Melanie R. Wallace
excerpted Wrom: BRNVWWCUFPEGAUTFJMVRESKPNKMBIPBARHDMNN
Sex Slavery and Trafficking of African Women in Western Europe, 30
Georgia Journal of International and Comparative Law 569-591, 569-571,
577-590 (2002)(170 Footnotes Omitted)
Within a group of eighty-seven prostitutes recently rescued from a
ring in an Italian town is Joyce Eghosa, a twenty-year old Nigerian.
Joyce came to Italy two years ago believing that she would work as a
fashion designer. Upon her arrival, she discovered the ugly truth; she,
like so many other African women in Western Europe, would be forced into
prostitution as part of an organized ring. Countless more African women
remain in this modern form of slavery, victims of the growing and
lucrative trade of trafficking humans worldwide.
There are certain consistent patterns by which most African
prostitutes are introduced to prostitution in Western Europe. The first
scenario involves African women brought from their home countries for
the purpose of exploiting them through prostitution (usually without
their prior knowledge). Sponsors with ties on both the African and
European continents lure African women and girls to Europe, promising
them a chance to study at a university or take advantage of job
opportunities. These women are often promised jobs as maids or au pairs
or given loans (with or without their knowledge) to finance their
passage and are then forced to repay the loans through prostitution when
they arrive. The perpetrators of these prostitution rings often take
passports and official identification papers from the women, leaving
them unable to receive help from the proper authorities for fear of
being deported as illegals. The second scenario involves African women
who immigrate to Western Europe on their own volition but, for one
reason or another, have found themselves in forced prostitution.
In his testimony to the U.S. Congress, Regan Ralph, Executive
Director of the Women's Rights Division of Human Rights Watch, explained
that trafficking of women is a worldwide problem. He explained that
traffickers use various devices such as "deception, fraud,
intimidation, isolation, threat and use of physical force" and
"debt bondage" to keep women as slaves in the sex industry.
Traffickers then arrange for the women lured or kidnapped from their own
countries to travel abroad by assembling the necessary passports and
travel documents. Traffickers also communicate with the brothel owners
or pimps abroad to find interested buyers for the women. Finally, the
trafficker hires an escort to smuggle the women into the destination
The problem of forced prostitution of African women in Western Europe
has exploded within recent years. The problem now looms so large that
the Italian ambassador to Nigeria estimates that likely sixty percent of
all prostitutes in Italy are Nigerian.
Although there have been international agreements and domestic
policies aimed at curbing the problem of trafficking African women for
sex slavery, all prior responses have had little or no effect on the
problem. To treat a problem that includes powerful organized crime rings
in various countries, an effective solution will need to address the
factors which contribute to women trafficking and provide sustained
enforcement of the victims' human rights. A holistic solution is
necessary. Only an international commitment to support anti-trafficking
measures within African nations, coupled with a consistent common policy
among European nations that encourages recognition of migrants by state
authorities and that provides protection for victims from prosecution
and/or deportation, can treat such a complex problem that covers such a
large geographic area.
. . .
International institutions and organizations have attempted to
respond to the problem of forced prostitution. In 1996, the European
Conference on Trafficking Women met in Vienna and discussed policy
measures in four key areas: "Migration Policy, Judicial
Cooperation, Law Enforcement and Police Cooperation, and Social Policy
and Protection." In addition, the U.N. Convention on the
Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)
requires signatories to "suppress all forms of traffic [of] women
and exploitation of prostitution of women." The convention provides
a mandate for the supervision of provisions regarding the trafficking of
women. Unfortunately, U.N. committees who have been entrusted to
implement this mandate have been unable to do so. Past approaches to
this problem have failed to assess the efficacy of changing the laws of
the host country.
One of the earliest responses to various forms of human rights
violations was the European Convention of Human Rights adopted in 1950.
It is legally binding on signatory states and provides an avenue for
individuals to bring a claim against a state for human rights
violations. The strength of this convention as a tool for combating
forced prostitution and sex slavery is weakened by the absence of
language that speaks specifically to sex slavery as a violation of human
rights. This omission, coupled with the obvious limitation that
plaintiffs must bring a cause of action against a state instead of
against the actual perpetrator, prevents the convention from being a
particularly useful tool in vindicating the rights of prostitutes in
An older international agreement which more appropriately addresses
the problems of trafficking for the purposes of prostitution is the
Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of the
Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others approved by the U.N. General
Assembly in 1949. It obligates states to take measures to punish those
involved in the trafficking of women. Article I requires punishment of
any person who "procures, entices or leads away, for purposes of
prostitution, another person, even with the consent of that person [or]
exploits the prostitution of another person, even with the consent of
that person." Article II requires punishment of "owners,
managers, or persons involved in the financing of a brothel as well as
individuals who rent a facility for the purpose of prostitution."
