A new report finds that youths in Finland have been forced into prostitution, and that the sugar dating phenomenon is putting teens at risk.
The study was conducted by Elina Kervinen and Natalia Ollus of the European Institute group for Crime Prevention and Control, a UN-affiliated group.
“Human trafficking isn’t visible on the surface,” said Veikko Mäkelä, project manager for the Finnish National Assistance System for Victims of Human Trafficking, an Interior Ministry group which commissioned the report.
Police and social workers don’t always realise that human trafficking underlies some cases of sexual abuse or that a teen caught stealing is working for someone else.
Mäkelä and Kervinen both asserted that sugar dating, which most often involves an older man bestowing gifts on a younger woman, sometimes in exchange for sexual favours, puts teens at risk for trafficking.
Children taken into state custody or runaways are most vulnerable to traffickers. Drug-addicted youths forced to pay off their debts through prostitution are another at-risk group as are young foreign women sold into marriage with immigrant-background men in Finland.
Mäkelä underscores that traffickers are often people close to children – parents, teachers, relatives or friends – individuals that can manipulate a child’s trust.
Since becoming a punishable offence in 2004, Finnish courts have handed down six rulings on child trafficking. Five of the six cases involved native Finnish children.
One of the cases involved a middle-aged man prostituting a 14-year-old girl after he convinced her to live with him. Another case centred on a drug ring holding an 18-year-old woman captive while prostituting her.
Since 2007, the Finnish National Assistance System for Victims of Human Trafficking has dealt with some 200 human trafficking cases involving minors and people under 21.
However Kervinen, who co-authored the report issued on Thursday, said many more victims need help.
Most victims coming through the national assistance system are asylum-seekers, according to Mäkelä.
The report showed that it was easier for authorities to detect human trafficking abuses among asylum-seekers than the native population.
Some young asylum-seekers have been sexually abused in their countries of origin, en route to Europe as well as in Finland, according to Mäkelä.