Stop Traffick!

1 The Truth Isn’t Sexy

Young British people raising their pints in popular bars can hardly fail to notice the beer-mats provided for their use. They are enticing, well-produced, sex-worker calling cards – or so they appear to be. Flip them over and you get a glimpse of the brutal reality for the trafficked woman being advertised. The campaign was launched by a group of young people who felt passionately about raising awareness of trafficking by addressing the ‘demand’ side of the sex market – starting with their peers. They want to challenge the increasingly prevalent attitudes that ‘normalize ending up in a lap-dancing club, brothel or massage parlour’. The campaign organizers say: ‘We are asking those who use these services to think about the wider impact of their choices: to consider that women may have been forced, manipulated and coerced into such work. When this is the case, “The Truth Isn’t Sexy”.’

*For more on this campaign see*

2 Theatre of resistance

Humour and entertainment are not the first things you might associate with a project for trafficked women and children. But Indian actor Mita Vasisht knew what she was doing when she worked with survivors of sex trafficking to create a comedy, Neeti Manikkaran, which played to packed houses in Mumbai. ‘My idea of theatre is something joyous and mirthful. But most of these girls have had an extremely traumatic past and I did not consider it right to reopen their wounds. The comedy allowed them to cope with their trauma better,’ she says. The aim of Mandala, the cultural organization Vasisht founded, is: ‘To create a new ground for the trafficked women... to develop a model of rehabilitation using the theatre workshop process and performance by the rescued girls, whereby minor girls are also helped to acquire skills which will provide them a platform of power from which to address the world.’

Alongside the drama lessons, students develop awareness of their body language. This is especially important for people who have been trafficked into the sex industry at a young age and who have therefore been conditioned to give out physical messages of sexual availability. Some on the Mandala project, like 19-year-old Saraswati Naidu, have gone on to become drama teachers and anti-trafficking campaigners themselves.

Other anti-trafficking organizations, such as the Kolkata-based Sanlaap, also use performance art as a form of therapy, self-expression and confidence building.

*For Mandala see*
*For Sanlaap see*

3 Poster campaigns


Hard-hitting posters have been plastered in public places in Ukraine, Bulgaria, Romania – all of which are identified as source countries for victims of trafficking. The posters warn that traffickers may be the least expected and most trusted people – an old school friend, a boyfriend, even a close relative.

In Costa Rica the Paniamor Foundation (part of the ECPAT network) launched a multimedia public awareness campaign in 2006 to prevent the trafficking of children and young people for sex. Its slogan was: ‘Don’t be fooled! Behind a job promise could be a destination of pain!’ A range of images, including a mousetrap with banknotes as bait, appeared on posters, the sides of buses and on bookmarks slipped inside passports issued to children.

*For ECPAT see*

4 Getting there first


Traffickers are good at identifying their targets among the most vulnerable groups and preying upon them. Campaigners, therefore, need to get to those vulnerable people first. Bulgaria is one of the main countries of origin for women and children trafficked into Germany. Adolescents growing up in orphanages are especially at risk: the majority are Roma and so experience double discrimination due to their status as orphans and their ethnicity. The Bulgarian Animus Association (part of the La Strada network) has been working with these children, giving them the knowledge and skills to help them resist exploitation.

In Nepal, people in the impoverished interior areas of the country – most severely affected by emigration – are reached by community radio programmes which warn of the methods used by traffickers.

*For La Strada see*

5 Singing about it

Trafficking in women is skyrocketing in Latin America. In order to rouse public indignation popular Uruguayan actor and singer Natalia Oreiro has launched a campaign in conjunction with the International Organization for Migration. Oreiro recorded a television spot and a video clip for her song ‘Esclava’ (Slave Woman), to be broadcast on television and radio. ‘The idea is to show the video clip at public gatherings and fiestas in small towns where young women are taken in by fraudulent job offers, and end up being sexually exploited,’ says Oreiro.

*For International Organization for Migration see*

6 A safe place

As well as providing shelter, healthcare and counselling, the UK-based Poppy Project helps prepare asylum claims for the trafficked women in its care. The result has been a much higher than average rate of successful applications for asylum. Re-trafficking of survivors who have been deported is common – often a deported woman will find her trafficker waiting for her in the arrivals hall. The Organization for Security Co-operation in Europe estimates that 50 per cent of those immediately repatriated are re-trafficked. Granting asylum combined with counselling, education and training can break the cycle of exploitation. Equally important is the provision of safe-houses in the countries of origin – a high proportion of the women and girls who are trafficked have been subject to domestic violence and sexual abuse at home.

