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EU Commissioner for Home Affairs
Trafficking in Human Beings and Gender – the EU Perspective
Interministerial conference: "The New York Convention 65 years later: observations and new perspectives"/Brussels
30 September 2013
Your Majesty, your Excellencies, and distinguished guests,
As we speak here today, thousands of women and girls across the world and within the EU lose their lives or become forever scared at the hands of traffickers.
I have seen with my own eyes the gruesome consequences of human trafficking. I will never forget the young girls I met at a centre in Pristina, Kosovo. They were telling me their stories, of how they had been brought to different countries of Europe, under false premises and found that they did not end up working as a waitress or model. Instead they had to sell their bodies, many times a day in shabby apartments. They were threatened and beaten, and some of them had even been "sold" by family members.
So, let me be clear from the outset. For the EU, human trafficking is unacceptable in every sense of that word. It is a gross human rights violation. It is an extremely serious form of crime. It harms its victims, often the most vulnerable in our societies who deserve our protection most, deeply and for life.
Fortunately, this is now widely recognised, and – unlike fifteen years ago when I started working on trafficking issues myself as a young politician – it is no longer a political taboo or an issue dealt with quietly in specialist fora. But a lot still remains to be done.
Let me also be very clear on one point, of particular importance in today's forum: gender and trafficking are interconnected at many levels.
According to our data published by the EUROSTAT recently, and that many of you will have seen, sexual exploitation is the most widespread form (62%) of human trafficking in the EU, and women and girls make up the overwhelming majority of all victims at 96%. Of course, men and boys also become victims of sexual exploitation. But the figures point to very clear trends, and to underlying power imbalances, and social structures that we have to acknowledge and address.
But behind all these figures are the stories and destinies of women in search of a better life. These figures show us one thing: women and children end up in the prostitution market. Be it in windows or in massage parlours, in strip clubs or brothels, they are exploited in a sense no one would ever want to imagine. The links between the prostitution market and exploitation are there. The links between organised criminals are more and more evident. They don't have job descriptions.
Let me also be clear that trafficking of women and girls is a form of violence against women, rooted in gender inequalities and in sex discrimination. This is what the EU, under my initiative, has clearly conveyed at the 57th Commission on the Status of Women this year in New York.
The EU's response to human trafficking – including the work of law enforcement authorities – must take into account this gendered nature of the problem. And I believe that the EU's legal and policy framework for addressing trafficking in human beings does in fact take it fully into account.
I do not have to remind anyone here that the EU has adopted both a very ambitious Directive on human trafficking and an EU Strategy to complement the Directive over the last few years. Both the Directive and the Strategy recognise and address the gender dimension of human trafficking in number of ways; let me just mention three key points.
First, the EU policy framework firmly supports the ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Violence against Women (CEDAW) by all States, and especially art.6.
Second, I have seen a worrying tendency to focus less on trafficking for sexual exploitation in recent years. We need to be alert to all forms of trafficking, and the Commission will certainly continue to work hard on sexual trafficking. In fact, the sad figures I cited before shows that we have not done our job yet, far from it, and that the victims of sexual exploitation need our support, and the traffickers the pressure of law enforcement, more than ever.
Thirdly, the EU policy which we have put in place recognises the need to reduce the demand for sexual exploitation. Sexual exploitation is present only because there is demand for it. For a little 10 year old girl to be exploited in the prostitution market or for producing pornography, there has to be a client and there has to be a user; there needs to be a demand for such actions. It is essential address this urgently - and for this reason I very much welcome the theme of today's events.
The EU anti-trafficking directive is clear on this point: Member States have a legal obligation to discourage and reduce the demand. The Directive also asks Member States to, at the very least, consider making it a crime to use the services of victims of trafficking, with the knowledge that the person is a victim. For this reason, we must start considering difficult questions – is there another area of crime where the user knowingly gets involved and is not criminalised? My services commit to this purpose placing at the heart of efforts the victims.
At the same time as we address those gender-specific aspects of the human trafficking problem, we have to make sure that the perpetrators profiting human exploitation end up behind bars. It is the traffickers who deserve punishment, not the victims who are, unfortunately, too often treated as petty criminals. Victims must be seen as right holders and persons who need support to reintegrate into society, not as petty criminals.
On this point, the EU still has a long way to go. In fact, the trends are alarming: the number of identified and presumed human trafficking victims increased by 18 % between 2008 and 2010, but the overall number of convictions decreased by 17%. This is simply not good enough. I very much hope that the decision of all Member States recently to make human trafficking one of nine top priorities for EU police forces [in the so-called Serious and Organised Crime Policy Cycle] will pay off.
Your Majesty, Excellencies, distinguished guests. Let me conclude by two points.
At this important event today, my key message has been that only by addressing demand for all forms of exploitation can we can begin address trafficking in human beings. Trafficking in human beings for sexual exploitation has a gender and we have to address the gendered dimension of this demand: we cannot address the sexual exploitation of victims (the overwhelming majority being girls) without addressing the users. And we cannot afford to wait. Human lives are at stake and we are already late.
It is therefore important, not to say crucial, that all EU Member States transpose the EU Human Trafficking Directive, and make sure its provisions are fully implemented. Only 18 of them have done so to date. It is time to deliver.