EPRSLibrary By / July 18, 2012

Trafficking in Women

Trafficking in women is a growing market, comparable with the volumes traded in drugs and weapons. Although trafficking affects both men…

© Angelina Dimitrova. Used under license fromm Shutterstock.com
Trafficing in Women
© Angelina Dimitrova.
Used under license fromm Shutterstock.com

Trafficking in women is a growing market, comparable with the volumes traded in drugs and weapons. Although trafficking affects both men and women, it is not gender-neutral, as women are especially vulnerable to trafficking due to their economic and social position, as well as due to the migration process. Therefore it is important to understand the gender-factors that increase vulnerability to trafficking, and to speak of the rights violations that trafficking causes. Trafficking in women can be effectively prevented and women vulnerable to trafficking can be better supported by clarifying the link between trafficking in women and the violation of women’s rights.

The definition of ‘trafficking in persons’ is given in article 3 subparagraph (a) of the Palermo Protocol (UN): “The recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons by threatening or using force or other forms of coercion, abduction, fraud, deception, the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of  person exercising control over another person for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at the very least, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or similar practices, or the removal of organs.”

See also the Library Navigator on Trafficking in Human Beings, April 2012


Trafficking in Women: Explore the Issue / The Advocates for Human Rights, website.
This site gives an overview of what trafficking in women is, how common it is, and focuses to the factors that contribute to it; to protection, support and assistance of the victims; and to the prevention of the trafficking in women.


Trafficking in Persons Report, June 2012 / Department of State, United States of America, June 2012 (Introduction: 61 p.)
The 2012 Trafficking in Persons Report looks at how governments around the world are fulfilling their obligations to combat this crime. It emphasizes continued and strong government action as the foundation upon which the fight against modern slavery is built. The Report makes government-specific recommendations and calls upon the international community as a whole to advance a more robust victim-centered response to this crime.

Cross-border Trafficking In Human Beings: Prevention and Intervention Strategies for Reducing Sexual Exploitation / Peter H. van der Laan, Monika Smit, Inge Busschers, Pauline Aarten. The Campbell Collaboration, 2011, 51 p.
This review includes studies that focus on cross-border trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation, in any form of prostitution or sexual exploitation. It presents studies on anti-trafficking measures that involve evaluations of strategies – policies and interventions – to prevent or suppress cross border trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation. The authors come to the conclusion that policies or interventions to prevent or suppress cross border trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation have not been evaluated rigorously enough to determine their effect.

Biopolitical Management, Economic Calculation and “Trafficked Women” / Jacqueline Berman, International Migration; 2010, Vol. 48, Issue 4, 30 p.
This paper explores cases of trafficking in women in order to understand the ways in which they mask the economics of trafficking, which in turn allows the state to pursue political projects under the guise of concern for trafficked women and/or protection of its own citizens. The paper  explores one national example: Article 18 of Italian Law 40 (1998). The author argues that it has led to an increase in cooperation with criminal prosecution of traffickers largely because it approaches trafficked women as capable of making decisions themselves what they want to do. This paper also considers a more global approach to trafficking embedded in the concept of “migration management”, an International Organization for Migration (IOM) framework that is shaping EU, US and other national immigration laws and policies that impact trafficking. It examines the inherent limitations of both the national and global approach as an occasion to unpack how Article 18 and Migration Management function as forms of biopolitical management that participate in the production of “trafficking victims” into a massified population to be managed, rather than engender a more engaged discussion of what constitutes trafficking and how to redress it.

A Crime that Offends the Consistence of Humanity: A Proposal to Reclassify Trafficking in Women as an International Crime / Nina Tavakoli, In: International Criminal Law Review, 2009, No 9, 22 p.
This article analyses the current international legal framework for the prosecution of trafficking of women and comes to the conclusion that it needs to be revisited if trafficking is to be combated more effectively. The treatment of trafficking as a transnational, rather than an international crime denies its essence as a crime that offends the conscience of humankind and which strikes at the heart of international order. This failure is symptomatic of an international legal order that prioritises and affords greater protection to abuses of men’s as opposed to women’s human rights. This article also analyses whether trafficking is a form of slavery and should be classified as such on the level of an international crime. Reclassifying trafficking as an international crime will not only serve a symbolic purpose, but it will also have a practical effect by imposing obligations on states to tackle it and extending the jurisdictional reach of the courts via the applicability of universal jurisdiction.

