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Category Archives: Migration

More on sex trafficking in Sweden, from the Swedish police

Just over a year ago I wrote this post, analysing the Swedish police’s annual human trafficking report for 2011. A few months later, the 2012 report was published in Swedish; I didn’t have the time to Google Translate it so I figured I’d wait until the English version came out. Unusually, though, it never did. And now, I see the 2013 report is available – but again, only in Swedish. Perhaps the powers-that-be in Sweden have realised these reports aren’t exactly helpful to their international propaganda campaign.

So, Google Translate it is.  As it turns out, much of the 2013 report just repeats more-or-less-verbatim what I already quoted in my summary of the 2011 report (and I really do encourage you to read that, particularly if you still buy the TORL disinformation). But a few things jumped out at me from Section 3.1 of the current report, the section on “Human trafficking for sexual purposes”:

sex trafficking is not just an urban phenomenon but … these crimes also occur in small towns throughout Sweden (p.15)

They probably said that in the last report too, but it strikes me now how similar it is to Diarmuid Martin’s widely-reported New Year’s Mass, in which the Archbishop of Dublin solemnly informed us that trafficking is happening in every nook and cranny in Ireland. Hype about the spatial distribution of sex trafficking is an interesting subject in and of itself, though not one I’m going to spend any time on here.

In 2013 the police established a total of 41 complaints concerning trafficking for sexual purposes. … The above statistics can be compared with the situation in 2012, when 21 reports of human trafficking for sexual purposes were established. (p.15)

I’ve said repeatedly that I think trafficking statistics are pretty much meaningless, because they only measure what officials detect and identify as trafficking, which doesn’t necessarily coincide with the actual amount of activity taking place that fits the legal definition of “trafficking”. But let’s be honest – if this was a Dutch or German study showing a 95% increase in sex trafficking in a single year, don’t you think we’d be hearing all about it from the Mary Honeyballs and Rhoda Grants and Equality Nows of this world?

As in 2012, there was also in 2013 a return to more brutal methods in trafficking cases. (p.16)

Hmmm. Is this the “normative effect” Minister Fitzgerald tells us she expects from the law?

According to Europol … the victims of sex trafficking brought into the EU from third countries particularly come from Nigeria. This is the case even in Sweden. (p.16)

TORL supporters in Ireland have repeatedly claimed that this is the case in Ireland, too, which again undermines the argument that a country’s prostitution laws make the difference.

In cases where women are exploited in prostitution in Sweden and able to be contacted by the police or NGOs they are offered the opportunities for support and assistance. If they are not willing or able to cooperate with law enforcement authorities in an investigation of human trafficking/pimping, they may in some cases be inadmissible under the Aliens Act. [Footnote: According to Chapter 8, Section 2, first paragraph of the Aliens Act, “an alien is inadmissible if it can be assumed that during their stay in Sweden they will not earn a living in an honest way.”] (p.17)

Let’s condense that a bit: “In cases where women are exploited in prostitution in Sweden but not willing or able to cooperate with law enforcement, they may be deported, because we don’t want their kind here.” Such a caring compassionate approach to “women exploited in prostitution”, isn’t it?

Some victims told police that were they exploited in prostitution by sex-buying men, pimps and traffickers in several other EU countries before they were transferred to Sweden. According to Europol, it is common for criminal networks engaged in human trafficking to move victims from country to country and often within countries. This is how traffickers regularly offer men the sex-purchase of new women and maximize their profits. (p.19)

I think this is quite noteworthy, in light of previous claims that traffickers avoid Sweden because they can’t make any money there. 15 years of the sex purchase ban, and police say that traffickers are still moving victims to Sweden in order to “maximize their profits”. What does that tell you about how effective they think their law really is?

Another subsection looks at the online sector, and the last paragraph merits quoting in full:

National Police can confirm that subjects relating to the purchase of various sexual acts, escort services and prostitution activities still, despite a ban on the purchase of sexual services, engage men in Sweden. On the site Sexwork.net and on the discussion board Flashback are hundreds of pages with thousands of discussion threads about these topics. Some of the threads contain reviews, written by sex-buying men, of women who are exploited for prostitution purposes. The reviews related inter alia whether the woman corresponds to the man’s expectations of the sex purchase, her appearance, physical attributes and her willingness to perform the “services” as promised on the website. That the woman ordered is actually offered is also important information for the sex-buying man. Moreover they exchange male sex-buying experiences such as how they can avoid detection by the police or family members, or avoid being exposed to robbery or extortion. The language used by these men in reviews is often highly sexualised, derogatory and abusive towards women. The threads on the web forum Sexwork.net are divided into different regions; Sweden, other Nordic countries, the Baltic States, Europe and Thailand. (p.21)

I think that pretty much speaks for itself.

