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The Gender Dimension: Trafficking as a Subset of Gender-Based Violence

Thursday 21 December 2023

The Gender Dimension: Trafficking as a Subset of Gender-Based Violence

As an active member in the fight against gender-based violence, it is of significant importance for me to actively contribute in underlying the correlations that exist between dynamics of gender-based violence and trafficking.

To date, it is sadly known how trafficking mainly affects women and young girls, both European and non-European, who are trafficked to be exploited in various ways, all around the European Union. According to the latest data collected by the European Commission in 2021, 68,4% of registered victims of trafficking in human beings in the EU were women or girls. Moreover, according to the Global Report on Trafficking in Persons published in 2022, an examination of court records revealed that the frequency of physical or severe abuse inflicted upon female victims by human traffickers is three times greater than that of male victims.

This connects to the fact that we cannot perceive trafficking without analysing its gender dimension, thus connecting it to gender-based violence. Although trafficking is an evolving and multidimensional phenomenon, the exploitation of women and girls is a constant, especially when considering it in connection to sexual exploitation and forced (domestic) labour.

Trafficking, while frequently considered a distinct phenomenon, is in fact a subset of gender-based violence due to the fundamental dynamics of power, control, inequality, and human rights that can be found present in cases of trafficking for sexual exploitation and/or forced (domestic) labour. In order to analyse the phenomenon, a gendered approach is required, avoiding the debate on the conflict between coercion and self-determination especially in the case of sexual exploitation between the perspective of individuals that are forced into prostitution and sex workers. Trafficked women experience violence because they are viewed as “less important” in both their home countries and the countries where they arrive. This is because, in many cases, they lack the freedom to make their own decisions and readily allow other people—often men—to take control of their bodies and lives.

The EU strategy to combat human trafficking that was adopted by the European Commission on April 14, 2021 (2021–2025) tried to provide a holistic response to the crime, encompassing victim empowerment, crime prevention, and the prosecution of traffickers while highlighting its ‘gender dimension’, paying particular attention to women and minors. In this perspective, the Commission clearly reaffirmed that trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation is to all intents and purposes a form of gender-based violence rooted in the gender inequality and discrimination suffered by women and young girls. At the European level, however, the achievement of these objectives remains extremely problematic and there are numerous obstacles to overcome in order to achieve full autonomy for women and girls that have survived or are at risk of trafficking.

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