human Trafficking
Human trafficking mainly for the purpose of prostitution has also become the preferred crime for the Russian mafia due to the high profit margin. The majority of women who fall victim to trafficking are from poor economic countries such as the Ukraine and Romania who do not offer many job opportunities for young women even if they are educated (Zalisko, 2000).

Women are recruited using appealing advertisements in newspapers and magazines. The advertisements promise big money and free housing for employment as a nanny, go-go dancer, or waitress in the United States. Many victims are assured they will meet rich men in the big city eager for marriage (Walker-Rodriguez & Hill, 2011).

Victims are provided transportation and travel papers but are quickly stripped of identification once they arrive at their destination. Once the women realize they have been tricked into what some call modern-day slavery, they often fight or attempt to escape. Mafia thugs subdue the women with violence and isolation. Narcotics such as heroin and methamphetamine are given to the women routinely to get them hooked and dependent on the gang members to feed their habit. In typical mafia fashion, the mob photographs the sex slaves with clients and threatens to send the photographs to their family members if they step out of line (Abadinksy, 2010).

Law enforcement worldwide is attempting to address the problem of human trafficking by creating treaties and task forces to fight transnational organized crime, but have had little support from many of the politically corrupt countries heavily involved in the crime. The best course of action at this time is targeting the financial crimes that typically occur in conjunction as part of human trafficking with the hope that organized crime will find the criminal act more risky and less profitable than in the past.

Dena Weiss PhotoAbout the Author: Dena Weiss is a full-time professor at American Public University System, teaching courses in criminal justice and forensic science. She has been a crime scene investigator for more than 17 years and is currently a fingerprint expert for a central Florida police department. Prior to that position, she was a serologist for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Her court experience includes testifying in court cases in over 15 Florida counties in more than 200 federal and circuit court cases.

Dena has a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and sociology from Mary Baldwin College and a master’s degree in forensic science from Virginia Commonwealth University. She is currently working on her PhD in business administration with an emphasis in criminal justice.


Abadinsky, H. (2010). Organized Crime. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

Grubb, D. (2009). The multi-faceted challenges of human trafficking: Modern-day slavery in a globalized world. International Journal of Restorative Justice, 5(1), 69-103.

Logan, T., Walker, R., Hunt, G. (2009). Understanding human trafficking in the United States. Trauma Violence Abuse, 10(3), 1-29. DOI: 10.1177/1524838008327262

Walker-Rodriguez, A. & Hill, R. (2011). Human sex trafficking. FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, 80(3), 1-9.

Zalisko, W. (2000). Russian organized crime: The foundation for trafficking. Police, 24(5), 18-22.

Leischen Kranick is a Managing Editor at AMU Edge. She has 15 years of experience writing articles and producing podcasts on topics relevant to law enforcement, fire services, emergency management, private security, and national security.

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