Now, a couple points on what’s not here. One of the most striking revelations of the report I reviewed last year was the near-trebling of Thai “massage parlour” brothels in Stockholm between 2009 and 2011-2012. There are no up-to-date figures in this report, but it does confirm those findings. So, for any pro-criminalisation people who were hoping the 2013 report would say “er that was wrong and actually there really are no brothels posing as massage parlours in Stockholm”: sorry to disappoint.

And finally, there’s a whole subsection – 3.1.3 – devoted to “Support for voluntary return and reintegration of persons trafficked for sexual exploitation or prostitution”. It takes up approximately one page of the overall five-and-a-half page section on sex trafficking. Curiously, there is no section on integrating trafficking victims into Swedish society. But then, we’ve already seen why that is: because their only value to Sweden is as a law-enforcement tool. It seems the Swedish state uses them for its own purposes, and then discards them like unwanted goods.

I’d call that exploitation.  Wouldn’t you?

ETA: The Swedish police have now released a press statement on this report, which can be read (in Swedish) here. This part of the statement is notable:

Human trafficking for sexual purposes makes most people think of foreign girls and women who are lured into sex slavery, something that the progress report also describes. But there is also a domestic problem in which minors, mostly girls, living in Sweden sell their bodies on the net. …

There are many who do not understand this explosion of girls who sell their bodies on line, says [Detective Inspector] Kajsa Wahlberg. These young girls have a need to be seen and get confirmation, while there is a great demand for young bodies.

This law is an abject failure. How can anyone claim otherwise?

Whose country is it anyway?

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I’ve been thinking about a couple of comments that Marcus Ranum made on my last post (thanks for the food for thought, by the way!). Here’s the exchange:

Screen Shot 2015-01-06 at 11.19.25Now, obviously (especially since he actually said it in as many words) the suggestion wasn’t a serious one. It’s just an expression of frustration, and a legitimate one at that. I threaten to move to the far side of the Moon on a regular basis, right? It got me thinking, though.

Yes, women and people with uteri are second-class citizens in Ireland. We have a constitution that tells us that we have a special place within the home, shouldn’t be bothering our pretty little heads with economic labour, and are legally equivalent to a fertilised egg. I mean, technically you could even say that a male foetus has a higher status than a grown woman, since at least the foetus is expected to go get a job at some point in the future.

It’s grim.

Of course, women and the uterus-enabled aren’t the only ones living with second-class citizenship in this lovely country of ours. Trans people still can’t have their genders recognised, queer people are barred from equal marriage and can be legally discriminated against if we work in education, and let’s not even start on direct provision and arbitrary deportations of asylum seekers, or the abysmal way that the Travelling community are routinely dehumanised, or people on years-long waiting lists for public healthcare, or non-Catholic families being shoved down school waiting lists or.. oh, I could go on. You know I could go on. We have no shortage of second-class citizenship (or residency, or humanity) in this country.

Does being second-class citizens mean this space is less our home, though?

My answers, as ever, over at Consider the Tea Cosy

Direct Provision: Sex Work Is Not The Problem

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This week here in Ireland, reports have come to light that women living in direct provision centres have been engaged in survival sex work.

Some context, for those of you unfamiliar with Ireland’s asylum processes:

When people come to Ireland seeking asylum, they are housed in what’s called “direct provision” until their cases are heard. Direct provision is a system where food and accommodation are provided to a person, and they are given a small allowance to live on. Doesn’t seem too terrible at first glance- who wouldn’t want to be given a place to live and 3 meals a day?

It turns out, though, that direct provision isn’t exactly what you’d call cushy. Having no control over the food you eat or when you eat it- and don’t forget, direct provision centres are run by private contractors looking to make a profit, and there is no profit in ensuring that people have access to decent food. If you can’t stomach the food, being barred from making or eating food in your own room. Add to that having no privacy- asylum seekers have to share rooms, either with complete strangers or with an entire family crowded into a single room. Throw in curfews, and being barred from working to support yourself, earn money, or simply pass the time. And doing it all with a measly €19.10 allowance, or €9.60 for children, for everything else that you might need. Imagine trying to live your life on that, or raise your kids and do your best to provide them with some sort of liveable existence.

