Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality

The silk road of inhumane transport: Although 72% of human trafficking victims in the EU were women and 60% suffered from sexual exploitation, the new EU Strategy on Combatting Trafficking in Human Beings falls short of specific measures to protect women. Considering the variability of measures by Member States, what steps should the EU take to prevent women from trafficking for sexual exploitation?

Raphael Gross-Chartuni (Chairperson, NL), Nina Tsoutsanis (Chairperson, NL)


“Trafficking is a crime of men against women”. The Commissioner on Home Affairs, Ylva Johansson, said this in regards to the publication of the new EU Strategy on Combatting Trafficking in Human Beings 2021-2025. Although trafficking for sexual exploitation is a crime, this gendered offense – as 92% of victims are women – still runs rampant in the entirety of the EU. Trafficking for sexual exploitation generates up to EUR 14 billion annually, which illustrates the widespread  economic impact that the exploitation of marginalised women’s bodies generates.

Member States have thus far failed to accurately implement measures against sexual trafficking. TheStrategy mentions that the “complexity of the trafficking phenomenon calls for a comprehensive response”, but consequently avoids implementing practical measures regarding gender inequality. Since women, even more so transgender women, are disproportionately affected by sexual exploitation, the lack of regulation surrounding sex work and prostitution has led to  ground for human trafficking. As human trafficking for sexual exploitation is a very gendered crime that has been categorised as a form of contemporary slavery, it is crucial to keep in mind the lived experiences of victims. Sexual trafficking not only deprives them of their human rights, but also shows the clear gender divide in our society. 

Main Actors

Frontex is the agency dedicated to facilitating free movement by safekeeping the borders and coasts of Member States. In recent years, Frontex has also put a focus on human trafficking and identified almost 200 victims last year, which is a fraction of the number of victims.Furthermore, Eurojust plays an important role in the facilitation and drafting of EU legal instruments and coordinates investigations and prosecutions between multiple countries. The key difference between Eurojust and Frontex is the focus towards and requirement of multiple Member States’ involvement, as Eurojust plays a co-operative and integrating role between the legal instruments and authorities between nations.
Both agencies work together (with several other actors) to introduce new and integrated cooperative approaches to maintaining EU security in policy-cycles of four years. The current cycle has ten focus areas, one of which is human trafficking. 

Member States have autonomy over national security  and outside most of the EU’s legislative power. These European organs mostly facilitate cooperation between entities or offer guidance to national authorities. Most identified traffickers are prosecuted in the country where they committed the crime. As human trafficking often ocurrs transnationally, the process of extradition is handled to ensure that the prosecution can take place. With the use of the European Arrest Warrant (EAW), the identified criminals can be caught and extradited across the EU with no political involvement. Any national authority of a Member State can issue an EAW to another with minimal bureaucracy. Eurojust plays a prominent role in the implementation of EAWs through consultation and non-binding advice.

The EU Civil Society Platform against Trafficking in Human Beings is another scheme to combat human trafficking, which was set up as a response to the 2012-2016 Strategy towards the Eradication of Trafficking. The Platform discusses policy making initiatives, research and education programmes, the monitoring of the implementation of the Anti-Trafficking Directive 2011, and information campaigns. 

The Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (GRETA) monitors the implementation of the Council of Europe Convention on Action Against Trafficking in Human Beings and regularly publishes rapports on the state of human trafficking in individual Member States.


Dear delegates of FEMM, 

First of all, a big welcome from your chairs Nina and Raphael, and your media team member Laurelu! We are very excited to guide you during the session, and hopefully make it as much of a unique and learning experience as it will be for us! 

Hopefully, the Topic Overview (TO) has all received you well, together with our podcast Let’s Talk About Human Trafficking. Like the TO, the podcast will mainly be about the following topic:
The silk road of inhumane transport: Although 72% of human trafficking victims in the EU were women and 60% suffered from sexual exploitation, the new EU Strategy on Combatting Trafficking in Human Beings falls short of specific measures to protect women. Considering the variability of measures by Member States, what steps should the EU take to prevent women from trafficking for sexual exploitation?

