The trafficking of women for sexual exploitation is an international, organized, criminal phenomenon that has grave consequences for the safety, welfare and human rights of its victims.
Trafficking of women is a criminal phenomenon that violates basic human rights, and totally destroying victims’ lives. Countries are affected in various ways. Some see their young women being lured to leave their home country and ending up in the sex industry abroad. Other countries act mainly as transit countries, while several other receive foreign women who become victims of sexual exploitation.
Sex and labor trafficking of women is a complicated phenomenon with many forces that affect women’s decisions to work abroad. Perhaps the strongest factor is a desperate economic situation, which impacts the availability of satisfactory employment in many countries for women more severely than men. Women may become victims of trafficking when they seek assistance to obtain employment, work permits, visas, and other travel documents. Traffickers prey on women’s vulnerable circumstances and may lure them into crime networks through deceit and false promises of decent working conditions and fair pay. Women may go abroad knowing that they will work in the sex industry but without awareness of the terrible work conditions and violence that accompany the trafficking business. Other women answer job advertisements for positions abroad such as dancers, waitresses, and nannies, only to find themselves held against their will and forced into prostitution and sexual slavery. In destination countries, women are subjected to physical violence, sexual assault and rape, battery, imprisonment, threats and other forms of coercion.
Human trafficking in numbers
- 51% of identified victims of trafficking are women, 28% children, and 21%, men
- 72% people exploited in the sex industry are women
- 63% of identified traffickers were men and 37%, women
- 43% of victims are trafficked domestically within national borders
(Estimates by The United Nations Office for Drugs and Crime (UNODC))
Trafficking in Women: Causes and Risk Factors
The various factors that contribute to trafficking are sometimes categorized as “supply side” factors, such as the feminization of poverty, and “demand-side” factors, such as weak border controls in destination countries. Frequently, it is a combination of these factors that push women and girls into situations in which they are exploited and become victims of trafficking. Effective strategies to eliminate trafficking necessarily involve addressing multiple contributing factors.
Following are some of the most common causes and risk factors associated with trafficking in women.
At its core, trafficking is a result of women’s unequal economic status. Of the world’s poor, the majority are women. The number of women living in poverty has also increased disproportionately to the number of men. Women, more frequently than men, have the additional economic burden of caring for children. Women also face discrimination that limits their educational and employment opportunities. In the employment setting, women are often the last hired and the first fired. Women also disproportionately experience sexual harassment in the workplace. This situation forces many women to look abroad for work and makes them particularly vulnerable to exploitation.
Demand for Women’s Sexual Services
Because women are often trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation, the demand for women’s sexual services must be recognized as one of the root causes of trafficking in women. The U.N. Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children asks states to “adopt or strengthen legislative or other measures, such as educational, social or cultural measures, including through bilateral and multilateral cooperation, to discourage the demand that fosters all forms of exploitation of persons, especially women and children, that leads to trafficking.” The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Recommended Principles and Guidelines on Human Rights and Human Trafficking also addresses demand which calls for the preparation and dissemination of “public awareness materials designed to discourage the demand that fosters the exploitation of persons, especially women and children, that leads to trafficking.”
Search for a Better Life and Desire to Travel
A desire to travel, combined with poverty and other factors, compel many women to look abroad in search of better lives. Many women attempt to explore the world through employment agencies or study abroad programs, without knowing whether the agencies are legitimate. While it is possible in some countries to verify the legitimacy of an educational or employment agency, often through hotline services, non-governmental organizations have determined that there is still a need for basic information about safe employment or travel opportunities.
Domestic violence is one of the most widespread violations of women’s rights in the world. Due to limited legal mechanisms and support for abused women in many communities, women often see few opportunities to end the abuse. Research suggests that victims of domestic violence may also be at risk of becoming victims of trafficking when they seek work abroad in order to leave the abusive situation.
Organized crime in the region includes activities such as money laundering, racketeering, extortion, bribery of public officials, trafficking of narcotics and weapons, and trafficking of women and children.
Government Policies and Practices
Trafficking in women persists, in part, due to the fact that many national governments neither control nor prevent the problem. Government policies and practices may actually facilitate trafficking. The connections between national government practices and trafficking vary. At one end of the continuum, government inaction and lack of attention to the matter make it possible for trafficking to exist. At the other end, corrupt government officials may be actually involved in the trafficking process.