The direct provision system was set up as a temporary measure, to house people for a few months at most while their asylum claims were being processed. As of this year, 59% of residents have been living in direct provision for over three years, and 9% for more than seven years. 

There are more people in direct provision in Ireland than in our prisons. Asylum seekers, unlike prisoners, have done nothing wrong. And asylum seekers, unlike prisoners, live with no certainty over how long it will be before their wait is over, or whether it will end in freedom or deportation.

It’s grim. So grim that residents have recently been hunger-striking to protest the conditions they’re forced to live in.

In the midst of all this, Ireland’s Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald claims to be “shocked” to hear that women in direct provision are engaging in sex work to make ends meet. Responding to these reports, she’s said that she “certainly [doesn’t] want to see any woman in Ireland feeling that the only option for her is prostitution in order to look after her family.” She then went on to discuss calls to criminalise clients of sex workers in Ireland, “watching how Scandinavian countries had handled the issue”, and that ” she would be bringing legislation to Cabinet in the near future”.

Can we talk about how profoundly backwards this is? Not just a little backwards. It’s not that the cart is before the horse here. It’s that the horse has never, in fact, even met the cart. The horse is hanging out in a field somewhere in the countryside and the cart is stuck in a stairwell in an apartment block in a city on a completely different continent to the horse.

Shocked?

Let’s start at the beginning: nothing shocking has happened here.

Aaaaand to read the rest, head on over to the original post at Consider the Tea Cosy. 

Comparing “trafficking” statistics: why it’s a waste of time

I thought it might be useful to make a simple chart to demonstrate why it’s meaningless to claim that one country has more trafficking than another, based on their official statistics. Seeing as this comes up all the time.

You can click on it to enlarge:

Trafficking definitions

There are a few explanations and disclaimers I need to get in:

  1. The chart is based on my own interpretation of each country’s laws. There is undoubtedly scope for disagreement in some of the details – but not, I believe, on the overall picture.
  2. The big centre column refers to adult trafficking only. I included an age qualifier for Germany because its law treats 18 to 21 year old adults as children.
  3. For “Elements of Trafficking”, I’ve used the three-part schema derived from Article 3(a) of the UN Trafficking Protocol. The headers are a common shorthand and are not to be interpreted literally (“control” doesn’t only mean actual control but can include deception, for example).
  4. Even within a single element, definitions can vary widely; eg, in the UK the “movement” element strictly requires travel, while the Irish definition adheres more closely to the broader Protocol criteria.
  5. Finally and most importantly, the chart reflects what the law actually says – not necessarily how it’s interpreted in practice. It’s theoretically possible that the reporting bodies in each country actually apply a more uniform definition in the process of collecting statistics. But that’s for the people who put faith in the official stats to demonstrate – and to my knowledge, not one of them has done so.

All that said, I think this chart makes one thing crystal clear: when countries tally up their “trafficking” figures, they aren’t necessarily counting the same thing. And unless these distinctions are controlled for in comparative studies, which they haven’t been so far, the evidential value of those studies is pretty close to nil.

 

Sources:

Ireland – Criminal Law (Human Trafficking Act) 2008

UK – Sexual Offences Act 2003

Sweden – Chapter 4 § 1 a of the Penal Code (2010:371) as translated in this Swedish police report

Germany – §232 StGB Criminal Code (original German here; translations courtesy of Ralph in this comment, Sonja Dolinsek of Menschenhandel Heute and Google Translate)

Netherlands – Article 273f of the Criminal Code

Sex trafficking in Sweden, according to the Swedish police

I’ve commented several times that what the Swedes say internally about their sex industry is often very different to the impression they give abroad, when trying to export the sex purchase ban. This is a good recent(ish) example, a press statement from their police service website – only issued in Swedish – which, run through Google Translate, reveals something interesting about police knowledge of the sex trade:

Most of the sex trade [is] currently conducted via the internet. None of the inspecting authorities have a complete picture of the scope as they are not engaged in continuous or structured reconnaissance.*

It’s an interesting contrast with the claims we normally hear from the Swedes, which exude absolute confidence and certainty that their sex industry has declined since clients were criminalised. Self-evidently, if you aren’t monitoring something in a consistent and coherent fashion, you can’t reach a definitive conclusion as to whether or not it has declined.