The purpose of the podcast is to already get to know your chairpersons a little better, but also to always have a helpline when reading the TO. Nina and Raphael will be explaining the topic in a more daily, less formal language, so that you can always listen to the podcast when you do not understand something. In this way, we hope to make you a bit more comfortable with both your chairs and your topic. 
We hope that you have fun with the TO and the podcast! Goodluck!
Nina, Raphael and Laurelu

Let’s Talk About Human Trafficking: A podcast by Laurelu Lauwers (Media Team Member) Nina Tsoutsanis (Chairperson) and Raphael Gross-Chartuni (Chairperson)

Past: Actions Taken

  • Anti-Trafficking Directive 2011. The Anti-trafficking Directive is an amendment of Council Framework Decision 2002/629/JHA, implemented by the European Parliament. It is supposed to take a victim-centred approach with a clear gender perspective. Although looking at human trafficking through the lens of gender equality is mentioned multiple times, this is not adequately implemented in the legislation proposed. There is a concrete focus on the protection of child victims of trafficking, as almost a quarter of trafficking victims are minors.
  • EU Strategy to Tackle Organised Crime 2021-2025. The Strategy to Tackle Organised Crime has been presented by the European Commission, in order to more accurately fight organised crime through increased law enforcement and digital measures. This Strategy is closely connected to the EU Strategy on Combatting Trafficking. As the Strategy has just been implemented, not a lot of criticism has been voiced yet and it is yet to be seen whether it is effective. 
  • EU Strategy on Combatting Trafficking in Human Beings 2021-2025. Most of the key actions mentioned in the new Strategy, adopted by the European Commission, are a continuation of the 2011 Anti-trafficking Directive. Even though the Strategy itself mentions multiple times the inadequacy of the Directive and even mentions that ‘the decade old instrument may not be fit for purpose any longer’, almost the entire Strategy is based on the implementation of that very Directive. Through this, the Strategy lacks a gendered lens as well. The Strategy failed to implement practical measures and thus did not fulfill its aim of adequately combatting human trafficking. 

Present: Existing Issues

A gendered inequality

While gender inequality in sexual trafficking is mentioned in the Strategy, little to no concrete solutions are given to combat this. One of the few mentioned approaches surrounds itself on “gender-sensitive” and “child’s rights” based training, which remains vague and poses the question what gender-sensitive training specifically entails and whether this is compatible with LGBT+ victims. The question also remains if all Member States will adopt specific anti-trafficking measures for LGBT+ individuals, specifically transgender women, as homo- and transphobic policies have been implemented in Poland and Hungary, subsequently two countries which rank in the second tier and share one of the highest human trafficking rates in Europe.  Additionally, the implementation of same-sex shelters is described, which is incompatible with a more LGBT+ friendly approach, questioning the Commission’s shift on the target groups.

While human trafficking covers many industries, over 40 per cent of all registered trafficking victims are women subjected to sexual exploitation. Despite this, no separate strategy or framework exists to support them. The Commission seeks to facilitate ‘victim empowerment programmes’ specifically for women, yet no explicit measures are promised to prevent trafficking for sexual exploitation. In the Strategy, no mention is given to effects of legal prostitution and regulation. Statistical analysis concluded that legalising prostitution has lead to an increase in human trafficking. However, the working conditions of those (legally) employed has significantly improved, even when the implementation has been criticised for inadequate policies by relevant actors and stakeholders.

Inadequacies in policies

Many discrepancies exist between Member States in the amount of victims and the level of government action. The US Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons defines three categories of anti-trafficking sufficiency among Member States. Several countries such as Denmark and Ukraine are put in tier two, which refers to failing government policies to combat human trafficking or simply a lack of initiative.
However, tier one countries are not immune to human trafficking either, as the Netherlands remains one of the most prominent places of trafficking in the EU. The current Strategy expresses these discrepancies and increasing number of victims, yet most of its proposed action remains abstract and non-innovative, thus imposing a culture of stagnation.

To unite as one

A significant number of victims are trafficked between Member States, making many cases a transnational ordeal. However, clear discrepancies in victim identification and treatment are shown which increases re-trafficking. Even when victims and their traffickers are identified, the prosecution efforts remain fruitless as many cases are suspendedor seen asminor offences. Recent developments in Joint Investigation Teams (JITs) and Frontex-led missions have proven useful, yet the amount of caught perpetrators and identified victims remains minimal. As human trafficking is a crime which knows no boundaries and is scattered across Europe, with over  200.000 victims, an EU-led and centred approach is key to end this once and for all.  

Future: Challenges Ahead

As security and specifically national security is not an EU competence, the EU cannot strictly legislate on the topic of human trafficking. How can the EU balance the importance of women’s safety, while still respecting the sovereignty of the Member States? Moreover, the reality is that trafficking for sexual exploitation is an inhumane crime that cannot just be combatted through measures that only try to solve, but not prevent. In order to effectively prevent trafficking, a reduction or a regulation of the demand for trafficked services, like sex work, is needed. With regard to the possible positive or negative effects of legalisation, how can the EU best tackle the growing demand? Lastly, as this type of contemporary slavery is disproportionately gendered, what kind of actions can the EU take to protect women from trafficking for sexual exploitation?