September 29, 1997

Moderator: T. Alexander Aleinikoff, Resident Associate, International Migration Policy Program, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

Panelists: Anita Gradin, Member of the European Commission responsible for immigration, home affairs, and justice; Theresa Loar, Senior Coordinator of International Women's Issues for the U.S. Department of State and Director of the President's Interagency Council on Women; Samya Burney, Research Associate, Human Rights Watch.

The breakfast briefing was convened by Alex Aleinikoff, Resident Associate in the International Migration Policy Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, who welcomed the participants to the Carnegie Endowment's new conference center and introduced the panelists. Mr. Aleinikoff noted that the widespread problem of trafficking in women for the purpose of sexual exploitation is not new. Indeed, one of the first federal immigration laws prohibited entry into the United States for the purpose of prostitution. As international smuggling rings have extended their scope and influence, the need for international cooperation to combat them has become more acute. The three distinguished panelists enlightened us further.

Commissioner Anita Gradin led off the briefing by pointing out that trafficking in women for the purpose of sexual exploitation is a serious problem that is on the increase. Recent IOM studies indicate that the fate of the mostly young women who are victims of trafficking, approximately 500,000 of whom were smuggled into EU countries in 1995, is involuntary servitude in the form of prostitution. In addition, a demographic shift has taken place in the countries of origin of the trafficked women. Since the fall of the Iron Curtain, most trafficked women have come from Eastern European countries rather than developing countries. This suggests that women have not fared well in the transition to the market economy; thus, when so-called businessmen offer young Eastern European women vague promises of jobs in EU countries, they accept. Once these women cross the border, they are told they owe large sums of money and are forced to work as prostitutes to repay the debts. Any papers they may have are, typically, taken away.

Commissioner Gradin continued her presentation by explaining some of the steps the European Union has taken to fight the trafficking in women. In a major conference in Vienna in 1996, the European Commission brought together experts from the social, judicial, and law enforcement communities, among others, to exchange views. Partly as a result of this conference, Commissioner Gradin presented a proposal to the EU Parliament that resulted in the implementation of several programs. The STOP (Sexual Trafficking of Persons) Program includes training social workers and police about trafficking while the Sherlock Program provides for training, exchange, and cooperation in the identification of documents. Moreover, the mandate of the Europol Drugs Unit (EDU) has been extended to include action against trafficking in human beings.

The summary deportation of trafficked women is not the answer, according to Commissioner Gradin. A more humane way of dealing with the situation comprises providing health care for the victims and helping them find a way back to their countries of origin with dignity. Holland, for instance, has taken laudable steps such as establishing shelters for victims of human trafficking.

Commissioner Gradin urged the audience to remember that this issue is not restricted to a question of making laws. Societal attitudes toward these victims must change, and politicians, most of whom are not engaging this issue, must undertake serious debate in the political arena. In conclusion, Commissioner Gradin stressed that any solution to the trafficking in women for the purpose of sexual exploitation requires a multifaceted and multilateral approach. Europe and the United States must coordinate their efforts to ensure this is done.

Theresa Loar began her presentation by recognizing that the press, NGO's, and private voluntary organizations deserve accolades for having brought this issue to government attention. For its part, the United States is gathering civil servants to work on the issue from a number of branches, including the Department of Labor; the Department of Justice; and the following State Department bureaus: the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor; the Bureau of Refugees, Population, and Migration; the Bureau of Consular Affairs; and the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement. For example, Consular Officers are developing fraud profiles to identify potential victims of trafficking during the visa-application process abroad. Ms. Loar acknowledged that, nevertheless, more needed to be done.

Seretary Albright has emphasized that human trafficking should be taken just as seriously as drug trafficking, and Ms. Loar asserted that the Secretary was right. Unfortunately, drug traffickers often maintain links with human traffickers, and this leads to the spread of the tentacles of crime syndicates. Ms. Loar's working group has investigated courses of action such as legal assistance to countries to help them enforce trafficking regulations. The working group has also collaborated with the EU on an information program that will soon get off the ground. The test runs for this program will be held in Poland by the EU and in the Ukraine by the United States. In addition, Ms. Loar has shared information with a G8 subgroup that focuses on enforcement.

Ms. Loar indicated that Secretary Albright, President Clinton, and Hillary Rodham Clinton all strongly support initiatives to end trafficking in human beings. A concrete example of this occurred in November 1996 when Mrs. Clinton traveled to Thailand to promote an educational program that targets girls who are at risk because they no longer attend school.

At the end of her presentation, Ms. Loar once again thanked Human Rights Watch and the myriad NGO's and private voluntary organization at the front lines of the battle to eradicate trafficking in women for the purpose of sexual exploitation.

Samya Burney affirmed her intentions to approach the topic from a different perspective, and she began her presentation by noting that trafficking in humans is different from illegal immigration because women are usually tricked or coerced into migrating by promises of jobs. This coercion can take several forms: violence, abuse of political authority, blackmail, and enforced isolation, for instance. In addition, bondage and deception are commonly used as tools of coercion. Traffickers promise a variety of well-paying jobs to their victims and then threaten them and hold them in indentured servitude. Even if the women agree to work as call girls, the conditions under which they work are abhorrent. Moreover, the victims usually do not speak the local language and do not have access to local help or support networks. Since the victims have no legal recourse, the traffickers can thus extract their labor and exploit them.

While Ms. Burney agreed that traffickers should be prosecuted and punished, she averred that a disproportionate amount of international attention has been focused on law enforcement measures. According to Ms. Burney, trafficked women must be provided with support services and security to ensure their safety and aid effective prosecutions of traffickers. Although Belgium and Holland are pioneers in providing support services and security to trafficked women, these two countries remain the rare exceptions.

Ms. Burney declared that the complicity of the state in human trafficking must also be addressed. Police often recruit, blackmail, and rob women and provide protection to traffickers in exchange for bribes or sex. Even if police corruption could be significantly reduced, however, Ms. Burney opined that states must cease the quick deportation of trafficked women and allow them the opportunity to press civil rights violations and seek legal redress for outstanding wages they might be owed. States only complicate matters by prosecuting trafficked women for their undocumented status. Regarding trafficked women who are held as material witnesses, they must often await the end of the entire judicial process of a case in jail unless they can post bail. In the instances where women do post bail, the lack of security afforded to these women attracts the scent of traffickers who wish to eliminate witnesses. Therefore, trafficked women often face extremely unpleasant dilemmas. Furthermore, states tend to ignore the psychological trauma inflicted on these women.

Ms. Burney finished by stressing that trafficking in women for the purpose of sexual exploitation is a transnational problem that requires a multinational and multidisciplinary response. Much more needs to be done at the government and NGO level to tackle the problem.

To contact the panelists:

Anita Gradin
Member of the European Commission
Rue de la Loi 200
Brussels, Belgium
Phone: 32-2-29-91111

Click here to read the EU document On Trafficking in Women for the Purpose of Sexual Exploitation

Theresa Loar
Senior Coordinator of International Women's Issues, U.S. Department of State
Director of the President's Interagency Council on Women
United States Department of State
Room 2906
Washington, DC 20520-7512
Telephone: 202-647-6227
FAX: 202-647-5337

Click here to go to the U.S. Department of State's home page

Samya Burney
Research Associate, Women's Rights Project
Human Rights Watch
485 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10017-6104
Telephone: 212-972-8400
FAX: 212-972-0905

Click here to access the home page of Human Rights Watch