The police do monitor the sex industry to some degree, of course, and their findings are included every year in a document titled Trafficking in human beings for sexual and other purposes. The English version of the latest report was published last May, and covers the year 2011. While that makes it slightly out of date at this point, it’s still more than a decade after the sex purchase ban was introduced, and therefore useful in helping to determine whether the law’s objectives really have been met.

Section 3.1 covers “Trafficking in human beings for sexual purposes”, and it starts off by hedging the statistics with the following disclaimer:

 According to the Swedish National Police Board it is difficult to estimate how many people fell victim to human trafficking in Sweden during 2011. The number of victims of human trafficking identified in Sweden largely depends on the resources which the police put into detecting this crime and on the experience and competence that exists within the police organisation. The level of these initiatives varies between police authorities and can vary from one year to another. It is not possible to identify or even to locate all of the victims, mainly girls and women, mentioned in tapped telephone calls or observed during police surveillance.

There’d be nothing remarkable about this paragraph, were it not for the fact that it entirely contradicts one of the lines the Swedes often use when trying to sell the sex purchase ban abroad: “if the customers could find these persons, we could find them”. That line is intended to refute the suggestion that the sex industry has merely gone underground; but the text quoted above (and similar elsewhere in this report) is an open admission that some of it is underground and will probably remain there. And this, bear in mind, refers only to those believed to be victims of trafficking; if they admittedly can’t estimate those numbers, it’s hardly possible they could estimate the numbers of people selling sex through choice or circumstance, who (one hopes) they aren’t expending as much of their resources to find.

While the report quite rightly attributes some of the increase in numbers to better investigative work, it also indicates a belief that at least some of the increase represents more actual cases. For example, describing an apparent rise in the number of “women from Lithuania who are being exploited in prostitution in Sweden”, the report says:

Changes in the victims’ backgrounds and nationalities can be explained by a weakened national socio-economic climate which is hitting women and girls particularly badly. The economic crisis in southern Europe may also mean that human traffickers and pimps are directing their activities towards countries with more stable economies, such as Sweden.

These two statements may seem somewhat at odds with each other – the first suggests that the numbers are increasing because Sweden’s economy is getting worse [ETA – see comments below from Laura Agustín], while the second suggests that it’s because Sweden’s economy is relatively stable – but the important points are this: first, the tacit acknowledgment (made explicit later in the report) that there has been an increase at all; and second, the admission that Sweden remains attractive to “human traffickers and pimps”, which is totally contrary to the propaganda we hear about it all. the. time.

A genuine jaw-dropper follows a few paragraphs later:

In 2009, the National Bureau of Investigation estimated that there were about 90 Thai massage parlours in Stockholm and vicinity, most of which were judged to be offering sexual services for sale. At the turn of 2011/2012, the number of Thai massage parlours in the Stockholm area was estimated to be about 250 and throughout the country about 450.

Now, what kind of “successful ban” leads to an almost threefold increase in one type of provider of the banned thing in less than three years? If the estimate is accurate, this statistic alone ought to put paid to any claim that the law is an effective deterrent. An industry that has lost a lot of its customers couldn’t possibly expand at a rate like that.  (See previous post on this topic here.)

The report goes on to shed an interesting light on the Swedish view of sex workers who choose their occupation – in particular, those who aren’t from Sweden. It states:

In February 2011, the police authority in the county of Halland decided to deport a Romanian woman … . Police authorities said that the woman, who made her living through prostitution, constituted a threat to public order and security. The woman appealed to the Swedish Migration Board who made the same assessment as the police authority in Halland: namely that prostitution is indeed legal in Sweden, but the purchase of sexual services is a criminal offence. This means in practice that a crime has to be committed under Swedish law to enable a person engaged in prostitution to support themselves.

This decision was ultimately thrown out in court as a breach of EU freedom of movement, but subsequently the Justice Ombudsman, considering the case of another EU sex worker, upheld the Migration Board’s position:

“…prostitution is to be regarded as a dishonest means of support according to the law. Prostitution – which can not occur without a crime having been committed – may also be considered as a prohibited occurrence in one principal element. Unlike the judgement in a previous determination by the Ombudsman for Justice, which related to begging, deportation in this case is considered to be compatible with the Aliens Act.”

