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Home » Human trafficking

Time to take the gender dimension more seriously

Submitted by on 30 Mar 2016 – 09:57

Women and girls are inherently more vulnerable to trafficking because they are disproportionally affected by some factors which make them easy prey to traffickers. Liberal Democrat MEP Catherine Bearder sheds light on current perspectives on the gender dimensions of human trafficking and says why the European Commission must take it more seriously

Catherine Bearder To coincide with the European Commission’s assessment of the implementation of the 2011 Anti-Trafficking Directive, I am writing a report which will suggest that the EU must identify gender as one of the main causes of human trafficking and offer solutions to deal with the problem. According to the Eurostat report produced this year, 80% of registered victims of human trafficking between 2010 and 2012 were female. Although this horrible crime affects women, men, girls and boys, the statistics show that the gender dimension of human trafficking is clear and undeniable.

Since gender equality is at the heart of the founding treaties of the EU it should also be at the heart of this Directive. Women are inherently more vulnerable due to the structural inequalities between women and men all over the world. For women, the gender based vulnerability can be attributed to barriers of access to education, the gender pay gap, unequal access to decent work opportunities and gender-based violence.
A key example of how gender leads to women becoming victims of human trafficking is prostitution. The European Commission’s 2014 report states that 69% of all registered victims of trafficking were trafficked for the purposes of sexual exploitation, and of that number, 95% were women. Although this report is not intended to stigmatise sex workers or debate different models of prostitution, we cannot deny the prevalence of prostitution in human trafficking.

Of course human trafficking statistics are not always a perfect representation of the real situation, and there is likely to be a big difference between the number of victims registered and the real figures. I will be proposing that EU countries provide gender specific data in order to better assess the gender dimension of trafficking.

While the focus of my report is on gender, it is very important to ensure that we do not put different types of human trafficking in competition with each other. The legal definition of trafficking in this Directive and in other international law makes no distinction between the different forms of trafficking and qualifies all as serious crimes. Labour exploitation for example is often considered a lesser crime than sexual exploitation, as it more likely to be seen as illegal work and breach of employment regulations rather than a crime. In the UK, the common experience of men who come to complain to the police about abuse at the workplace (such as withheld wages) is that they are turned away and sent to a citizens’ advice centre. We must treat labour exploitation as a form of human trafficking and authorities need to deal with it accordingly.

We must also consider the scale of abuse and trafficking of children. The 2014 Eurostat report states that 16% of the total number of registered victims of trafficking were under 18, of which 13% were girls and 3% were boys. Children at risk include child victims of war and crisis, so-called orphans of European labour migration, children in care, child victims of family violence and children from marginalised communities. The implementation of this directive must also consider how poverty and the lack of opportunities influence human trafficking.

Prevention is an essential plank to the strategy of addressing human trafficking, and we must ensure that EU countries are doing all that they can in order to prevent people from becoming victims as well as dealing with the aftermath of the crime. EU member states have an obligation to set up systems for early detection, identification and assistance to victims.

However, the identification of victims is consistently flagged as an issue in dealing with human trafficking. According to the directive, a person should be provided with assistance and support as soon as there is a reasonable-grounds indication for believing that he or she might have been trafficked and irrespective of his or her willingness to act as a witness.

We also need proper and effective services for victims of human trafficking. The Directive itself stresses that victims have the right to certain things and certain types of services. The services for victims should include appropriate and safe accommodation, material assistance, medical treatment, including psychological assistance, counselling and information, and translation and interpretation services where appropriate. Victims with special needs (e.g. pregnancy, poor health, disability) should receive additional help. The nature of trafficking means that victims are unlikely to have the resources to pay for this kind of assistance, therefore this should be free to all victims.

The EU Anti-trafficking Directive is generally held to be the gold standard in trafficking legislation due to its victim-centred and gender-sensitive approach. Despite this, victims of human trafficking in the EU continue to struggle with access to justice and fair treatment as outlined in the directive. It is hugely important that the Commission and member states take action to recognise and take into account the gender dimension of human trafficking.