Re: [Stop-traffic] The Economist on Trafficking in women in Europe

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Subject: Re: [Stop-traffic] The Economist on Trafficking in women in Europe
From: Migration Research (
Date: Thu Aug 31 2000 - 07:13:22 EDT

Also concerned about the Economist article I wrote the following to the editor.
Re: Trafficking in Women

Dear Sirs,

Your article regarding "trafficking" seems to have fallen victim to the organised moral panic that now surrounds the migration of women from Central and Eastern Europe to the EU. Dubious and often unsubstantiated statistics are being pressed into supporting policies that will seek to "protect" women by preventing their travel by the use of fear or restrictions on their ability to travel. Inhibiting the migration of CEE women to the EU and other parts of the West is apparently the main agenda regarding "trafficking" concerns, the issue is also a useful Trojan horse by which various radicals and moralists can join forces to attack women working in prostitution.

"Trafficking" is a confused term that has little value in describing the vulnerability of women in migration. However it is usually accepted that the term should relate to the use of coercion or deceit to require someone to migrate and by using such illicit means hold them in forced labour. Most "trafficking" victims are women who knew that they would be working in sex work, but have been deceived regarding the terms and conditions of their labour, these women need active intervention to enable them to participate in sex work without such abuse not "rescue".

Our recent work among Albanian streetwalking sex workers in Lyon showed that none wanted to be "rescued" from sex work, but all wanted more control over their labour and to eventually transit sex work with their health intact and having achieved some financial security. Having control over the terms of labour was directly linked to financial success, and as such streetwalking sex work offered the possibility of substantial financial reward when compared with "lucrative escort agencies" whose main beneficiaries are usually the male or female managers of the agency.

Women from the CEE are compelled to resort to "trafficking" networks because EU immigration policy has created the institutions and structures that require them to depend on criminal networks to migrate. Hungarian, Czech and Polish sex workers do not freeze to death on the hillsides between Bulgaria and Greece because they can legally enter Greece visa-free for 90 days. Modern "trafficking" is supported and sustainable because EU visa policies have created the need for women to use "traffickers" to travel to the EU and to then remain hidden from the authorities. Women are often recruited by female friends and it is not unusual for a successful returning sex work migrant to be sought out by other women and to be asked to arrange for their entry into sex work in the EU.

Laws and policies that then seek to control the migration of women rather than protect them from deceit and coercion only increase the need to resort to agents willing to use criminal means. Ukraine now has an anti-trafficking law that could allow for the prosecution of anyone who assists the international travel of someone who intends to engage in sex work. Therefore if a border guard "believes" you look like a prostitute you can be denied exit from the Ukraine and any travelling companions arrested for "trafficking". In 1998, in Braila, Romania the local police decided to combat "trafficking" by confiscating the passports of known sex workers.

 In a UN conference in Wien, the USA, prompted by radicals and moralists, is presently proposing a "trafficking" protocol that will most likely make the international travel of any sex worker illegal. However CEE women would like to travel freely to take up such work as might be available in the EU; this includes childcare, domestic labour and sex work. Their labour is required but they would like to be protected from abuse while engaged in such labour.

The recent IOM research in Hungary, which formed the basis for their "education" campaign against "trafficking", had a completely inadequate sample of young women aged from 13-24 years who were all described as "girls". The research did show that 6% of all Hungarian "girls" wanted to travel abroad to work as erotic workers, however the present "education" campaign offers little help to women who want to engage in sex work in the EU.

Responses to the myths of "trafficking" seem to rely on using fear and repression against CEE women rather than offering them alternatives to dependency on "trafficking" networks.

The EU should dismantle the institutions that encourage and sustain abusive "trafficking" networks and should allow women more opportunity to organise and control their own labour migration. Initiatives to protect women from abuse in migration should firstly be directed at the structures that create the opportunities for men and women to abuse others in labour migration.

 Yours truly,

John Davies

D.Phil. Researcher.

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