This demonstrates a point which is well-made by Norwegian criminologist May-Len Skilbrei here: just because it isn’t a crime to sell sex doesn’t mean a person can do so without facing the strong arm of the law. If the State makes it a policy that sex work is something that cannot be tolerated, its officers will fight it with whatever means they have at their disposal: immigration laws, housing laws (as in Norway’s notorious “Operation Homeless”), public order laws (same link; see also the French bill which explicitly allows such laws to be used against street workers); Anti-Social Behaviour Orders (the reversal of which was deemed “frustrating” by a Swedish model-supporting Irish parliamentarian), custody laws (with tragic consequences last year) and probably anything else you can think of, short of actually prohibiting the sale of sexual services. And these have a similar effect as prohibiting the sale of sexual services, namely, giving sex workers an incentive to avoid state officials or anyone they think might rat them out to state officials (including the police and health and social services). In this context, the distinction between the Swedish model and one which directly criminalises the sale of sex is a distinction without all that much of a difference.

Getting back to the report, it goes on to describe in some detail the awful conditions and abuse that many migrant sex workers endure.  I won’t quote it here, but suffice to say it’s on a par with any of the tragedy porn regularly cited in support of the Swedish model. It describes the significant involvement of organised crime in the sex industry, another of the things we in Ireland are frequently told we need the Swedish model to address. And it also goes on to describe a Swedish “review” site which could easily have been used as a source on that Invisible Men tumblr (which, of course, also propagandises for the Swedish model). These are other ways in which the sex purchase ban seems to have fallen short of the grandiose claims made for it.

The report then confirms something sex workers themselves have complained of:

In 2011, the police Prostitution Team in Stockholm established that the sex-purchasers seemed to prefer to use “out-calls” to a greater extent than before. One reason for this is believed to be that the sex-purchasers consider that the risk of detection will be less if they order a woman to come to their home instead of exploiting her in a hotel room.

Here, the report directly contradicts one of the findings of the 2010 official evaluation, namely, that sex workers are not at greater risk of violence under the law.

Section 3.1 concludes with a couple pages on “Payment for sexual services”. Here, the report briefly discusses the law against buying sex, the statistics on the offence and the (positive) conclusions of the official evaluation (which it quotes without comment). Notably absent is a claim that appeared in previous years’ reports that the law deters traffickers from setting up business in Sweden. Perhaps the Swedish police no longer believe they can stand over this claim. It’s not hard to see why.

**

Last month, I took part in a debate with Sarah Benson from Ruhama and Nusha Yunkova from the Immigrant Council of Ireland – the two NGOs leading the Turn Off the Red Light campaign. (Kathryn McGarry, a researcher from NUI Maynooth, made up the balance on the panel.) In response to my citing this report, Sarah Benson said that the Swedes “never said” they would eliminate prostitution entirely. I don’t think this is strictly true; the Swedish Women’s Lobby, for example, has described the law as “a model to end prostitution and trafficking for sexual exploitation”.

But it’s certainly the case that the law has been promoted outside of Sweden – not least in Ireland – as one that has been a hell of a lot more effective than this report shows it to be. In fact, when interviewed by the Irish community TV programme The Live Register, Nusha Yunkova made the amazing claim that “there is no prostitution in Sweden”.  While this would stretch credulity of even the most gullible Irish politician, I think it’s fair to say that most of those who’ve declared their support for the Swedish model would be surprised by the contents of this report. They’ve been sold a law that has been “proven” to reduce the size of the sex industry, not one that isn’t actually being measured in this respect. A law that “reduces” sex trafficking from other countries, not one under which the number of women from certain countries “who are being exploited in prostitution in Sweden” has increased. A law that “deters” men from purchasing sex, not one that is such a useless deterrent the number of massage parlours in the capital has almost trebled in recent years. And so on.

Of course, knowing the considerably less rosy reality of the Swedish model probably wouldn’t make a difference to the average politician or those leading the TORL campaign; facts and evidence aren’t really their main concern. But at least they couldn’t cloak their moral, ideological and populist stances under a veneer of empiricism. For those whose support for the law stems from a sincere belief that it’s actually had a significant effect on deterring clients and reducing the extent of sex work and trafficking, they’re entitled to hear the evidence that it hasn’t. And we’re all entitled to an honest debate – something that’s been sorely lacking in Ireland so far.

