3. Factors that Contribute to Trafficking in Women


Economic Factors
Demand for Women's Sexual Services
Search for a Better Life and Desire to Travel

Domestic Violence
Organized Crime
Conflict Zones and Militarization
Government Policies and Practices

Many factors compel women to seek employment outside their home country. It is usually a combination of factors that push women and girls into situations in which they are exploited and become victims of trafficking. The various factors that contribute to trafficking are sometimes categorized as "supply side" factors, such as the feminisization of poverty, and "demand side" factors, such as weak border controls in destination countries.

While this analysis is useful in explaining the complex nature of trafficking, the factors that play a role in trafficking are actually interdependent and interconnected. Some factors, such as military conflict, do not fit neatly into either the "demand" or "supply" side of trafficking, but nevertheless have contributed to this problem in some regions. For example, internal conflicts force people to leave their home country, which may encourage trafficking across borders. On the other hand, an increase in military personnel in a specific region also increases the "demand" for women to be brought from outside to work in the commercial sex industry.

Effective strategies to eliminate trafficking necessarily involve addressing the multiple factors that contribute to trafficking in women.

Economic Factors

At its core, trafficking is a result of women's unequal economic status. Of the world's poor, a large portion are women. The number of women living in poverty has also increased disproportionately to the number of men. Women, more frequently than men, have the additional economic burden of caring for children. Women also face discrimination that limits their employment opportunities. In the employment setting, women are often the first fired and last hired. Women also disproportionately experience sexual harassment in the workplace. This situation forces many women to look abroad for work and makes them particularly vulnerable to exploitation.

Women's lower economic status is worse in countries undergoing economic transition. All of the countries in Central and Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States are experiencing dramatic economic and political transitions as they have moved from centralized economies to free market systems. While there is tremendous variation in how individual countries in this region have experienced the transition, women have been negatively impacted by high unemployment rates and the loss of social programs that existed in the past. For many women in post-Soviet countries, the transition has meant they are less economically independent than they were previously.

The economic disparities that exist both within and between countries are another factor that promotes trafficking. Trafficking takes place from low-income countries to high-income countries, where the demand for cheap and low status labor exists. Typically, traffickers target women and girls who are economically disadvantaged in their home country or region and transport them to wealthier countries or regions that can support the commercial sex industry.

Finally, trafficking in women has proven to be a lucrative business that has become a significant source of income for organized crime enterprises. By some estimates, trafficking is the fastest growing source of profits for organized crime rings. Immigrant smuggling, which includes trafficking, is estimated to generate gross earnings of between five and seven billion USD annually. From, Summary of the Report of the Rapporteur. International cooperation in fighting illegal immigration networks, IOM Seminar on International Responses to Trafficking in Migrants and the Safeguarding of Migrant Rights (1994). According to a 2000 report by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), "In most of the major recent trafficking cases in the United States, the traffickers made anywhere from one to eight million [USD] in a period ranging from one to six years."

Traffickers profit from the "sale" of the trafficking victim and also exploit the women themselves. The CIA also notes, "Traffickers typically charge the women inflated prices for securing the alleged jobs, travel documentation, transportation, lodging, meals, and incidentals. To increase profits, the women are kept in poor, crowded conditions. It is also common for trafficked women to be charged to buy their passports back. The fee is usually around USD $900 for women from the Newly Independent States and Central Europe."

Demand for Women's Sexual Services

Much of the work being carried out internationally to combat trafficking focuses on the need to address the unequal economic relations between men and women. Preventative work usually involves either reform of the political system, such as legislation and ending government corruption, and education campaigns directed at women and girls who might be at risk for trafficking. Some women's advocates, however, argue that the missing dimension to effectively address trafficking is male demand for women's sexual services.

The trafficking of women into the commercial sex industry is primarily to countries in which prostitution and the provision of other sexual services are either tolerated or legal. An article by Sari Kouvo of the Department of Law, University of Göteborg, Sweden explains "Trafficking in women and children is connected to the existence of legal, semi-legal and illegal sex markets, and the existence of these sex markets is directly connected to the fact that there are men who are willing to pay for sex (in all its varied and exploitable forms)." Ms. Kouvo also maintains that anti-trafficking initiatives in Europe rarely address the demand for sexual services, "Although many European countries are seemingly upset with the increasing trafficking in women, few are prepared to make these links, and take political action aimed at questioning the demand side, i.e. the behavior of potential customers (men). Although it is evident that without men buying sex there would be no basis for trafficking and sexual exploitation of women." From The Swedish Approach to Prostitution.

The issue of male demand for sexual services often becomes confused with debate over the legitimacy of prostitution as a form of work. In brief, some women's activists view prostitution, in any form, as men's sexual exploitation of women that is always harmful. Other advocates take the approach that the harmful effects of prostitution are related to the fact that it is often stigmatized and relegated to the informal sector, where women cannot receive the protection of labor codes. In her article, Regulating the Global Brothel, Leah Platt argues that women who chose to travel to work as prostitutes are part of a larger phenomenon of the "feminization of migration" and that women who decide to sell sexual services should be afforded the same basic protections as they would in other forms of work.

