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Trafficking in Women
Trafficking in persons is an increasing problem that involves both sexual exploitation and labor
exploitation of its victims. Trafficking affects all regions and the majority of countries in the world. Both
men and women may be victims of trafficking, but the primary victims worldwide are women and girls, the
majority of whom are trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation. Traffickers primarily target women
because they are disproportionately affected by poverty and discrimination, factors that impede their
access to employment, educational opportunities and other resources.
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 the destination countries, women
are subjected to physical violence, sexual assault and rape, battery, imprisonment, threats and other
forms of coercion.
Under international law, governments are obligated to protect their citizens from being trafficked, through
programs that aim at prevention and the protection of victims. Explore trafficking topics to become part of
the change:

Trafficking in Women and Children

After the establishment of the League of Nations in 1919-1920 the womens movement started to focus its attention
on international instead of national issues. In June 1921 the League hosted an international conference in Geneva.
The representatives of 34 nations participated in the Conference, which asked for the first time that white slave traffic
should be replaced by traffic in women and children (League of Nations 1927). This expanded the scope of trafficking
to include other than white women and children. It also included children of both sexes to be addressed as victims of
traffic. This means that, for the first time, the international community recognized that also male children could be
victims of trafficking.
These efforts lead to the International Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Women and Children (United
Nations 1950), which was signed in Geneva in 1921 by 33 States. The Convention refers to the offences mentioned
in the 1910 Convention on White Slave Traffic. In addition, the Convention requests countries to take necessary
measures to prosecute persons who are engaged in the traffic in children of both sexes.
The Convention also recognizes the need for protection during the migration processes as well as the need to inform
women and children about trafficking. Countries are encouraged to arrange the exhibition, in railway stations and in
ports, of notices warning women and children of the danger of the traffic and indicating the places where they can
obtain accommodation and assistance (United Nations 1950, art. 7).
In 1923, the League of Nations agreed to initiate a study on the traffic of women and children and suggested to
appoint a group of experts to investigate the situation in cooperation with the governments of the countries concerned
(League of Nations 1927). Two major studies were carried out, the first one resulting in a report in 1927 focusing on
the situation mainly in the West. The results of the second study were published in 1932 dealing with the situation in

the East. The issues of the two reports dealt with 5 main questions: (i) were there a considerable number of foreign
women engaged in prostitution in the countries studied; (ii) was there demand for foreign women in these countries
and what created this demand; (iii) from which surroundings the women were obtained and whether they left their
countries by themselves or with the help or influence of other persons; (iv) who are the traffickers; and (v) from which
countries did the women come, by which means are they induced to leave their countries and which routes they

Trafficking in Women: Causes and Risk Factors

last updated September 1, 2005

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 pushes 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.
While this analysis is useful in explaining the complex nature of trafficking, the factors that play a role in
trafficking are actually interdependent and interconnected. Some factors, such as military conflict, do not
fit neatly into either the "demand" or "supply" side of trafficking, but nevertheless have contributed to this
problem in some regions. For example, internal conflicts force people to leave their home country, which
may encourage trafficking across borders. At the same time, an increase in military personnel in a
specific region also increases the "demand" for women to be brought from outside to work in the
commercial sex industry.

Effects and Consequences of Trafficking In Women

last updated September 1, 2005

According to the United Nations Population Fund, "perhaps 4 million persons per year" are
trafficked. Women who have been trafficked may suffer from serious physical and mental health
problems. Physical abuse can result in serious injuries and lasting health problems; trafficking
victims may also contract life-threatening diseases, such as HIV/AIDS or tuberculosis.
Victims of trafficking may also face serious legal consequences. They may be detained or
deported for immigration violations that are the result of being trafficked. Victims may also face
prosecution for other criminal offenses that were committed as a direct result of being trafficked.
Although trafficking most directly affects individual victims, it also has broader consequences.
Trafficking directly affects the societies from which victims are removed, resulting in cultural
and economic losses, and threatening public health. Citing Paul Holmes, author of the Regional
Anti-Trafficking Law Enforcement Manual for South-Eastern Europe, the United Nations
Development Program estimates that trafficking generates at least US$7 billion a year and, after
drugs and weapons, has become the third largest criminal business worldwide. These profits may
be used to further fund organized crime activities.