*ETA: The statement has now been removed from the Swedish police website. The original Swedish text was: “Merparten av sexhandeln bedrivs numera via internet. Ingen av de inspekterade myndigheterna har dock någon fullständig bild av omfattningen eftersom de inte bedriver någon kontinuerlig eller strukturerad spaning på nätet”.

The EU report on trafficking in human beings

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Last month saw the publication of the EU’s first Trafficking in Human Beings report, which is billed as an attempt to “collect comparable data on trafficking in human beings at the EU level”. The report is (properly) littered with disclaimers, such as this one in screaming bold type on page 30:

More reported cases do not necessarily mean an increase in the actual number of victims. This may indicate an improvement in the reporting rate of the phenomenon or a change in the recording system

Unfortunately, however, when it came to the press release, the European Commission decided to go for the handy soundbite – and so we’ve been deluged with headlines like “Human trafficking increased by 18%” when of course, the report doesn’t show it did any such thing.

For all the faith put into that 18% figure, though, most of the newspaper and NGO reactions don’t evince much interest in the rest of the data. I’m going to put this down to simple laziness – it’s a whole 94 pages they’d have to wade through, poor dears – but it’s also the case that if all the statistics were accepted as readily as the “18% increase” has been, it would be a little bit inconvenient for some of those with an interest in this area. This table on page 31 shows why:

Trafficking01

Contrary to what we’re constantly told by the anti-trafficking movement, the most recent figures make it hard to discern any link between trafficking and the legal status of sex work. The Dutch rate is very high, but the Cyprus rate is higher – and Cyprus has much stricter laws than the Netherlands (brothels are illegal, for one thing). Romania, where sex work itself is illegal, is nearly as high. Hungary (legal), Portugal (legal) and Lithuania (illegal) are tied for last. Austria and Germany are also relatively low – in fact, Germany and Sweden are tied, at 0.8 per 100,000.  And the German rate has remained more or less constant over the three years surveyed, while Sweden’s has quadrupled.

Don’t think we’ll be reading that in the next Turn Off the Red Light press release.

I’m being mischievous, of course, because as I’ve already said, the data don’t – and can’t – show the actual number of trafficked persons in each country. So we can’t really say that Germany, Austria and Sweden have more or less the same trafficking rate. But let’s be honest here – had the table shown Germany and Austria to be right up there with the Netherlands, and Sweden way down on its own, is there any doubt we’d have heard all about it from the prohibitionist groups?

But sex workers’ rights advocates shouldn’t leap on those figures, either, because truthfully the whole report is pretty hopelessly undermined by its methodological weaknesses. These include the following:

Different countries provided different sets of data. On page 30 we are told:

Ten EU Member States provided data on identified and presumed victims, 15 EU Member States provided data on identified victims only and two EU Member States provided data on presumed victims only. The participating non-EU countries provided data only on identified victims.

This alone would make it impossible to get a cohesive account of trafficking, or even just of detected trafficking, across Europe. It certainly renders a comprehensive cross-country comparison untenable. (In case you were wondering, though, all the countries I’ve mentioned so far provided data only on “identified victims” – except for the Netherlands, which only gave “presumed victim” data. More about this later.)

Different countries use different definitions. The Commission seems to have attempted to get around this, by reminding countries of the international definition of “trafficking” when sending them the forms to complete, but the methodology problem is unavoidable. An “identified victim” is, according to page 22,

a person who has been formally identified as a victim of trafficking in human beings according to the relevant formal authority in Member States

and that inevitably introduces an element of subjectivity into the data, because not all member states strictly apply the international definition when deciding whom to identify as a victim of trafficking. In fact, I doubt whether any of them do – and they are inconsistent in the manner and degree by which they diverge from the international definition. So when we look at that table and see that Ireland has more than twice the rate of “identified victims” as Greece, for example, we have no way of knowing whether that’s because Irish police genuinely detected twice the rate of people who fit the international definition, or whether the Irish police identified people outside the international definition, or whether the Greek police declined to identify people inside it.

This problem is magnified for those countries that include data for “presumed victims”, that is:

a person who has met the criteria of EU regulations and international Conventions but has not been formally identified by the relevant authorities (police) as a trafficking victim or who has declined to be formally or legally identified as trafficked.

