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Begging for Protection: Legislating, Policing and Preventing New Practices in Human Trafficking

This paper explores the recent amendments to the Portuguese Penal Code that make specific mention of begging as an aspect of exploitation in the crime of human trafficking. Begging elicits emotional and rarely logical responses from members of society - reactions that range from empathy to revulsion. This change in the law could potentially strengthen policing and prevention of human trafficking or alternatively add to the scapegoating of individuals who exist on the fringes of society.
As human trafficking takes on new and more complex nuances, it becomes imperative for criminal justice system to master new ways of both combating crime, and ensuring the protection of its victims. In no other area is this complexity more pronounced than when it comes to persons who are trafficked for the purposes of begging. This is a part of the informal economy that remains mysterious at best. There is very little research on the social phenomenon of begging although historically it has always been a part of the fabric of society. The dichotomy of begging is that its links to organized crime such as trafficking are furtive and hard to prove but begging occurs palpably within the public spaces. In August 2013, Portugal amended its Penal Code to include exploitation for begging as an aspect of human trafficking. It is imperative to consider how the criminal justice system could or should manage this and other newly legislated manifestations of human trafficking. The main concern will be whether legislating specific forms of exploitation, such as begging, heightens the efficacy of the criminal justice system in dealing with perpetrators of human trafficking or instead creates harsher punitive responses to beggars and potential victims of trafficking.