The European Approach to the Protection of Trafficking Victims: The Council of Europe Convention, the EU Directive, and the Italian Experience / In: German Law Journal, 2009, pp 205-222
The article analyses the protection of trafficking victims and evaluates its potential for success. In the light of the Italian experience, the author argues that the protection by European law is too narrow and ineffective. The article reflects that offering protection to trafficked persons, independent of their willingness to cooperate with the justice authorities, is necessary in order to protect the victims’ human rights, and also to ensure the full implementation of criminal law.

Violation of Women’s Rights: A cause and consequence of trafficking in women / by La Strada International, 2008, 116 p.
(La Strada International is an European network against trafficking in human beings with a focus on Central and Eastern Europe.)
This report analyses rights and trafficking in women in the nine European countries, which are countries of origin and transit as well as being countries of destination. Trafficking occurs both within as well as across borders. Trafficking can be regarded as a cause of human rights violations because the very act of trafficking constitutes a breach of, amongst others, the right to dignity and security, to move freely and to work in just and favourable conditions. It acknowledges that poverty, unemployment and a cultural context in which violence against women is tolerated are among the most important causes of trafficking. Another important factor is the demand for cheap labour and services in female-designated sectors of work. In order to tackle violence against women, La Strada calls on governments to see that the legislation is implemented, sanctioning all forms of violence against women (and specifically domestic violence) and ensuring the long-overdue prosecution and punishment of such crimes.

Determinants of Trafficking in Women and Children: Cross-National Evidence, Theory and Policy Implications / Akee, R., A. Basu, A. Bedi, and N. Chau. Institute for the study of Labour (IZA), 2007, 32p.
This paper explores the trafficking of women and children into slavery. Using cross-national data, it focuses on market imperfections and differential bargaining power amongst the concerned parties, it shows how the incentives of traffickers middlemen are affected in response to interventions that grant legal status to trafficked persons in host countries and tougher legislation targeting traffickers in the source countries.

Stakeholder views

EU Institutions’ views

Fight against Trafficking in Human Beings/ EU Anti-Trafficking Policy Website, European Commission.
On this EU website one can find information on EU policy, legislation, case-law and publications, as well as information about the group of experts on the field.

Fight against trafficking in human beings / Europa – Summaries of EU legislation
Trafficking in human beings, for whatever reason – sexual exploitation or work – is a violation of fundamental human rights. Because it affects vulnerable groups such as women and children in particular, the European Union has focused its action on objectives aiming to protect these groups and to prevent and combat this phenomenon, especially by strengthening cooperation and coordination between the police and judicial authorities of the Member States. Likewise, the EU is introducing a framework of common provisions in order to tackle certain issues, such as criminalisation and penalties or aggravating circumstances in the case of trafficking in human beings. The action of the EU, which in this way is also designed to protect the victims of trafficking, is based on instruments defining its objectives and priorities, but it is also integrated in a broader context of protection against violence, sexual tourism and child pornography.

Legislation in force

Art. 83(1) states that “the European Parliament and the Council may (…) establish minimum rules concerning the definition of criminal offences and sanctions in the areas of particularly serious crime with a cross-border dimension”. These areas of crime are the following: terrorism, trafficking in human beings and sexual exploitation of women and children, illicit drug trafficking, illicit arms trafficking, money laundering, corruption, counterfeiting of means of payment, computer crime and organised crime.

Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European UnionArticle 5- Prohibition of Slavery and Forced Labour
The prohibition of slavery is set out in paragraph 1 (Article 5). The trafficking of human beings mentioned in paragraph 3 (Article 5) applies to the modern forms of organised crime and exploitation of the person: the trafficking of women and children, and in particular the operation of international prostitution networks. In the context of cooperation on justice and home affairs, the member states of the European Union have taken joint steps to combat organised crime or, more specifically, action against the trafficking of human beings and the sexual exploitation of women and children.