Here, member states are essentially being asked to submit data on people who were trafficked but were not identified as trafficked. To identify unidentified trafficking victims. There’s something a bit Schrödinger’s Cat-like about this category; it just doesn’t seem to lend itself to any real scientific measurement, at all.

If the data had been collected on a forward-looking basis, it might almost be workable. That is, if countries had been told that, for the future, they would be asked to record details of not only the people who they formally identified as victims of trafficking, but also of people who they would have identified as trafficked but for some insurmountable obstacle (such as that the person themselves told them where to stick their “trafficking victim” status). You’d still have the subjectivity problem, but at least you would know that the records were being kept on an ongoing basis, with the member states knowing exactly what they were to look out for.

But that’s not how this was done. Instead, as explained on page 17,

The questionnaire was sent via Eurostat to the National Statistical Offices of the EU Member States, EU Candidate and Potential Candidate countries and to the EFTA/EEA (European Free Trade Association/European Economic Association) countries in September 2011. It included the appropriate tables, a list of common indicators, definitions and guidelines for collecting the statistical data as well as the country codes to be used and a template for providing metadata.

So countries were asked to collate retrospectively their data on people who they had identified as unidentified trafficked persons. And then to pick out of that data only the people who fit the “common indicators, definitions and guidelines”. But who’s to say that the data were initially recorded in such a way as to make that possible? If the authorities weren’t already aware they were going to be asked to provide data on people who they’d declined to identify as “trafficked”, you have to wonder whether they’d be quite so diligent in their record keeping about those people.

Did I say “authorities”? Oh – here’s the next problem:

“Presumed victim” statistics were supplied by a wide variety of sources. According to page 23:

Data on ‘presumed’ victims on trafficking in human beings may be available from national rapporteurs (or equivalent mechanisms which tend to act as national coordinating bodies), victims assistance services, immigration services, labour inspections and border guards.

I don’t think I can really overstate this point: there is no possible way to get anything like a reliable, consistent overview when you throw out to your data collectors that they can get their information from pretty much anywhere they can find it. And as it happens, some of the key data sources are pretty questionable. For example, in the Netherlands the source is CoMensha, a national agency, which according to page 39:

does not have a formal assessment based on specific criteria by which the registered person’s status as a victim can be verified.

In other words – as I discussed in this post – CoMensha simply records the alleged cases that are referred to them, without actually investigating whether there’s any substance to the allegations. The Dutch figures in this report, therefore, are based on little more than rumour. No wonder they’re so high.

Also problematic is the Latvian information, which according to page 38 is

provided by the NGO Resource Centre for Women “Marta”, which provides assistance for presumed victims using alternative financing.

Marta is a prohibitionist organisation, and one that therefore has an interest in finding trafficking victims. In fairness to them, there’s nothing in the data to suggest they’re inflating the numbers; Latvia’s overall rate is the same as Germany’s and Sweden’s and only a minority of these fall into the “presumed victim” category. Nonetheless, their objectivity as a source has to be doubted.

To take a final example, page 39 states that Finland’s number of presumed victims

includes all cases who were directed to reception centers on the basis of suspicion of human trafficking.

Does that sound like a rigorous effort to make sure only the cases that fit the Commission’s specified criteria were reported? Not to me it doesn’t.

I could go on, but I think I’ve made the point. There’s just too much variation across countries, and too loose standards within countries, to consider this a reliable measure of the amount of trafficking in Europe. The report is of (limited) interest for what it reveals about the countries’ data collection processes, but overall you really get the sense of this being a box-ticking exercise for Brussels bureaucrats more than anything else.

I’ll just finish on a couple other matters I found worthy of comment. Firstly, on page 24 it states:

Data is to be collected on the total number of female and male victims

The binary (and I’m guessing cis-centric) approach is unfortunate, as even though the figures aren’t reliable it would still be interesting to see how many trans* persons were recorded. But the only reference I can find within any of the country data is in the British records, on page 39, where it says that one adult trans* woman was identified. Unfortunately, it manages to say this in a grossly offensive way.

There are also figures on “suspected traffickers” and “prosecuted traffickers”. It’s not clear exactly what threshold was required for the first category, but one thing I found interesting was that non-EU citizens accounted for 55% of the former but only 24% of the latter. The reasons for the discrepancy aren’t explained. It could be that non-EU citizens are more likely to go missing before they can be prosecuted, of course, but there could also be a greater tendency to suspect them without any real proof. This is something that merits further research.