White Slavery

The international trade of women came into focus with the movement against white slavery. Even though the term
white slavery has been given different meanings, the following is the most commonly used: white slavery means the
procurement by use of force, deceit or drugs of a white woman or a girl against her will for prostitution (Doezema
1999). The white slavery movement combined the aspirations of the national movement against prostitution with the
movement against slavery. It has been argued that the discussion on white slavery and sexual exploitation of white
women is closely connected to the fight against the exploitation of black slaves (Leppanen 2007). Attention to white
slavery happened at the time of the legal abolition of black slavery and the language of one social phenomenon was
transferred to another. Discussion on white slavery has often been seen as a sign of a moral sensationalism of
Emma Goldman (1970, 19-20), an American feminist also referred to as Queen of the Anarchist, wrote on white traffic
in 1917:
Only when human sorrows are turned into a toy with glaring colours will baby people become interested for a while
at least. The people are very fickle babies that must have new toys every day. The righteous cry against the white
slave traffic is such a toy. It serves to amuse the people for a little while, and it will help to create a few more fat
political jobs parasites who stalk about the world as inspectors, investigators, detectives, and so forth. What is really
the cause of the trade in women? Exploitation, of course

International Law on Trafficking in Women

last updated September 1, 2005

The United Nations obligates States to refrain from committing human rights violations and also to take
positive steps to ensure that individuals are able to enjoy their human rights. A State's legal obligations
are articulated in human rights instruments, such as treaties and conventions. The UN also drafts
politically-binding documents that do not have the force of law, such as declarations and resolutions, but
which nevertheless represent important guidelines on States' obligations. More information about
the United Nations system, human rights documents and enforcement mechanisms can be accessed
from the International Law section of this site.
The United Nations addresses trafficking in women from various directions. First, the UN human rights
instruments apply to women and men equally, and are relevant to the kinds of abuses that women suffer
in cases of trafficking. In addition, the UN international standards on the treatment of crime victims also
obligate States to protect victims of trafficking.
Second, of the types of violence against women addressed by this site, trafficking in women was perhaps
the first to receive the attention of the UN as a transnational crime. This section, therefore, includes a
historical overview of the UN conceptualization of trafficking, prior to the emergence of an international
women's human rights movement.
Third, the UN treaties and resolutions that articulate the rights of women are applicable to the situation of
trafficking and define trafficking as a form of gender-based violence. Since the early 1990's, all major UN
instruments on States' commitment to ensure women the full enjoyment of their human rights and their
protection from violence have included specific obligations to combat trafficking in women.


Sex trafficking

I was trafficked from Nigeria two years ago. I was training as a primary school teacher. A man
befriended me, offered a cleaning job in the UK earning me enough to go to university my
dream. Before leaving, he made me participate in a witchcraft ceremony, drinking a mixture of
the inside of a hen, and making me promise never to disobey him or else I would go mad. I
received false documents, including a script of what to tell border officials in the UK.
I was picked up at the airport and driven to a house in London. I was locked in a room with three
other women and then sexually exploited. The witchcraft ceremony back in Nigeria haunted me.
I was moved to different flats, working as a sex worker in all of them. This went on for months.
When the police raided our flat, I was placed in a detention centre and then a hostel. The
traffickers threatened to harm my mother in Lagos if I didnt return as a sex worker. I had to go
back. A further 7 months passed till I was rescued by a police raid. I was placed in City Hearts
shelter, which helped and supported me. Perhaps, my university dream can now come true.
At the age of 15 Nasreen's family sent her to live with her uncle in New York after experiencing severe
financial troubles at home in Central Asia. Before she arrived, her uncle promised her that he would
register her for school and she would work for him part-time in his corner store. But when she arrived
she was put straight to work. Nasreen was forced to do domestic work in her uncle's home all day, and
he made her work as the cashier in his store until late every night. He never offered to pay her for her
work and he insisted that she was selfish to want to continue her education.
Nasreen lived like this for two years, working long hours and experiencing constant verbal abuse from
her uncle. Whenever Nasreen asked when she would be allowed to go to school, her uncle punished
her by preventing her from speaking with her family back in her home country. One day, Nasreen
decided she could not take it anymore and ran away.
Nasreen sought out services from a local homeless youth organization after meeting some runaway
youth at the piers. She met with a case manager and stayed in the youth shelter for 30 days. During
that time she also made connections within the Muslim community and a family decided to take her in.
Her case manager continued to work with Nasreen to help her adapt to the cultural, religious, and
lifestyle changes of living in New York. Her English improved significantly and she recently completed
her high school education, winning awards along the way. Nasreen has been able to re-connect with
her family and hopes to visit them soon. In the meantime, she is attending college with aspirations
towards becoming a nurse.

