Professor Louise Shelley of George Mason University and founder of the Terrorism, Transnational Crime and Corruption Center. Professor Shelley was the keynote speaker at the “Human Trafficking: The Nexus Between Research and Operative Work” conference in Uppsala, Sweden on November 25, 2010.

Conference reports Human trafficking is likely to increase and become even more complex

Professor Shelley was the keynote speaker at the “Human Trafficking: The Nexus Between Research and Operative Work” conference in Uppsala, Sweden on November 25, 2010. She noted that human trafficking always grows where there are large social gaps and little opportunity for poor people to improve their situation. However the organization, manifestation and methods used in the combat are culturally distinctive.

Published on on January 7, 2011

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”Slavery and human trafficking have always existed. We will never be rid of it; it simply changes. Because human trafficking grows where there are large social gaps and little opportunity for poor people to improve their situation, there is reason to believe that human trafficking will increase in the future,” explained Professor Louise Shelley of George Mason University and founder of the Terrorism, Transnational Crime and Corruption Center.

Professor Shelley was the keynote speaker at the “Human Trafficking: The Nexus Between Research and Operative Work” conference in Uppsala, Sweden on November 25, 2010. The conference was arranged by the Council of the Baltic Sea States (CBSS) Task Force against Trafficking in Human Beings, the Centre for Russian and Eurasian Studies, and the Center for Police Research at Uppsala University.

In Professor Shelley’s recent book, Human Trafficking: A Global Perspective, she explains how human trafficking is organized and manifested in various cultures and societies. Shelley also describes how human beings are viewed as a natural resource in Russia, where trafficking consists of a flow involving countless intermediaries who sell women to foreign countries just like any other natural resource. On the other hand, human trafficking in the Balkan region is organized by entrepreneurs who have, through violence, become part of a lucrative criminal trade. The war, its ethnic conflicts and the presence of weapons in the post-Yugoslavian countries are all factors that have shaped the trafficking there.

Each country has its own methods

According to Professor Shelley, the means and methods used to combat trafficking are also culturally distinctive: “In Russia there was initially little interest in passing laws to combat human trafficking. But the issue came to be seen in a different light once it became clear that it involved the draining away of young women of childbearing age.”

This line of reasoning made it possible to advance the fight against human trafficking, or at least against trafficking in women for sexual purposes, as part of the rhetoric of nation-building and efforts to counter declining fertility in Russia.

Other countries have other methods and motives. In Sweden, where women enjoy greater equality, it is natural to criminalize the sex buyer and combat prostitution across the board, and to prosecute both pimps and buyers. On the other hand, prostitution is legal in the Netherlands because its society stresses the importance of freedom; however, efforts there are focused on identifying victims of human trafficking. According to Professor Shelley, legalization can facilitate the identification of human trafficking victims. She emphasizes that no method is entirely successful, but points to Italy as the country that merits attention. Greater success has been achieved there in prosecuting perpetrators and giving support to victims than anywhere else.

“[In Italy] they’ve taken the initiative to put a stop to the organized crime, using the same methods that have been tried on the Italian mafia before. One of the mottos is ’Go after the money,’” Professor Shelley said, adding, “Another approach is to unconditionally allow all the victims to remain in the country to recover, so that they can later decide whether they are willing to cooperate at trial. Most prove willing to do so, once they’ve had a chance to rest and recuperate.”

Hard to come home

Those who are victims of human trafficking often encounter severe problems upon returning to their native country. Rebecca Surtees of the Nexus Institute Thailand noted this in her keynote speech to the Victim Support and Protection panel. Surtees wishes that there is greater understanding and knowledge of the difficulties of returning home, especially in cases involving destination countries that send trafficked individuals home without following up on how they’ve fared.

Readapting or starting over is often not possible for a number of reasons. Many victims are traumatized as a result of the violence and exploitation to which they have been exposed. The majority left their homelands voluntarily in the belief that they would work as guest workers or be smuggled in as illegal immigrants to earn money to send back home. Ending up as a victim of human trafficking represents a defeat. Those who return home without money have also failed in the eyes of others. Encounters with family are fraught with complications: a husband may feel disdain for a woman who has been exploited sexually, and the children may be ashamed.

Surtees explains that a woman who has been exploited sexually is often considered to be “accustomed to assault,” and the risk is great that she will be subjected to violence and sexual assault by other men in her family or town. Another scenario is one in which there is no family to return to—the family may have been broken up or its property sold, or someone may have died during the time the victim was in the grip of human trafficking and unable to help by either sending money home or merely being physically present. The surrounding society often assigns guilt and shame to those who return without money and having been exploited. The victim is ostracized from their social community and viewed as being of diminished worth. In addition, spreading rumors often makes it difficult to get work or start a business. 

“The models that exist for helping victims of human trafficking despite everything are usually built around the presumption that the victim is a woman who has been exploited sexually. There is no help in the offing for men who have been exploited as labor. One problem in providing aid to victims is that people do not want to identify themselves as victims. This is particularly difficult for men,” said Surtees. “They don’t fit the image of victimhood that NGOs often have, or else the man is unwilling to view himself as a victim.”

Many victims are never discovered

Venla Roth, a Finnish national reporter, discussed efforts in Finland to improve the identification of victims within various occupational fields, including berry pickers and those in the restaurant industry. The fishing industry is also one in which the panel members consider human trafficking to be a common occurrence. Many people are exploited as labor in this field according to, among others, Dr. Carrie Pemberton-Ford of the Cambridge Centre for Applied Research in Human Trafficking. She also felt that it was essential to do more research on the traffickers—Who are they? What is their profile like?

Also in attendance from the EU was Michael Carlin, Directorate General Home Affairs – Trafficking in Human Beings and Cybercrime. He reported that the day before the panel discussion, November 24, the EU had decided to adopt the new proposal for a “Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on preventing and combating trafficking in human beings, and protecting victims, repealing the Framework Decision of 2002.” One of the ramifications is that begging will now be included in the definition of exploitation that constitutes human trafficking under the EU regulations. Yet, perhaps even more significant is the emphasis on bolstering the rights of the victims and strengthening the requirements on the individual member states to ensure that victims have access to their rights. Unconditional and direct aid must be provided to victims in cases where human trafficking is suspected. For instance, Article 10 of the new directive specifies that “A person shall be treated as a victim as soon as the competent authorities have an indication that she/he might have been subjected to an offence referred to in Articles 1 and 2.”  

The new directive establishes the unconditional right of victims to recover before deciding whether to cooperate in any legal proceedings. Currently, many member states have in effect provisions under which victims may stay or receive support only on the condition that they are needed in and cooperate at trial. The directive further specifies that each country should have a national reporter (nine of the 27 member countries currently do), and that the requirements regarding the standards for keeping statistics will become stricter.

The need for better statistics keeping was a topic repeated by many of the speakers. The International Organization for Migration presented its database, in which data on trafficked individuals worldwide are gathered via the organization’s field stations. CBSS also described current efforts to discover consistent methods for keeping statistics in the countries that are part of the multinational cooperative network in the Baltic Sea region —Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Poland, Russia, and Sweden. The European Commission is also a member of this political forum for regional intergovernmental cooperation.

Another issue that repeatedly surfaced during the conference was the importance of broadening the focus to include types of trafficking other than for sexual purposes. The speakers emphasized that if we are to understand the phenomenon and its complexities, it is also important to put human trafficking and the efforts to combat it in their cultural context. Furthermore, it is essential to operatively standardize routines and develop uniform methods if we are to combat this trans-border criminal activity and offer its victims basic rights such as the right to protection and rest. Calls were also made for further research into the victims, the traffickers and the flows.