Directive 2011/36/EU of 5 April 2011 on preventing and combating trafficking in human beings and protecting its victims, and replacing Council Framework Decision 2002/629/JHA – Summary of the Directive/ OEIL Website
This Directive establishes minimum rules concerning the definition of criminal offences and sanctions in the area of trafficking in human beings. It also introduces common provisions, taking into account the gender perspective, to strengthen the prevention of this crime and the protection of the victims thereof.

Council Directive 2004/81/EC of 29 April 2004 on the residence permit issued to third-country nationals who are victims of trafficking in human beings or who have been the subject of an action to facilitate illegal immigration, who cooperate with the competent authorities. Official Journal L 261/19, 06/08/04
The purpose of this Directive is to define the conditions for granting residence permits of limited duration, linked to the length of the relevant national proceedings, to third-country nationals who cooperate in the fight against trafficking in human beings or against action to facilitate illegal immigration.

European Parliament

European Parliament resolution of 5 April 2011 on priorities and outline of a new EU policy framework to fight violence against women(2010/2209(INI)).
The resolution draws attention to the worrying increase in human trafficking into and within the EU – a trade which targets women in particular – and urges Member States to take firm action to combat this illegal practice.

Position of the European Parliament  adopted at first reading on 14 December 2010 with a view to the adoption of Directive 2011/…/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council on preventing and combating trafficking in human beings and protecting its victims, and replacing Council Framework  Decision 2002/629/JHA (EP-PE_TC1-COD(2010)0065) – (Procedure 2010/0065(COD)).

Fighting trafficking in human beings: an integrated approach and proposals for an action plan, Rapporteur: Edit Bauer, 16 November 2006, INI/2006/2078
The European Parliament adopted a resolution based on the own-initiative report by Edit Bauer (EPP-ED, SK), and called for a new EU strategy to fight trafficking in human beings.  It considered that measures taken so far to reduce trafficking in human beings had not yielded results in the form of a reduction in the number of victims. On the contrary, trafficking in human beings was the fastest-growing criminal activity in comparison with other forms of organised crime in the EU. Parliament called on the Commission and Council to adopt an action plan to prevent and combat this criminal activity. Parliament addressed a series of recommendations to Council on the legal framework and enforcement of the action plan and laws related to trafficking, on preventing and reducing demand and on protecting victims.

European Commission

An EU Strategy towards the eradication of trafficking in Human beings 2012-2016 press release, 19.06.2012, and Commission Communication: COM (2012) 286 final
In the strategy the Commission proposes concrete measures that complement legislation and the efforts undertaken by governments, international organisations and civil society in the EU and third countries. It is a practical instrument addressing the main needs and challenges in the EU for the next five years from a human rights and gender-specific perspective. The aim is to involve and ensure better coordination between all possible actors working towards the eradication of trafficking, such as police officers, border guards, immigration and asylum officials, public prosecutors, lawyers, housing, labour, health, social and safety inspectors, social and youth workers, consumer organisations, trade unions, employers organisations, temporary job agencies, recruitment agencies, etc. Concrete actions will include the funding of research studies and projects, the establishment of platforms, coalitions and partnerships, the development of guidelines and best practices, awareness-raising campaigns and trainings, etc. The strategy identifies five priorities and outlines a series of initiatives for each of them.

Report on the application of Directive 2004/81 on the residence permit issued to third-country nationals who are victims of trafficking in human beings or who have been the subject of an action to facilitate illegal immigration, who cooperate with the competent authorities, COM (2010) 493
The report is based on a study on the implementation of the Directive. The study was conducted by the Academic Network for Legal Studies on Immigration and Asylum in Europe ‘Odysseus’ (2007).

