European Anti-Trafficking Day

As many of you know by now, I volunteer with a non-profit organization, called Cherut Belgium, which helps people in (forced) prostitution, mostly window prostitution. Some of these people are victims of human trafficking. Today, 18 October, is European Anti-Trafficking Day, so I am taking this opportunity share with you some information you might not otherwise hear about.

Did you know that human trafficking is a global and growing business, affecting about 20.9 million people every year? Did you know that around 55% of its victims are women and girls? Did you know that the number of under age victims is growing? Did you know that after the drug trade, this is the most profitable criminal enterprise? Did you know that according to the International Labor Organization human trafficking and forced labor are a 150 billion U.S. dollar industry?

But what exactly is human trafficking? The new Directive 2011/36/EU provides the following definition:

“The recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons, including exchange or transfer of control over that person, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation."

"A position of vulnerability occurs when the person has no real or acceptable alternative but to submit to the abuse involved."

"Exploitation shall include, as a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labor or services, including begging, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude, or the exploitation of criminal activities or the removal of organs.”

This is almost identical to the definition in the UN protocol on trafficking in persons.

Coercion is very difficult to prove without the victim speaking up, and sadly, very few do or even get the chance to. Speaking up against your abuser is a big and scary step, especially when children and family - and the threat of losing them – are involved, or when you are not sure you can trust the authorities. There are many other reasons to stay silent. Just think of all the #metoo we have seen this week, where even women who have never been trafficked or worked in prostitution didn't dare to speak out before. So far, I have mainly spoken to people who were trafficked into sexual exploitation, but there are so many people who are enslaved in other ways. I am grateful to the many organizations, both governmental and NGOs, and the people who work tirelessly to help people find freedom.

I have spoken to girls who were called about 15 seconds after we started a conversation with them, where I could hear the person on the other end of the line tell the girl to get rid of us. I have spoken to very young women who were shaking as they said they really liked the work. And you know what? These were all European girls. In my country. As Europeans, we tend to think that this happens far away, when in fact, there are also trafficking rings across Europe, where European traffickers trade in European girls. Some people choose to enter into prostitution to escape poverty, and realize they have been trafficked when the promise of freedom to quit at any time is not kept. Sadly, many traffickers still go free for a lack of evidence or – in some countries - the political will to prosecute them.

So what can we do? As a first step, there is a lot of information out there if you do a simple Google search. I have put some links below to help you get started. If you would like to get involved in some way, once again Google is your friend. There are several organizations worldwide that do great work. And if you live in a democracy, you have elected officials who work to serve the people who voted for them. Why not get in touch with them and see what you can do to help?

I am aware that this is an incomplete blog post about a massive topic and that I have barely scratched the surface. My hope is that as a society we will give a voice to those who have no voice, and that we will work toward a world where there is no more slavery.

Want to know more? This is not at all an exhaustive list, but it will be a good start!

2016 UNODC Global Report on Trafficking in Persons

International Labor Organization

European Commission - Together Against Trafficking in Human Beings


Cherut Belgium

2016 Rapport van de Cel Prostitutie in Antwerpen

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