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Trafficking in Women

Issues, Strategies and Actors

Hausarbeit (Hauptseminar) 2010 24 Seiten

Geschlechterstudien / Gender Studies


1. Introduction

The early 1990s can be marked as the beginning of major structural changes, in the European Union as well as in the countries sourrounding it. After the end of the communist rule in the Central and Eastern European Countries and the fall of the Berlin Wall, new migration flows started to emerge and were giving rise to the human trafficking in general and the trafficking in women in special. Due to this massive external pressure, most of the EU member states started to tighten its immigration policies to prevent from “unwanted” people migrating to the EU in order to make a better living. This reaction in turn increased the number of people that came to the receiving countries with the help of human traffickers and made the trafficking business boom. On the basis of the prevailing gender systems in the receiving as well as in the countries of origin, women were and are particularly vulnerable to exploitation and violence when migrating, making them to possible “victims”[1] for traffickers.

This work will trace the ongoing debates about trafficking in women for prostitution that started in the mid-1990´s and the different approaches and solutions that seek to end the trafficking in women. Though Trafficking in prostitution is not the only sector trafficked women work in, this work will, however, concentrate on this issue since trafficking in women in prostitution contemporary seems to be the most problematic one- in the field of politics as well as in the civil society or science. The question that will be followed in this work is, if the current approaches can provide effective tools to fight trafficking in women by looking at the contemporary discussions and actions that were taken concerning this issue.

In the first chapter, a definition of trafficking in women will be given due to the many connotations the term carries along with it, providing different perspectives and also stereotypes. The next chapter will highlight the issue of trafficking in women for prostitution, paying special attention to the factors that determine the situation the women find themselves in, focusing on their status as migrants. Following the presumptions made in the preceding part of the work, the living conditions of the female migrants working in prostitution will be given a closer look at to find a link between their real situation and the strategies, that are followed by NGOs as well as governments. The next chapter will focus on the theoretical debates sourrounding this issue, that became prominent in the mid 1990s, and the solutions, that were established on the basis of the cooperation of different actors to end the trafficking in women, taking a closer look on the outcome of the different efforts that were taken concerning this issue. Moreover, the different positions and perspectives that are included in this debate will be analyzed according to their effectiveness for this sensitive issue. The last chapter will finally show the effects of the implementation of the tools, that sought to decrease the number of women being objected to trafficking organizations; it will also highlight new outcomes and trends, that succeed the actions that were taken on grounds of the recommendations made by the different actors in the field of trafficking in women for prostitution.

2. Defining Trafficking in women

Taking the term trafficking as the basis for definition, men as well as women could be affected by trafficking, but (if trafficking of children is excluded) almost only women become “victims”. Niesner et. Al. argue, that women are the primary goal of sexualized violence due to misogynist societal structures (1997, 16). This makes the issue of trafficking to an issue, that is directly linked to Women´s Rights and places it into the context of gender inquality, male hegemony and power relations. If it then comes to define what “trafficking in women” actually means, there are different definitions available, depending on how the issue is regarded, from whose point of view and under what conditions. Since the issue of trafficking in women touches many areas, as there are for example the issue of migration, labor, women´s rights, organized crime or prostitution, it is difficult to find one fixed definition. Marjan Wijers, President of the Expert Group on Trafficking in Human Beings at the European Commission, defines trafficking in women

[…] in the narrow sense as the process in which migrant women are brought into prostitution through the use of coercion, deceit, abuse or violence and in which they are denied fundamental human rights and freedoms such as the right to decide to work as a prostitute or not, the right to decide on the condition of work, the right to enter and leave the sex industry, the right to refuse certain customers, the right to refuse certain sexual acts, the right to freedom of movement, the right not to be exploited, and so forth. (1998, 29)

Especially, the argument of coercion offers a direct link to exploitation of women due to a male hierarchy. This is why the issue of trafficking must not be mingled with the issue of human trafficking in general, since it touches on completely other dimensions and contexts with each carrying different connotations. Hoewever, it is important to recognize, that trafficking in women does not only occur in the field of prostitution or sex work, but also in other fields of the informal labor sector, as for example domestic work.

What makes it even harder to grasp this issue is the lack of reliable figures and the difficulty in measuring the amount of women that have to experience sexual exploitation when migrating due to the isolation of the women involved as well as their status as illegal labor migrants. Additionally, if women have to report to the police, the real reson for their migration might be left open, since this increases the risk of being deported or being punished by their pimps, bosses or traffickers.