International organisations’ views

Council of Europe

Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings and its Explanatory Report. Council of Europe Treaty Series No 197, 2005.
The Convention is an international legal instrument to prevent and combat trafficking in human beings, while guaranteeing gender equality; to protect the human rights of the victims of trafficking, design a comprehensive framework for the protection and assistance of victims and witnesses, while guaranteeing gender equality, as well as to ensure effective investigation and prosecution; to promote international cooperation on action against trafficking in human beings.

Trafficking in human beings for the purpose of sexual exploitation
Recommendation No. R (2000) 11 adopted by the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe on 19 May 2000 and Explanatory memorandum.

United Nations

Convention against Transnational Organized Crime; Annex 2: Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime. 2001. pages: 31-39.

The Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons (Palermo Protocol) 2000

General Assembly Resolution 64/178/Improving the coordination of efforts against trafficking in persons, 26 March 2010.

General Assembly Resolution 59/166. Trafficking in Women and Girls, 10 February 2005


OSCE website of anti-trafficking
This site includes OSCE documents on trafficking in persons.


NATO – Trafficking in Human Beings website
The website includes overview of NATO policy on combating trafficking in human beings, official texts, and news on the subject.


Trafficking in Human Beings: Human rights and transnational criminal law, developments in law and practices / Kristina Touzenis, In: UNESCO migration studies 3, 2007, 174 p.
The research has focused on how to combat root causes and gather best practices on trafficking in human beings. The analysis and evaluation of national laws and examples of best practices will be a valuable resource for the subsequent analysis of the effectiveness and relevance of the international legal framework – and both can be analysed in the light of the other. Different from these previous activities this research will not only focus on trafficking on women and children but will also include examples from other regions. But the initial overview and subsequent use of existing UNESCO research should serve two ways: providing concrete examples for this paper and presenting what has already been carried out and its use, and in return this paper will put the previous reports into a more complete and structured framework.

“Women Trafficking” screened at UNESCO  (2007)
“Women Trafficking” is a 25 minute documentary that investigates the social and cultural contexts of women trafficking in Southeast Europe. The film draws attention to the factors that contribute to trafficking – specifically lack of education of young girls, violence against women, poverty, and pervasive gender inequality. While providing an intimate view into a particular context, this somber documentary is an invitation to understand the trafficking of women as a global problem.

NGO views

The Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women (GAATW):

More trafficking less trafficked. Trafficking for Exploitation outside the sex sector in Europe/ GAATW, 2011, 102 p.
In this report the GAATW points out that a broad definition of human trafficking is needed since the ‘traditional’ one focuses on the sex industry as the primary, if not the only, site of trafficking. The last years have seen, especially in Europe, a growing attention to what is termed as ‘trafficking for labour exploitation’ as something somehow separate or different. The creation of two separate and distinct categories such as ‘trafficking for labour exploitation’ and ‘trafficking for sexual exploitation’ could prove to be helpful.

SVAW – Stop Violence Against Women:

Trafficking in Women, Research and Reports.
The site includes a list of researches and reports on trafficking in women.

Bonded Labour in Netherlands (BLinN):

Provisions for victims of trafficking in bonded sexual labour, i.e. prostitution, in 6 European countries (Belgium, Germany, Italy, The Netherlands, Spain, The United Kingdom): Final Report / Aika van der Kleij, 2002, 86 p.
The report is to enable a follow up researcher to research good practices within the possibilities of the international, European and national legal framework regarding the position of victims of trafficking in countries of destination.

Human Rights Watch

Trafficking of Migrant Women for Forced Prostitution into Greece. Human Rights Watch Memorandum, July 2001This memorandum focuses on the specific characteristics of the trafficking problem in Greece, the abuses that trafficking victims suffer, and the government’s to-date inadequate response to trafficking as a human rights violation. The inclusion of a comprehensive set of recommendations on effective measures to combat trafficking and to protect the human rights of trafficking victims signals both the immediate measures that should be taken by the government and the more long-term solutions that might fall within the mandate of the incipient working group.

Case law

Forced labour and trafficking / Case Law Factsheet, Europoean Court of Human Rights, February 2012
The factsheet includes the list of the ECHR cases on forced labour and human trafficking.

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