Raising awareness about human trafficking is the aim of a new campaign by the United Nations. The victims are extremely likely to be women and children. In order to tackle the problem more effectively, the UN has published figures documenting this modern slavery.
In Europe, it is thought that 70,000 new victims arrive each year and stay on average for two years.
The figure is half the total estimated number of 140,000. The vast majority are brought over for prostitution – in a market worth 2.4 billion euros a year.
Most of the women are from the Balkans and the former communist bloc – from Bulgaria, Romania, Ukraine, and further east. Some also come from South America and West African countries.
In 1999 Sweden revolutionised its approach to prostitution. Selling sexual services was decriminalised; the opposite was introduced for clients.
“We criminalised the purchase of sexual services 10 years ago,” said Swedish Justice Minister, Beatrice Ask, who has just received a report about the results. “We can see that we halved street prostitution, that the attitudes to buy sex have changed. We are less interesting as a market for criminal activities when it comes to trafficking, for example, and that’s good.”
Trafficking networks turned accordingly towards other more profitable countries. The lack of harmony between different nations’ laws in Europe plays in their favour. The classic repressive approach – punishing prostitutes with fines – has little impact, as testified by residents in the Barcelona district of Raval.
“They have people behind them who pay the fines or move them to another town”, said Maria Casas of the association Taula del Raval.
Other European countries including Switzerland have opted to legalise prostitution. In Geneva for instance it is considered a straightforward economic activity like any other. It is safer for the women, but it has not swept underground prostitution from the streets. At the bottom of the scale, illegal immigrant women still ply their trade.