Regardless of the approach one takes to prostitution in general, comprehensive policies that address the demand for sexual services are necessary. Kvinnoforum, a Swedish Women's Forum that operates Q-Web, a women's network, created a resource manual for NGOs working on the issue of trafficking titled A Resource Book for Working against Trafficking in Women and Girls-Baltic Sea Region [rich text document]. The Resource Book includes research which found that the demand for sexual services is "an issue of attitudes that . . . vary in its expression in different parts of the world - but that can be addressed." The Kvinnoforum study suggests that general educational and public awareness programs may be effective in changing male attitudes about women and commercial sex work and in protecting potential victims of trafficking.

The Search for a Better Life and Desire to Travel

After the disintegration of the Soviet Union, new opportunities to travel, study and work abroad arose for women living in Central and Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States. Poverty as well as other factors, such as a desire to travel, compel many women to look abroad in search of better lives. Many women attempt to explore the world through employment agencies or study abroad programs, without knowing whether the agencies are legitimate. While it is possible in some countries to verify the legitimacy of an educational or employment agency, often through hotline services, non-governmental organizations have determined that there is still a need for basic information about safe employment or travel opportunities.

Understanding that women have equal rights to travel where they wish, some advocacy organizations have developed guidelines to assist women who have decided to travel in search of new opportunities. For example, a set of guidelines, Things to Think About for Women and Girls Who Decide to Work Abroad, were designed by La Strada, Bulgaria to help women and girls protect themselves and remain safe when they leave their home country. The U.S. government has also created a brochure titled, Be Smart, Be Safe, which includes information for women on how they can protect themselves when they travel to and work in the U.S. The brochure is available at 27 U.S. embassies in 24 different languages.

Domestic Violence

Domestic violence is one of the most widespread violations of women's rights in the world. Due to limited legal mechanisms and support for abused women in many communities, women often see few opportunities to end the abuse. Research suggests that victims of domestic violence may also be at risk to become victims of trafficking when they seek work abroad in order to leave the abusive situation. Research conducted in Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights on Trafficking in Women in Moldova and Ukraine identified domestic violence as a key factor that influences women's decisions to leave home for work. A report by Save the Children on Child Trafficking in Albania confirms these findings. The following case studies, from the Save the Children report, illustrate how women who are subjected to violence are vulnerable to being trafficked:

Case Study 1: Personal Background of E.B.

"E. B., 20 years of age, grew up with her mother who [divorced E.B.'s father] when E. B. was twelve years of age . . . Both parents are re-married . . . Because of the frequent and increasing violence of the stepfather towards her and her mother, E. B. decided to run away from home and sought shelter at her cousin's house. Her cousin had worked in Italy as a prostitute, her husband being her pimp. Once back in Albania, she started to deal with the trafficking of other girls, using her house as lodging for the girls who were waiting to travel to Italy.

These girls were fully aware of their final destination and of the type of activity they would be undertaking in Italy, so E. B. knew the nature of her cousin's 'job' perfectly well. What she did not know and could not even imagine was that her cousin was preparing the same treatment for her and that her plan was to sell her for 2 million liras. . . . Upon her arrival in Italy, she understood that things were quite different from what she had expected, and after refusing to work as a prostitute, she was savagely beaten and maltreated, not only by her pimp but also by the other boys and girls. . . ."

Case Study 2: Personal Background of M.R.

"M. R. left Albania together with her sister X. G. of her own will, and aware of what kind of activity she would be doing in Italy. An Albanian citizen called I. P. helped to organize the trip. He has been M R.'s boyfriend for approximately a year though she was already married. The reason M. R. decided to [sic] this was extreme poverty and also the conditions of her marriage where she had been subjected to violence since the age of 14. Obviously, her boyfriend only pretended to be in love with M. R. to convince her to take the trip."

Women who have few means to escape abusive relationships may turn to employment services, matchmaking agencies or other offers of help to travel abroad in order to escape their current environments.

Organized Crime

Organized crime rings operate throughout Central and Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States and are connected to organized crime throughout the world. Organized crime in the region includes activities such as money laundering, racketeering, extortion, bribery of public officials, trafficking of narcotics and weapons and trafficking of women and children. According to the United Nations Center for International Crime Prevention, "Over the last decades, smuggling and trafficking have become a major activity and source of income of criminal organizations, at the national and international levels. Different criminal networks, both local and transnational, are facilitating and/or managing smuggling and sexual exploitation, while making substantial profits. . . . An ever increasing networking among different organized crime groups provides for economies of scale and for full control of the smuggling-trafficking sequence; from smuggling to the control of sex markets." From Global Program against Trafficking in Human Beings: an outline for action, Center for International Crime Prevention and the United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute (1999).