And finally, a word about citizenship and labour market status. On page 52 there’s a table (Table 6) that breaks down all the identified and presumed victims, by year and by citizenship. So I did a little numbers exercise. First I counted all the identified victims by country (I didn’t count the presumed victims, because for all the reasons explained above, I think those numbers are too messy to be of any real use). Then I subtracted the internal trafficking victims (as listed on page 53, Table 7). And then I totalled up the remainder, put them into geographical categories and worked out the percentages of each.

The disclaimers first. The numbers don’t quite add up, because I came up with a grand total of 12,261 identified victims in Table 6, whereas the Table 2 combined figure for identified victims is 13,424. I’m not sure where that missing 1,163 went. There also seems to be a minor discrepancy in the Table 7 figures, since I end up with –2 cross-border EU-15 citizen victims in 2009. I couldn’t subtract the child victims, as there’s no breakdown by “identified” and “presumed” nor any indication of how many were working-age children. And of course, all the problems with the data I’ve already discussed still apply. But bearing all that in mind, I still think the results are stark enough to be worth pointing out. Of the identified victims of cross-border trafficking in the three year period:

  • 37% were Romanian or Bulgarian
  • 58% were from outside the EU/EEA
  • 5% were from the 2004 accession countries
  • <1% were from the EU-15

Thus, 95% were from countries barred from all or most of the EU labour market during the data collection period – and nearly everyone else was from a country barred from much of the EU labour market during the data collection period. This isn’t quite as dramatic as it seems, because it still only accounts for just over half the identified victims – the internal trafficking rate is surprisingly high, which is something else that merits investigation (though as the number is very high in some countries and negligible in others, I suspect it mainly comes down to definitions). Notwithstanding those limitations, though, I think it’s safe to conclude that cross-border migrants in the EU are far, far, far more likely to experience trafficking if they don’t have labour market access in the country they’re migrating to.

You’d think this would be a no-brainer, wouldn’t you? But EU states just don’t seem to get it. They consistently wring their hands about the trafficking problem, but stubbornly insist they just can’t relax their labour migration policies – without seeming to make the connection between the two. At some point they’re going to have to admit that if they really want to address the issue, they’ll have to stop making it all but impossible for accession state citizens and non-EU citizens to legally work in their countries. Or else admit that they aren’t really that bothered about trafficking after all.

This piece comes from Britain, but Irish feminists must not see it as irrelevant to feminism in Ireland. One example that jumped out at me immediately was this one: “To involve women of colour as entertainment or free catering service at feminist events whilst failing to involve women of colour in visible lead speaker or panel roles is racist.” I can think of a couple recent examples where events were organised to discuss migrant women’s experiences, and migrant women did not feature on the panel at all (at least initially, presumably until the exclusion was pointed out to the organisers). I also attended an event not too long ago where a migrant woman spoke powerfully about her negative experiences in Ireland, and when it came to Q&A time a white Irish woman in the audience stood up to express her sympathies…and then addressed a question about this woman’s experience to the white Irish NGO worker sitting beside her on the panel.

I’d note also the negative reaction among some Irish feminists to a woman of colour’s post on this blog, in which she objected to Islam being used as a bogeyman in the Irish abortion debate (as if Catholicism hasn’t been oppressive enough). Among other things, she was told that she should go to a Muslim country and see what things were like there. The assumption by the people who made those comments that they know more about life in her native country than she does – that’s also racist.

Any women of colour in Ireland who are reading this – what other examples of racism have you seen within Irish feminism? And what do white Irish feminists need to do better/differently/at all to address this?

Black Feminists Manchester

By Mia

When we talk about ‘white feminist spaces’ what we mean is the default mainstream feminism of the UK, (Europe and USA). A feminism that considers itself superior to women’s movement’s throughout the world, using it’s white privilege to cherry pick which women (of colour) and oppressions are worthy of attention or rescue, viewed through a myopic authoritative white lens.

White feminism must evolve and integrate with multi cultural societies if it is genuinely concerned with the liberation of all women. Barr a few switched on individuals, many white feminists (WFs) I have encountered in the UK, view ‘woman hate’ as the only form of oppression requiring eradication, for women to be free. I wish that was true.

What many WFs still forget or fail to notice is that, women of colour making up the global majority of the women’s population, they face and challenge multiple oppressions i.e. racism, classism…

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