3. Trafficking in Prostitution

To understand why trafficking in women in prostitution has become such a high profit business, we need to analyze the situtions, that determine the living conditions of women in their home country as well as in the receiving country. Today, almost half of the migrants worldwide are women, though they only have been seen as dependents of male labor migrants for a long time. That women migrate for individual reasons,too, is a relatively new field that is been reseearched for example in social sciences. The reasons for the women to migrate have diverse reasons, but “Looking at trafficking from the perspective of the majority of women we are concerned with, it is clear that most women come to Western Europe[2] because they are looking for a better way to make a living. In this sense, they should be seen as labor migrants” (Wijers, 1999, 20). Under this perspectives, an analysis about women being trafficked has to involve the aspect of labor migration. Nowadays, the female labor migration seems to be divided between two kinds of labor migration: the migration of high-skilled female workers and the migration of lower skilled female workers. As it is in the case of low skilled female labor migration, “Women have few opportunities of getting work in formal labor sectors, either in their home countries or in the more developed countries” (ebd., 31): Marjan Wijers concludes, that under these circumstances, women are “[…] relegated to the informal and unregulated labor market- without rights and without protection” (ebd.) The informal and unregulated labour market offers women jobs as domestic workers, as marriage partners or- as it is the case in women being trafficked in prostitution. The sex and entertainment industry. This relegation of migrant women into the informal labor market can be explained by looking at the immigration policies of the receiving countries. As it is the case in most European countries, all Western European countries claim they are not immigration countries[3] , and due to this migration into the European Union is very restricted. As a result of these restrictive immigration policies, women find only “[…] few legal and independent ways […] to migrate within the informal sector. Owing to the nature of the work and the forms of migration open to them, they are forced to make use of the services of untrustworthy organizations and middle-men. This places migrating women in extremely vulnerable situation” (Wijers, 1999,31). Working in the informal labor market, women have an unsecure status and live under the constant risk of being send back to their home countries. Another consequence of the restrictive immigration policies is, that women have no possibilities to call for a need for protection. Evern if they become sexually exploited or experience violence, this will be subordinate to their status as mostly illegal migrants. As this work will highlight in the next chapter, it is exactly this situation, that makes it easy for traffickers to operate and profit from the migrating women.

However, it has to be differentiated between the various labor forms of trafficked women; if the work as prostitute would be equated and mingled with the exploitation of women working as cleaner, important differentiations within the living conditions of the women involved will get lost an stay unrecognized. This differentiation does not mean a different valuation of the forms of exploitation women have to experience, but it asks for a context based and individual view on the women involved.

3.1. Slavery-like Life?

Due to their insecure status as migrants, women have to take tremendous risks when working in the informal labor sector. Niesner et al. argue, that money is the main motivation to migrate and material ascension gives the reason about the decision to do so (1997, 166) and it is the promise of the possibilty to earn enough money to secure the financial resources of the women involved as well as those of their families that leads women to accept the help of organizations, that seem to escape the situation the women is living in. Whether the women involved know about where they are going to work or not is not always comprehensible. As NGOs report, many women state, that they were promised a different job before migrating into another country and had to find themselves in the sex industry, others claim, that they did not exactly knew, what work they will get but they still accepted the probability to work as prostitute[4] . This chapter will not concentrate on how the women got into the trafficking networks (as this will go beyond the scope of this work), rather the conditions they have to live in will be explained. As depicted in the vast amount of literature that is available concerning the issue of human trafficking, the conditions under which the women have to live are often described as slavery-like. Nevertheless, it has to be clearly differentiated from the actual issue of slavery, since a direct ownership over the women is not given and the term itself may create false implications, as the term slavery defines a “[…] staatlich legalisierte Leibeigenschaft, die mit Verkaufsrecht, Tötungsrecht sowie der Kontrolle über Fortpflanzung einhergeht […]” (Niesner, 1997, 14). Though the women involved have to suffer from exploitation (either sexual exploitation or the exploitation of their work force or both), the context of trafficked women is different from the one of slavery and should therefore not be described as slavery or slavery-like, as this would misjudge this specific issue.


[1] Here, the term “victim” is used to describe to situation a woman finds herself in when she is exploited du to her gender. However, the term is highly ambilvalent, for it also negates the subject status of the women by regarding her as passive object, that is not able to determine her situation and by this reaffirms gender stereotypes that are based on binary oppositions, that create hierachichal positions between women and men.

[2] This is mostly the case, if women migrate from Eastern European countries.

[3] Allthough the reality draws a different picture.

[4] Interesting in this context are the interviews held in the documentation “Ketten im Kopf” by Béla Batthyani, that concentrates on the perspective of women in the aftermath of being deported for working as prostitutes.


ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Buch)
491 KB
Institution / Hochschule
Ruhr-Universität Bochum – Sozialwissenschaft
Gedner Prostitution Trafficking Human Rights Slavery



Titel: Trafficking in Women