The Center for International Crime Prevention also points out that the development of effective counter-trafficking strategies, at both the national and international levels, is hindered by the lack of research on the "overview of the size, nature and development of organized crime involvement [in trafficking]." The fact that criminal enterprises conduct much of their recruitment activities through legitimate front businesses, for example newspaper advertising, local travel agencies or visa services, makes it difficult to track who is conducting the illegal activity. Furthermore, local recruiters may often be acquaintances or family members (frequently they are women who were once victims of trafficking themselves) who have little information about the structure of the larger criminal enterprise. Thus, because of the difficulties in gathering high-level criminals, people with low-level involvement in trafficking are most often prosecuted.

The transnational and highly-organized criminal dimensions of trafficking make it unique from other forms of violence against women. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that advocate for women's rights, therefore, must approach the problem of trafficking with an understanding of the potential danger involved, the possibility of government complicity in trafficking and the need to cooperate extensively with NGOs in other countries.

Conflict Zones and Militarization

Internal conflict destabilizes a country's economy and disrupts social patterns. Conflict situations can force women to prostitute themselves in order to support their families. In some cases, women are forced into prostitution when rape is used as a weapon of war by enemy soldiers. Conflict and the resulting instability weaken border controls and facilitate the movement of women from country to country. High levels of corruption are also found in conflict zones where separatist regimes may be funded by such activities as kidnapping, trade in narcotics or trafficking in people.

Combat results in an increased military presence. The stationing of troops in both conflict and post-conflict areas is often followed by the development of the sex industry there. This phenomenon has been recognized around the world during every war. Victims of trafficking are sometimes delivered to brothels that serve military bases. Military involvement in trafficking and prostitution ranges from ignoring the problem and failing to discipline troops to actual regulation of the sex trade. As Isabelle Talleyrand explains in Military Prostitution: How the Authorities Worldwide Aid and Abet International Trafficking in Women the military's involvement in trafficking includes "regulation of the prostitution industry in "officially approved brothels," ensuring a steady supply of available military prostitutes, acting as procurers, keeping track of the prostitutes that had contracted sexually transmitted diseases (with the intention of protecting the servicemen and not for the purpose of informing the prostitutes), and in some instances, government to government agreements that keep track of prostitutes through identification."

In December 2001, the international media reported on a United Nations investigation into whether members of the UN International Police Task Force (IPTF) in Bosnia directly participated in trafficking in women for forced prostitution. The Washington Post reported that among the various charges under investigation, two policemen with the peacekeeping forces were accused of recruiting Romanian women, purchasing false documents for them and selling the women to Bosnian brothel owners. Ultimately, the UN halted the investigation, and the UN Mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina issued a statement that "no U.N. international police officers had been found to be involved in the trafficking of women in Bosnia and Herzegovina."

Government Policies and Practices

Trafficking in women persists, in part, due to the fact that many national governments neither control nor prevent the problem. Government policies and practices may actually facilitate trafficking. The connections between national government practices and trafficking vary. At one end of the continuum, government inaction and lack of attention to the matter make it possible for trafficking to exist. At the other end, corrupt government officials may be actually involved in the trafficking process.

At a minimum, a government may lack legislation on trafficking or existing regulations may be out-dated and thus ineffective in addressing the problem, particularly in the case of trafficking perpetrated by transnational crime rings. Combating organized crime at this level requires sophisticated investigation, monitoring and prosecution procedures as well as constant cooperation with colleagues in other countries. Related to the lack of legislation, government agencies, especially those involved in law enforcement, border control and immigration must receive specific education and training to effectively work against trafficking. Many national governments do not provide this type of support for government servants. Likewise, many governments have not implemented national policies that coordinate the work of the various branches that deal with trafficking, including law enforcement, immigration and social welfare agencies. Many countries lack the capacity to respond to trafficking, either due to infrastructure weaknesses or lack of material resources.

In the middle of the continuum, a government's national immigration policy can inadvertently impact trafficking routes. Weak border controls and untrained immigration officials make it possible for victims of trafficking to be transported both through transit countries and to destination countries without detection. On the other hand, strict border controls and entry requirements limit the possibility of legal migration. In such situations, women seek out agencies that will aid them to travel, and the agencies themselves are often fronts for traffickers.

In extreme cases, individual government officials, such as border guards, police officers, court officials, participate in or benefit directly from trafficking. Government corruption may take the form of receiving bribes from traffickers or profits from the trafficking industry, cooperation with traffickers or refusing to provide trafficking victims with assistance. Non-governmental organizations have raised concerns about reports of government officials demanding bribes from trafficking victims in order to begin investigation, police colluding with traffickers to return women to brothels and of border guards assisting in the abduction of women. Strategies for fighting government corruption can include the creation of internal affairs departments within the government structure as well as prosecution of members of the government who are found to have been complicit in trafficking.

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