‘He bought me fancy clothes and shoes, spent money on me. He drove a Mercedes and wore expensive clothes. I felt very special. One day, he said, ‘You could make a ton of money if you just worked in these massage parlors.'” It wasn’t before long that the offer turned into enslavement. It was the beginning of the end.
Anna, Former sex-trafficking victim
Article 3, paragraph (a) of the Palermo Protocol defines human trafficking as the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force, and other similar methods to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. So, there are three elements that need to be in harmony in order for trafficking to exist: Recruitment, transportation, exploitation.
Within our region, just as in the rest of the world, trafficking is not a static phenomenon, and does not involve one single act which is easily distinguishable or recognizable but operates within illegal systems and structures, within closed circles and an entire underground world. Sometimes sex trafficking is highly visible, such as street prostitution. But usually, many trafficking victims remain unseen, operating in unsuspecting and suburban neighborhoods such as brothels, or in public and private locations, such as massage parlors, spas and strip clubs.
Sex trafficking is a human right issue
Within the Western Balkan countries prevails still a mentality that unfortunately doesn’t help and support our grounds of democratic countries, rule of law standards and the human right principles. Most of our society seems to take a misogynistic stance on most issues connected to women, and especially rural families, ‘push’ their women and girls into slavery not just because they are seen as a source of income, but also because of the fact that a woman is mainly seen as a sex object. Men feed this perception about women and the women accept it, without opposing or questioning it in the first place.
Furthermore, a girl involved in sex trafficking is often seen and treated as a prostitute, which is not an accurate understanding that brings a blurred intersection of sex trafficking and the treatment of prostitution. It is important therefore, to first make very clear that sex trafficking and prostitution are not synonymous and that prostitution is simply one type of work performed by victims of sex trafficking. Of course there are many young girl and women that work as prostitutes voluntarily, but sex trafficking is an umbrella term that may include commercial sex work in other forms as well such as, pornography, exotic dancing, stripping, live sex shows, sexual tourism and so on.
The second level of the problem with the sex trafficking is that our legislation is entirely adjusted and supportive to the above perception of sex trafficking. Unfortunately, most Western Balkan governments contain criminal codes and a tough legislation that criminalizes prostitution and its mediation, so in dealing with sex trafficking, our countries have applied either a direct or indirect criminalization through national laws and restrictions according to which our governments stand firm to the principle that those who breach criminal laws are viewed as criminals and are deserving of punishment.
Disconnecting criminal law from human rights
At this point, the first thing we need to do is to disconnect criminal laws from human rights because first of all trafficking is both a cause and a consequence of the violation of a person’s human rights. When individuals are sold by other individuals, the very credibility of the principles of respect for human rights, is affected and when these rights are violated, the problem becomes a human rights issue. Because, the most objectionable element of trafficking is its severe violation of human rights, approaches to combating such crime should be based on human rights laws, as a result of which trafficking is seen as a human rights issue and the rights of trafficked persons are at the center of all efforts to prevent and combat trafficking.
The issue with the human rights continues even after a woman has escaped traffickers, if she is lucky enough not to end up killed and thrown in a container of course. In such cases, she has escaped the persecution of the trafficker but has to deal with the prosecution of the state, through national procedures, because she may unable or unwilling to co-operate with the authorities in investigation and prosecution of trafficking offenses. What authorities do not normally consider is that trafficked people are not criminals that brake national laws but mainly victims of a crime and our governments are split between negligence about the severe nature of the phenomenon and lack of will to undertake the needed reforms for fighting and putting an end to human trafficking in the region.
As a result, in societies where women and girls are undervalued or not valued at all, they are at greater risk for being abused and trafficked because if women experienced improved economic and social status, respect and gender tolerance, trafficking would in large part be eradicated which means that we cannot stop fighting the phenomenon of sex trafficking with the same tools that we have encouraged and advanced it Wee need to start tackling the causes that bring it into existence by placing the human rights, dignity and respect for fundamental principles at the forefront of our agenda’s. Furthermore, we as society, as individuals and citizens of countries that look forward to become part of EU one day need to ask ourselves a simple question: Do we really want to raise our children in a world where humans are treated as commodities, raped, threatened, sold and killed to satisfy our greed and sexual instincts?
Do we? 10 March 2016 – Saimira Tola Khouw
Literature and sources
H. R. Freeman & S. Reich, ‘Human trafficking and the Balkans‘,
Sh. x. Zhang,’ Beyond the ‘Natasha story’- A review and critique on current research on sex trafficking‘, Vol. 10, No. 3, August 2009, 178–195.
A. Amiel, ‘Integrating a human rights perspective into the European approach to combating the trafficking of women for sexual exploitation’, Buffalo human rights review, vol. 12
A. H. Jorg, ‘ Trafficking in humans, the phenomenon, theory and criminal law based responses’,