In this article, we’ll explore about the theme of prostitution and human trafficking, practices that shouldn’t have place in the contemporary society, but still persist, especially focusing on the position that social groups such as women and children occupy on the social hierarchy, using an analysis within the framework of international relations and the evolution of human rights, in the pandemic context.
Prostitution and human trafficking are practices that are intertwined due to the anti-humanitarian aspect they take on, ignoring the rights inherent to the human condition, establishing a kind of social anarchy and unknown territory, where it is difficult to find an efficient means of action in order to put an end to these abusive practices, since they still find a large expression at international level, which makes their monitoring more and more demanding.
Following the continuity of the historical course of these reprehensible activities, we can observe that their main targets fall on groups whose rights are based on weaker structures, such as women and children.
At this juncture, it’s essential to question why the choosing of these specific groups.
Women have always been considered inferior when compared to men, assuming a submissive role, being directed to more domestic tasks that did not involve so much intellectual work, since they were not considered fit for it. Nevertheless, the submission of the woman allowed her to be reduced to the point of being seen only as an instrument of male satisfaction, not having a will of her own, and it is here that we find the fundamental pillar that sustains prostitution or human trafficking, since they remove everything that makes a woman an individual with her own will, dignity and freedom (going against what has already been conquered in terms of human rights), turning her into an object, whose value is measured in monetary quantities.
Ana Sofia Fernandes, President of the Portuguese Platform for Women’s Rights, defines prostitution as “a system of unequal power relations driven by money, which often involves violence and objectification of women in this system”.
Due to the little credibility that women take from this environment, they end up being considered as the main culprit in the perpetuation of prostitution, thus existing a victim-blaming syndrome, instead of blaming the people who finance it, such as, for example, the buyers of sex or the pimps, in other words, those who profit from the prostitution of others.
The naturalness with which prostitution is carried out ends up having great consequences, undermining the social relations within a community, bringing to the surface problems of a socioeconomic nature, such as sexual violence and racism, for example. Thus, we can consider that the ” system of prostitution is based on economic inequality between women and men, since it is they who suffer most from poverty, and on sexual inequality between women and men, since it is women’s sexuality that is usually seen as subordinate. Even in cases where the people in prostitution are men or trans women, the buyers are almost exclusively men.”
Bearing this in mind, prostitution is an exit door leading to human trafficking, and both concepts are inseparable from one another, since both the buyers of sex and the pimps are the same in both environments, but the exploitation technique is the same, since the women are at their mercy, suffering coercion, psychological and physical harm, as well as being exposed to harmful comments, which proves that women need to fit the taste standards of their clients, as if they were an object.
Another relevant issue to consider is the relationship between migration and the prostitution system, which continues to expand at a considerable rate, “at the expense of migrant women and girls, who make up the majority of people in prostitution in European countries”.
In this way, women who are integrated into the prostitution system see their lives being made more difficult as they succumb to social discrimination and have complicated access to socio-economic rights, such as financial support, jobs that pay above the minimum wage, among others. This situation for migrant women becomes even more risky, since if they resort to any kind of help or report unlawful events, they can be deported if they do not have an updated residence permit, being consigned to a path of obscurity and exclusion.
Against this background, it is necessary to put in place a set of measures in order to prevent further expansion, both at state and international level. Thus, the integration of persons in the system of prostitution into society as a way of combating social injustice and exclusion begins, according to the EXIT programme, according to three primary objectives: the decriminalisation of persons in prostitution; the criminalisation of sex buying, pimping and human trafficking; and funding for support services and exit programmes for persons in prostitution.
Approaches that relied on the aforementioned objectives have already been carried out and consequently targets of great popularity, especially in Northern Europe, as was the case in Norway, Iceland, Sweden, among others, so this model became commonly known as the “Nordic model”.
On another note, it is essential to have associations and institutions that facilitate the reintegration of people working in this field, serving as a means of protection against abuse, exploitation and violence, as well as providing a way out for those who want to leave prostitution, which is not an easy journey at all, due to all the trauma that victims suffer, be it psychological, sexual, narcotics, and close support from mental and sexual health professionals. Therefore, it is essential to have state-funded programmes based on aspects such as respect for individuals in prostitution, interdisciplinarity and cooperation between professionals and institutions, in order to coordinate their efforts to create a safe space for women or other people in prostitution, and finally, the creation of measures with long-term objectives as part of exit strategies.
On the international level, prostitution and human trafficking are still very realities. Why does this happen?
The truth is that criminal organisations always end up finding ways to continue their activity, escaping the radar of national and international authorities, with loopholes emerging on the surface that constitute legal obstacles to the condemnation of the crime of human trafficking and prostitution, perpetuating this type of crime and the conduct of violators of the rule of law and human rights. This leads to victims of abuse and exploitation in the midst of prostitution ending up losing hope in the organs of justice and the desire to restart their lives, finding no alternatives to escape this underworld of violence.
The actual amount of victims of human exploitation and trafficking becomes difficult to define. The United Nations estimates that approximately 2.5 million people are trafficked each year, while the number reported by numerous NGOs rises to 200 million, making the winding journey to effective monitoring of this type of crime evident here.
Cláudia Pedra, a human rights specialist and director of the Association for Strategic and International Studies, states that “Official data is very limited. They emanate essentially from victims found by the authorities who are a huge minority, as our research in the field shows. The vast majority are found by NGOs – priests, pastors, health professionals – they are not found by the authorities, but they have a means of making a complaint, by them and by their families.”.
Cases of sexual exploitation and trafficking are most often not reported due to a permanent state of fear on the part of the victims, besides the trafficking networks have the means to continue terrorising the victims and exerting pressure on them not to speak out, otherwise they will suffer the consequences, often threatening their lives and families, thus preferring the victims to serve time for the crimes they were forced to commit, rather than report their trafficker.
With the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, the shortcomings complicating human trafficking have become even more evident, highlighting the vulnerability of the victims of human trafficking and speeding up the action of pimps and sex buyers, who use their creativity and the Internet as their favourite weapons. The annual report overseen by a group of experts from the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings, called GRETA, where Spain emerges as an example of this issue, in which “digital platforms such as Airbnb [short-term rental platform]” are increasingly used to “rent flats where sexual exploitation is practiced,” which reduces, according to the expert group, the ability of police to detect victims of trafficking.” However, GRETA experts highlight and welcome the action taken by some countries, such as the UK, Italy and Spain, whose intervention safeguarded the normal functioning of victim support.