04 July 2019
Last Updated: 05 July 2019
by Vera NYGARD

The EU Civil Society Platform Against Trafficking in Human Beings gathered in Brussels on 13-14 June 2019. EU Anti-trafficking Coordinator Myria Vassiliadou opened the meetings by speaking on the impact of the platform in recent years. The increase of funding applications in civil society and the pioneering of new national platforms in the field of anti-human trafficking speaks of the importance of having a platform of this kind. Vassiliadou also emphasized that the Commission is not legally or otherwise bound to consulting civil society in these matters, but it chooses to do so as it understands the value of it.

Vassiliadou also spoke on the importance of using the correct definitions when speaking on matters relating to human trafficking. Terms such as “modern slavery” have no legal definition, and we should therefore be careful when using it in certain contexts. We also need to keep in mind and keep reminiding others about the fact that trafficking does not happen just because people are vulnerable, it happens because there is so much profit related to it. Yet the strong culture of impunity that exists in relation to trafficking is rarely spoken about. We need to be very clear on the fact that a trafficker is an abuser, and the crime needs to be sanctioned even though it can be difficult to prove. Vassiliadou finished by referring to a worrying trend towards proliferation of legal instruments and stating: “We do not need new laws on trafficking in human beings. What we need to do is implement existing legislation”.    

     Panel discussion

The first panel discussion of the day combined the expertise of actors from the European Fundamental Rights Agency, Europol, Eurojust and DG HOME. The FRA presented its recently launched report on children deprived of parental care in the EU. Myria Vassiliadou emphasized that looking at children in the migration process is crucial, but should not be at the expense of EU children. No child should be forgotten due to the lack of political understanding. She shared a story about an encounter she had at a shelter for victims where a trafficked 14 year old was living with her two year old child. When asked what she wanted to do with her life now that she was free, the girl responded: “Don’t be stupid, I’m already dead”. We need to find ways to protect potential victims from the perpetrators. 

     Workshop: How can we ensure we counter the culture of impunity that prevails in trafficking in human beings?

Awareness raising campaigns regarding human trafficking often address the victims, in a way making them responsible for becoming trafficked. We need to make sure that the crime in itself is addressed and strive to counter the culture of impunity. In the last two years, there has been less than 3000 convictions of trafficking, even though we know that the number of criminals is much larger. A significant reason for this is that there are a lot of misunderstandings and assumptions when it comes to trafficking. Judges, lawyers, etc, might not have specialized training or competence to deal with the matter, and thus a lot of cases are misjudged. The legal framework is good, but a law in in itself can do nothing if it’s not implemented. We should create opportunities for awareness raising and training amongst those who really have the power to make decisions in these matters. A few countries have judges specialized in trafficking, but this is the exception. This creates a bottleneck that is hard to get through.  

When speaking of awareness raising amongst the general public, the TSA campaign Cheap Prices Can Come at High Cost was mentioned as an example. As the campaign addresses the consumer and not the victim, it was highlighted as an exception to the common focus on the victim. Myria Vassiliadou pointed out that it can be questioned whether campaigns actually work, as studies have shown that if there are no actual legal consequences to buying cheap products people will keep doing it. Consumer responsibility and indirect use is problematic. Where does the responsibility of the consumer end and governmental responsibility start? Implementing the relevant legislation is key in these matters. However, creating awareness and highlighting the issue is still necessary, as public awareness needs to improve..

Depending on the organization you work for and the country you live in, it might seem that one form of trafficking is highlighted above other forms. Vassiliadou pointed out that generally speaking, labour trafficking has received much more attention than sexual exploitation. It is important to have a holistic view on trafficking, so that all crimes and victims are included in discussions and decision making. Cooperation between different actors is key, learning from each other.

Awareness raising campaigns do not target the exploiters, criminals, the perpetrators. Criminalising sexual exploitation is easy, but if nothing is done to implement the law, what’s the point? We need to focus on pushing the right issues. We often focus on how many victims we have of certain offences, but why do we not ask who the perpetrators are and how many? People need to be made aware of the legislation, and what happens if they break it. The criminal offence needs to be sanctioned.

In conclusion, it was agreed that governments should have ultimate responsibility to implement existing legislation. Legislation should target all different levels of the “trafficking chain”. The prevalent culture of impunity allows for these horrible crimes to flourish. Demand is created by profit, if there would be no profit trafficking would not exist. In the end, it’s all about money.    





Tags: Europe