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The horror of sex trafficking in Europe

Eastern Europe

"It is morally and legally unacceptable and inexcusable that in the EU of the 21st century, there are human beings who are bought, sold and exploited like commodities. It is our personal, collective and legal duty to stop this.” - Dimitris Avramopoulos, Commissario europeo per le migrazioni, gli affari interni e la cittadinanza

Human trafficking is -unfortunately- a problem that affects us globally. It is often controlled by organized criminal groups in every country around the world. In Europe, and in Italy, to date there are still thousands of victims of trafficking. 

According to the directive 2011/36/UE of the European Parliament and Council dated 5th April 2011, trafficking in human beings means "the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or reception of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception of the abuse of power or of the position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation includes prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs".

According to 2019 data, there are over 26,000 victims in Europe. Of these, 68% are female and 46% are subjected to sexual exploitation. The victims are younger and the picture appears even more worrying if we consider that at least one in four victims is under 18.

Trafficking in human beings is a highly profitable crime for criminals and at the same time generates a huge cost to society. According to an estimate, the annual profit of trafficking in human beings worldwide amounts to 29.4 billion euros, while the total cost of trafficking in the European Union in a single year is estimated at 2.7 billion euros.

The International community and the EU, together with other non-institutional subjects, were and -still are- protagonists of the fight against it. Proof of this is the 2000 UN Palermo Convention on Transnational Organized Crime and the related Additional Protocols on the subject of trafficking in persons and smuggling of migrants, as well as the decisions of various European bodies, including the Council of Europe Convention on action to fight trafficking in human beings (2005).

In italy as part of the National Plan against trafficking and the serious exploitation of human beings, there's the Single Program for the emergence, assistance and social integration of victims of slavery, of trafficking and of violence or severe exploitation of human beings.

Awareness of the problem, also regarding the links that trafficking has with the wider phenomenon of organized crime or with the phenomenon of migration, has led to international efforts aimed at fighting trafficking and yet issues persist;

First of all, the high number of victims, though the real death toll could be dramatically higher than the known. In fact the collection of data incomplete. Moreover migration represents a good chances for traffickers and difficulties for the victims to escape.

In Italy it is estimated that, among the victims, there are over two thousand women involved within a controlled market - or at least taking advantage of - criminal organizations of the mafia type. Most of the victims come from Nigeria and Eastern Europe.

Trafficking in human beings for the purpose of sexual exploitation, for instance, has been one of the main activities of the Albanian mafia since the 1990s. Initially it was unorganized; the emigration of a couple to Italy often ended with women forced into prostitution. Over time, the business has expanded and become more structured in order to meet the high demand in more Western countries.

Recruitment takes place by kidnapping or, more frequently, through the "lover-boyfriend" method: with a wedding proposal, a job or a better future, the girls are taken to Western Europe and sold. Often the market is controlled by one or more divisions in the country of origin and by a division in the country of arrival.

The majority of trafficked women from Eastern Europe come from Albania, Moldova, Romania and Macedonia. The business is characterized by brutal control and use of violence: in the countries of arrival, victims are beaten, raped, tortured and forced into prostitution.

Control, fear and violence make it extremely difficult for victims to find ways out. Not only the victims often do not know who to ask for help, but the fear of repercussions on themselves and their families drastically reduces the chances of escape and redemption.

Trafficking in human beings destroys the lives of thousands of people, depriving them of dignity, freedom, fundamental rights.

 It is essential that everyone realizes the responsibility of society as a whole to fight a brutal reality, to bring those responsible to justice and to assist and protect the victims of a phenomenon that cannot and must have no space.

Translated by Valeria Pasquali


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  • L'Autore

    Greta Thierry

    Greta Thierry vive in provincia di Pavia. Ha conseguito la laurea triennale in Scienze Politiche e Relazioni Internazionali presso l'Università degli Studi di Pavia e attualmente è al termine della Laurea Magistrale in Relazioni Internazionali, curriculum International Cooperation and Human Rights, presso l'Università degli Studi di Milano.
    L'ampio interesse per le relazioni internazionali e i diritti umani, le ha permesso - tra le altre cose - di entrare in contatto con Mondo Internazionale Post, dove ricopre il ruolo di autrice per l'area tematica Diritti Umani, nonché i ruoli di revisore e traduttrice.

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