Additionally, the Convention "obliges states to enact social
measures to prevent prostitution and to help with the rehabilitation and
social reintegration of its victims."
The Exploitation Convention, however, does not create a means by
which a woman can "bring a claim against her trafficker or
pimp." Additionally, "only a signatory nation can bring a
complaint against another signatory." As a result, the convention
is often not available to women who live in non-signatory countries.
Finally, a woman is likewise helpless to force a signatory nation to
pursue her claim. The autonomy of the nation-state takes precedence over
the protection of victims of trafficking.
As a result of this lack of enforcement mechanisms, the Exploitation
Convention has not been effective as a vehicle for protecting the rights
of trafficking victims. Still, it is generally considered important
because of its clear terms, which address the issue of trafficking and
prostitution specifically. It provides a good example of the necessary
elements of a holistic solution to this problem. The convention aims not
only to prosecute offenders, but also to reduce the number of offenses
by assisting victims and encouraging nations to cooperate with one
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) is
yet another relatively weak source for the protection of women from
trafficking in Europe. It clearly states that "parties have an
obligation to protect people against being trafficked for
prostitution." This covenant goes a step further than previous
multilateral conventions by establishing a Human Rights Committee for
the monitoring of states' actions under the ICCPR. The committee reviews
the reports presented to it by states under article 40. From 1977 to
1995, however, the reports had not referred to prostitution within the
nations' borders and, as a consequence, the committee rarely had
occasion to respond to prostitution trafficking problems per se.
The ICCPR also provides a way for individuals to petition the
committee for violation of their rights, although this mechanism has not
yet been used to investigate trafficking in women. The committee, in
responding to an individual's complaint, would ask the governments
violating the covenant to disclose the procedures the state had set up
to redress the problem. If a measure similar to the covenant is to have
any efficacy at all, it must include provisions whereby all forms of
forced prostitution and trafficking are exposed, domestically and
abroad. In addition, a method by which the committee could suggest
procedures to states who have received complaints from individuals would
likely be helpful. Suggested procedures would serve as international
guidelines by which all nations could measure their commitment to the
elimination of the sex slave trade.
Finally, one of the most recent and most widely cited international
agreements that potentially serves as ammunition against trafficking in
women for prostitution internationally is the CEDAW adopted by the U.N.
General Assembly in 1979. Article 6 of the convention mandates that
states "take all appropriate measures, including legislation, to
suppress all forms of traffic in women and exploitation of prostitution
of women." Although the CEDAW convention does not make clear what
comprises appropriate measures, a loose framework of expected behavior
is set out in another article. In addition, article 5 calls on the
modify the social and cultural patterns of conduct of men and women,
with a view to achieving the elimination of prejudices and custom, and
all other practices which are based on the idea of the inferiority or
the superiority of either of the sexes or on stereotyped roles for men
While these are lofty and somewhat idealistic goals, this provision
likely calls for states to do more than they have been willing or able
to do. Many states refuse to recognize a trafficking problem at all.
Expecting those states to act to change their social and cultural
patterns may be asking too much. It is unclear how or if it is even
possible for states themselves to change the cultural patterns that have
become ingrained in the social fabric of a people. What victims of
trafficking need is an enforcement mechanism by which nations will be
held responsible for protecting the women who reside within their
borders. It is simply not enough for nations to endeavor to change
social patterns over a period of years or even decades.
Many multinational treaties and other agreements have been made
directly in response to the problem of trafficking of women. These
agreements have not been effective in preventing growth in the
trafficking industry in Europe. While many of the international
agreements affirm the goal of protecting women from powerful predatory
forces, they have failed to give victims the power to hold their
perpetrators directly responsible. In addition, the agreements reflect a
general reluctance on the part of nations to be forced to provide a
certain standard of safety for residents who may not even be citizens.
The agreements to date have at least one of three problems. Either, the
agreements are not practical, are not accessible to the very women they
seek to protect, or do not address the issue with enough clarity to
serve as any real obstruction to those who wish to exploit these women.
Agreements that are narrow in focus are impractical for the countless
women who find themselves in a variety of circumstances and
jurisdictions not covered in the agreement. Other agreements that give
nations rather than victims the power to enforce the mandates create
enforcement mechanisms that are out of a victim's reach. Finally,
agreements that lack a clear statement of the issue of eliminating
trafficking of women fail to mandate signatory nations to grant real
relief for victims.
A possible criticism of European nations' response (or lack thereof)
to trafficking of women into sex slavery is that the measures fail to
address underlying problems that contribute to the growth of this
clandestine industry. Individual nations' immigration and residency
laws, discussed earlier, make it difficult for foreign women to obtain
legal status and thus their problems often go undetected by authorities.
As a policy, most European countries have increasingly chosen to
criminalize prostitution. Many scholars, however, argue that this choice
has worked to drive prostitution underground, making it easier for
traffickers and pimps to prey on women. Criminalizing prostitution has
an even more deleterious effect on foreign women who, knowing they could
be deported for such activity, are reluctant to prosecute those who
exploit them or seek protection from legal authorities.
