|| News: A Crime That Should Shame Us All|
A Crime That Should Shame Us All
Eighty percent of trafficking victims are sold for sex.
February 25, 2009
By Swanee Hunt
In the midst of the bitter winter of a failing global economy, the
United Nations is calling the world's citizens to recognize the plight
of the most vulnerable: slaves.
fitting that on the birthday of Abraham Lincoln, the Great Emancipator,
the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) launched its first assessment
of the scope of human trafficking, the modern-day form of slavery.
findings are grim. Based on data from 155 states, the "Global Report on
Trafficking in Persons" includes country-specific information on
legislation and criminal-justice responses to global patterns and
criminal network flows. While the number of countries that have moved
toward implementing the UN Protocol Against Trafficking in Persons
(2000) has doubled since 2006, two of every five countries in the study
have not convicted a single person on trafficking charges -- that's
more than half of the UN member states.
True, the number of
convictions worldwide is increasing each year, but not in proportion to
the growing incidence of the crime. Governments are either unequipped
or, worse, unwilling to attack the fastest-growing criminal industry in
One of the greatest barriers to progress is the
misleading term "trafficking," which implies movement. There's nothing
magic about moving a girl from Kyiv to Paris, or from Dallas to Boston.
In either case, when children are exploited for pornography, or
terrified adults work for miniscule pay, it's enslavement.
UNODC study estimates that 80 percent of slaves are sold for sex, while
the remaining 20 percent are forced to toil in fields, homes, and
sweatshops. Worldwide, children make up 20 percent of victims, with
estimates as high as 100 percent in some areas of West Africa.
report provides much-needed data and brings us closer to understanding
the depth, breadth, and scope of trafficking; but as UNODC Executive
Director Antonio Maria Costa admits, "We don't know much about the size
of the iceberg that lies beneath." No UNODC figures for the total
number of victims exist, but the International Labor Organization
estimates that it is growing by 2 million people every year -- if you
don't count those who have died or been rescued. Countries documented
only 22,500 victims rescued in 2006. That means that only one in 100
victims is freed from bondage.
"Are we making some progress? I
wish we were," Costa lamented during the New York release of the
report. "Twenty-two thousand rescued; 2 million in the pool; 99 percent
of the victims are still victimized -- I would like member states to
take this more seriously. This is a very strong message." It's a
message the United States and Europe, in particular, must not ignore.
just returned from a six-city swing, mostly in Eastern Europe,
examining antitrafficking strategies. So I was not surprised by the
finding that, although European countries (with the exception of
Estonia) have legislation against trafficking, there is a decrease in
the number of investigations in Western and Central Europe. The number
of people being trafficked within and between European countries is
growing, but it seems political interest is declining.
positive note, Eastern Europe and Central Asia registered a steady
increase in convictions between 2003 and 2007. Although this could be
attributed to pressure from the international community, countries such
as Moldova, the Russian Federation, and Ukraine should be commended for
taking tangible steps to root out trafficking. During my travels, I was
amazed to discover that the government of Ukraine has created a unit
within the Interior Ministry to target trafficking, with no less than
the most troubling finding from the report was that a significant
number of arrested members of trafficking networks are women. And
often, women trafficking victims accept an offer of greater freedom and
less abuse in exchange for trapping others. Has Europe failed its women
twice over, creating appalling situations where women are compelled to
be both victims and victimizers?
Perhaps the real picture is
that male criminals in the upper echelons of the hierarchy use women to
carry out the most visible tasks, in the same way that drug lords use
women as "mules." As terrorists may use female suicide bombers because
they seem less threatening, women recruiters can more easily build
trust with the young women they're luring into the sex trade. And once
caught, women don't have the same "boys' networks" that allow them to
buy off corrupt police and judges as easily as their male counterparts.
After the Iron Curtain fell, rural villages in Eastern Europe
were emptied of their women, who were shipped like chattels to the
United States, Canada, and Western Europe. Although European children,
women, and men are still being exported and exploited, the UN
identified Europe as the destination for victims from other parts of
Europe, but also Africa, Latin America, and Asia. Prague is one of the
20 top sex-tourism destinations in the world, and the infamous
red-light district of Amsterdam has become a den of illegal trade in
flesh. The economic crisis will probably push more women to desperation
as the only thing they have left to sell is themselves.
need to find ways to attack the problem at its core -- by eradicating
demand. Yes, it's crucial to help rescue victims of trafficking.
However, unless we deal with the market, trafficking will continue to
grow. It's more likely that we can curb the demand for commercial sex
and labor before we solve the social inequities that contribute to the
Although Europe overall is a leading driver of demand,
individual countries are taking the lead in tackling demand, at least
for commercial sex. Last year, I traveled to Scandinavia with Lina
Sidrys Nealon, manager of the modern-day slavery project at Hunt
Alternatives Fund, to examine the innovative ways in which Sweden and
Norway are fighting the sex trade. Originally ridiculed yet now lauded
around the world, Sweden's 1999 "Sex Purchase Law," which criminalized
buying sex and decriminalized selling sex, is rendering trafficking
almost nonexistent in that country.
Norway recently made it
illegal for its citizens to purchase any sex act anywhere in the world.
In Lithuania, Greece, Ireland, and Finland, it's a crime to buy sex
from trafficked persons. Britain's Home Office has taken it one step
further, introducing a law in December that made it an offense to pay
for sex with someone "controlled for another person's gain," including
pimps, traffickers, and drug dealers who force addicts into
prostitution to repay them.
Even in Amsterdam, a third of the
red-light-district brothels were closed in 2008 due to their
involvement in illicit trafficking. Communities in the Czech Republic,
Italy, and England have shifted law enforcement energies to arresting
customers, while providing the sellers of sex with social services
rather than taking them to court, in contrast to the ineffective
practice we see in the United States of arresting women and girls in
the sex trade, while ignoring the men.
The UN calls trafficking
"a crime that shames us all." When our fellow human beings are treated
as commodities, our own humanity is diminished. Let us turn shame into
action and remove this stain from our soil, from our souls.
Swanee Hunt served as U.S. ambassador to
Austria from 1993 to 1997. She is Eleanor Roosevelt Lecturer in Public
Policy at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, and president of Hunt
Alternatives Fund, which includes a project focused on fighting the
demand for sex trafficking.
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