RE: 'doing politics' (was 'Romanian Police seek to stop "trafficking")

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Heidi Doezema (
Fri, 29 May 1998 15:36:50 +0100

-----Original Message-----
From: Salamon Alapitvany []
Sent: 28 May 1998 17:14
To: Multiple recipients of list
Subject: Romanian Police seek to stop "trafficking"

I was very upset to read John's message, below. Instances like these, when
abuses of sex worker's and others rights are committed in the name of
stopping trafficking, are the reason I keep harping on about the way
anti-trafficking organisations present their campaigns. I fear my sense of
urgency and outrage sometimes makes me a little less than measured and
reasonable. It has not been my intention in recent posts to close down
dialogue with those involved in anti-trafficking activities. I do not doubt
the personal integrity of those involved, nor the value of the work they do
with women who have had terrible experiences. It is when the way in which
the issue is politised and then responded to by governments that worries

The activities of the Romanian police make me angry, but don't surprise me.
It is not an isolated incident: all over the world, including the
Netherlands, the Philippines, the United Kingdom, Thailand etc.,
governments have responded to calls to stop trafficking by restricting
women's, especially sex workers', right to mobility, and have increased
repression against sex workers. Obviously, this is not the intent of
anti-trafficking activists! We all know that the problems experienced by
women who migrate for work in the sex industry are caused, in large part,
by the restricted choices these women have. The irony is, in the name of
stopping these problems, measures are being taken that further restrict
their choices.

Given that governments are likely to respond in this manner, what are the
implications for anti-trafficking campaigns?
Campaigners realise how complicated the issues around trafficking are.
Unfortunately, this complexity is lost when things move up from the
'grass-roots' level. Government policy makers like clear-cut problems with
clear-cut solutions, and too often, in the urge to get issues on the
political agenda, campainers simplify the issues. Or, if they try to
preserve the complexity, governments officials simplify for themselves:
they choose to understand and respond to problems in ways that are familiar
to them.

Does this mean that all anti-trafficking activities should cease, and we
should try to get it back off the political agenda? I have to admit, when I
read about situations like Romania, I sometimes think that's the way to go.
However, in my more hopeful moods, I think the political 'space' opened up
be discussions of trafficking, and the political credibility of
anti-trafficking organisations, can be utilised to further an agenda that
would increase, not decrease, women's choices. For this to happen, though,
would require a radical re-think about the way campaigners engage in the
political arena.

I would urge all of us involved one way or another in anti-trafficking
activities, to really think about how we present the issues in the
political sphere. I hope that we can use this list, and the upcoming
conference in Budapest, to engage in discussion around the vital issue of
how we 'do' politics.

Jo Doezema

Romania seeks to stop "trafficking" by confiscating women's passports

The City of Braila Police Department, Romania has developed its own
strategy to prevent "trafficking", or preventing the travel of suspected
sex workers outside of Romania, it is now summoning suspected sex workers
to the city police station for questioning with regards to prostitution and
then confiscating their passports.

During these interviews the women are told that for the protection of
Romania's international reputation they will be denied travel documents and
that they must surrender their passports or be prepared to be arrested and
imprisoned for any number of fabricated offences relating to domestic

Most of the women concerned consensually travel to Turkey for migratory
sex work and do not engage in sex work inside Romania. The Police have also
threatened to publicly expose their migratory activities to their families
and the local community if they continue to travel abroad for sex work.

One young woman whose travel documents were confiscated has recently
committed suicide and another has attempted suicide.

The police action has actually increased sex work migration as dozens of
young women fearful that they would lose their passports as well, have
quickly left Braila to return to Turkey to prevent their documents being

This action is in clear breach of Romania's commitment to the European
Convention on Human Rights, this convention guarantee's the right of any
individual to leave any country including their own.

We would invite anyone to comment on this abuse by writing to Romanian
President Constantinescu at and requesting that the Minsitry of
the Interior investigates the activities of the Braila Police Department.

Please write in considerate and measured terms.

Please copy and message to us at

Please do not refer to the following:

This report was filed by our Romanian out-reach worker, who has also been
threatened with passport confiscation, to prevent her leaving Romania and
attending the GSN conference and AIDS98, where she is scheduled to talk
about Romanian migratory prostitution.

Salamon Alapitvany and Ildiko K Memorial Civil Rights Institute

Working for peace and equitable justice for all marginalised people
Seeking to include sex workers within civil society without discrimination
Believing in change through consensus not repression.

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