Most nations criminalize prostitution in efforts to reduce the
undesirable social effects of prostitution such as female promiscuity,
as well as the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. Carol Hauge
argues that criminalizing prostitution violates both the letter and
spirit of the CEDAW, however. Although Article 2(g) of the convention
requires states to "undertake to repeal all national penal
provisions which constitute discrimination against women," criminal
sanctions against prostitution disproportionately penalize women. It has
been argued that the criminal sanctions should be focused instead on the
customers or facilitators of prostitution including traffickers and
pimps. Criminal statutes, as the vast majority now stand, not only fail
to curtail growing prostitution, they also increase the likelihood of
exploitation of prostitutes.
Taking steps to legalize prostitution to some degree is another
possible method European nations are considering to fight the growing
problem of forced prostitution. Italy, for example, is contemplating
repealing the 1958 law which mandated closure of brothels. Proposed
legislation would allow prostitutes to conduct business in private
homes. Likewise, the Netherlands, which has traditionally had more
permissive laws regarding prostitution, relaxed its laws further last
year by repealing a 1912 statute outlawing brothels.
Critics of this approach argue that moving prostitution from the
street to the closed quarters of private homes will not only fail to
free prostitutes from the grip of their captors, but will also give
legal sanction to more clandestine activities by prostitution rings.
Maura Cossutta, a member of the Italian parliament, argues that the
proponents of this legislation simply "want to make prostitution
invisible because it makes [the lawmakers] feel uncomfortable."
Cossutta believes that the government should focus instead on
disengaging the syndicates that run prostitution rings.
Allowing some form of legal, government regulated prostitution may
not eliminate the problem of sex slavery altogether, but it is likely to
shed light on the sex industry in general. Since sex slavery and
especially the vast syndicates thrive on the hidden, clandestine nature
of prostitution, making the sex industry more public will at the very
least create a more discernible distinction between willing sex workers
and those who prostitute against their will. Relative to a woman
registered with the government and working in a brothel, an unregulated
prostitute on the streets of a European city may more clearly be
identified as a victim.
Hand in hand with the Netherlands' plan of continuing legal
prostitution is a new law that outlaws non-EU prostitutes who are
without resident parents. The law aims at reducing economic competition
and increasing price stabilization of sex services for Dutch
prostitutes. African and other non-EU prostitutes, who have for the most
part been more willing to perform for less money, have been blamed for
the lower prices prostitutes can demand in the Netherlands. Targeting
non-EU prostitutes will clearly force a disproportionate number of
African women into illegal operation, making them more susceptible to
abuse and control. The Foundation against Women Trafficking's Tineke
Bekker believes that under the Dutch law, "foreign women will be
forced to work illegally in worse conditions with little access to
health care and support groups."
In France, prostitution is legal, but there are no brothels regulated
or allowed by the state. France tolerates solicitation of prostitution
in certain "red light" districts, but solicitation remains a
crime in most areas. It seems France, however, has taken the initiative,
at least in theory, to join forces with other nations to discover and
dismantle transnational prostitution rings.
The Veneto region of Italy (which includes such cities as Venice and
Padua) has decided to fight proliferation of prostitution by a special
method of punishing the customers. The government recently charged a man
with "favoring prostitution" and impounded his car. While this
punishment is intended to frighten customers away from soliciting
prostitutes, it is not without controversy. One of the first men to
receive this punishment, identified as Antonio P. of Treviso, committed
suicide after suffering the embarrassment of having his car impounded in
accordance with the law. While turning the focus toward punishing the
customer instead of the prostitute is likely a welcome change in the
opinion of those who criticize criminializing prostitution, this
punishment may not go far enough to protect women who are engaging in
prostitution against their will. An Italian state official commented
that instead of simply impounding the cars, police should "follow
prostitutes home" to reveal those in charge of the prostitute ring.
Italian network television has also tried to respond to the problem
of sex slavery by increasing public awareness. In May 2000, the major
Italian networks showed a Nigerian prostitute kneeling at St. Peter's
Square after receiving a blessing from the Pope. The woman, identified
as 26-year-old Anna, had contracted AIDS as a result of being forced
into prostitution. In response to the growing awareness of forced
prostitution, the government created hotlines for women to call for help
in seeking healthcare and assistance in escaping from their captors.
Another way in which individual nations have exacerbated the problem
of trafficking for prostitution is the vast discrepancies among each
nation's asylum and immigration laws. Harmonization of the asylum laws
among the European nations will help to prevent illegal immigration and
"to prevent economic exploitation of illegal immigrants."
Under the current system, prostitutes involved in trafficking rings can
be moved easily from country to country to evade detection from the law
enforcement of differing European nations.