*For Poppy Project see*

7 Going home

Returning to her country of origin can be very difficult for a survivor of sex trafficking. Not only is she likely to be traumatized by her experience, she may also be rejected by her community and persecuted by her traffickers. In Nigeria, The Committee for the Support of Dignity of Women in Benin City (COSUDOW) works in collaboration with other NGOs in rehabilitating and reintegrating returnees from Italy, Spain, Germany and other European countries. Collaborators abroad notify the organization of the return of a trafficked woman. Her family is traced and prepared for her return. Counselling is usually needed so that the family can receive the returnee and support her through the process of reintegration. The family may also need protection from traffickers who may demand repayment for their lost ‘investment’. COSUDOW has brought on board the Anti-Human-Trafficking Unit of the Nigerian Police Force. In addition, the organization offers training and employment in a weaving, dying, sewing, knitting and baking project. Many of the young women who get trafficked are the daughters of widows and so, as a preventative measure, COSUDOW works to provide sustenance for 45 widows. There is also a special fund to help poor girls through high school, and a centre offering secretarial skills in poor and remote areas of Edo State from which many trafficked women originate.

*For more on COSUDOW see*

8 Power shift

The Thai organization Empower is unusual in that it consults with sex workers on all aspects of its programmes and ensures they participate as equal partners. Controversially, it also sometimes enlists the co-operation of pimps and brothel owners. With operations in high-risk areas of Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Mae Sai, it works with girls and women who have been trafficked and those who have migrated of their own will, and it respects the right of all to make informed choices about their vocation. Non-formal education, literacy classes, counselling and health services are on offer to those who need them, regardless of nationality.

*For Empower see*

9 Article 18

In 1998 Italy’s leftwing coalition Government introduced a progressive new set of measures under Article 18 of the Consolidated Act on Immigration. Article 18 provides protection and settlement services for migrant women trafficked into the Italian sex industry and remains one of the most progressive and integrated national responses to human trafficking.

In order to receive a temporary residence permit for six months, the affected person has to give simple statements to the police which enable them to determine whether she has been trafficked or not. She has to make statements about her exploiters and stop working in prostitution. If the authorities are satisfied trafficking has occurred, the woman receives a limited residence status. After six months this status is extended if she participates in an integration class. The temporary residence permit can be turned into an unlimited one if the woman holds down a job. Subsidized employment schemes facilitate this.

A trafficked person can choose between a ‘social path’ and a ‘judicial path’. If she officially files a charge with the authorities and is willing to testify in court, she receives her residence permit via the ‘judicial path’. This happens more quickly than if she pursues the ‘social path,’ under which she is not obliged to testify against her tormentors.


10 Detection

Prosecutions for trafficking are still relatively few and far between. The authorities reckon that they get to know of perhaps 10 per cent of sex trafficking cases. In Israel the women’s group Isha L’Isha (Woman to Woman) has had some success in getting apathetic police to pursue traffickers more vigorously and to treat trafficked women properly. Isha L’Isha is the main source of support for trafficked women; it runs a helpline, gives shelter, healthcare, counselling and arranges safe returns to countries of origin. The organization gives legal assistance and support to any woman who wants to testify against her pimp or trafficker. It has also successfully campaigned for minimum sentences against traffickers to be increased.

In most countries police raids on brothels, saunas or massage parlours give the impression that the authorities are cracking down on trafficking. But raids need to be carried out in an integrated way that ensures that the survivors of trafficking get the support they need from the agencies that exist to provide it. In 2006 Britain saw the first co-ordinated nationwide attempt to tackle sex trafficking during the three-month long Operation Pentameter. Some 84 assumed victims of trafficking – some of them aged between 14 and 17 – were rescued; 130 people were charged. A number have already been tried and convicted. One outcome of the Operation has been the establishment of the UK Human Trafficking Centre in Sheffield to gather resources and coordinate anti-trafficking activity.

Counter-trafficking hotlines have been effective. In Turkey 74 per cent of calls to the International Organization for Migration hotline came from men, mostly brothel clients. During the past year Turkish police have broken up 10 trafficking networks in the country. In the Andean region some 1,000 people a month call the IOM hotline number. Calls received in Peru in 2006 generated charges against 30 traffickers in six months. ‘My dream has come true,’ says the mother of a young woman who was held captive in a brothel in Piura. ‘My daughter has finally come home.’

*For Isha L’Isha see*
New Internationalist issue 404 magazine cover This article is from the September 2007 issue of New Internationalist.
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