Yesenia M., a young woman from Mexico, was brought to the United States at age 17 to work as a
babysitter for Mr. Sanchez. Mr. Sanchez was also from Mexico, but he had come to the United States
years earlier to start a furniture business. He married an American woman and had two young
children. Mr. Sanchez travelled to Mexico and met Yesenia when she was working for her family
business selling groceries. He complimented her on her professionalism and offered her a job taking
care of his two young children in the United States. He discussed the opportunity with her family, and
they all agreed that she would come to the United States and work as a nanny for the family.

Mr. Sanchez arranged for her travel, and she arrived in the United States soon after. Her tasks
included cooking, cleaning, bathing the children, laundry, and yard work. Yesenia did not have her own
room and seldom had a moment's rest. The job had turned out to be something very different from
what she expected. She was not paid for her work and was not allowed to speak to anyone outside the
family. Yesenia also endured three incidents of sexual abuse and rape by Mr. Sanchez, who drugged
her and took advantage of her. Desperate to leave her miserable situation, Yesenia befriended a
woman at church who helped her escape from her trafficker.
Once Yesenia escaped, she was determined to bring her trafficker to justice by contacting the
appropriate authorities and cooperating in the investigation. Mr. Sanchez was arrested and prosecuted
for rape and human trafficking. He received a prison sentence, had to forfeit property, and will be
deported upon finishing his sentence. Yesenia now has a T visa, a nonimmigrant status visa for victims
of human trafficking, and is attending college.

The last decade has seen enormous growth in the trafficking of people, mostly in women,
for the purposes of sexual exploitation. During the writing of this report, trafficking in people
passed from third-largest to second-largest international crime with profits estimated to
equal the trade in weapons (March Bell 2005). The United States Justice Department's
senior special counsel for trafficking issues and civil rights has recently called it the number
one human rights issue today (March Bell 2005). As the world tries to come to terms with
the scale of trafficking, different, and sometimes conflicting, modes of analysis are being
used to examine, understand and attempt to address it. Feminist analyses like that of
Kathleen Barry's in her 1979 book Female Sexual Slavery were instrumental in exposing
the extent of modern trafficking for sexual exploitation. Barry and other feminists framed this
form of trafficking as a gendered issue of male violence against women long before current
levels of economic globalisation and international migration led some analysts to search for
explanations in these phenomena. Migration- and globalisation-based analyses add to our
understanding of how international economic patterns have contributed to the increase in
trafficking generally, but cannot alone explain why the majority of victims continue to be
women, nor why prostitution is the "work" they are most often trafficked into.
Human rights groups have been slow to address trafficking as a human rights abuse, just as
they have been more generally to recognise violence against women perpetrated by
"private" individuals, such as intimate partner rape or domestic violence. However, a
human-rights based analysis is now key to our understanding trafficking in terms of a
violation of human dignity, autonomy and freedom, as well as an abuse of power. Along with
feminist analyses, it enables an examination of the intersections of sex, race and class that
make some people more vulnerable to abuse than others.