Representations of trafficking

“Human trafficking’ and ‘modern slavery’ have fared well in this fierce competition between causes. Over the last two decades, human trafficking has secured a remarkable level of both popular and official recognition, resulting in a state of affairs where most people now have at least a passing familiarity with this general topic. While ‘modern-day abolitionists’ routinely lament how little the general public knows about their cause, many campaigners working on other issues would count themselves lucky if they secured even a fraction of the publicity and investment that trafficking now receives. This recent success is not simply because trafficking is ‘more deserving’ or ‘more urgent’. It can instead be chiefly traced to the strong popular appeal of representations of human trafficking as an exceptional problem involving ‘innocent’ victims and rapacious villains, along with the numerous ways in which the issue of trafficking has helped to advance the strategic interests of governments seeking to control, discipline, and/or limit the mobility of certain populations.

The recent political success of anti-trafficking has come at a considerable price. In order to help get their message out, activists and officials have repeatedly turned to a range of simplistic and misleading images, dubious ‘statistics’, and self-serving narratives. Even the history of slavery and abolition has been selectively mined to support contemporary causes, while more challenging questions regarding the limitations of anti-slavery activism and the enduring legacies of historical slave systems remain neglected. Although most people have now heard about human trafficking as a form of modern slavery, they frequently have a very limited understanding regarding the specific issues at stake. Much of what people think they know about trafficking and slavery is inaccurate, incomplete or unfounded.”

Introduction: moving beyond popular representations of trafficking and slavery, by Prof. J. Quirk and Prof. J. O’Connell Davidson, 11 January 2015,

Full article




Sekswerkers hebben niets aan ‘hulp’ van Gert-Jan Segers, door Meredith Greer

Had al een mediacrush maar ben nu officially fangirlverliefd op Meredith Greer. Dit stuk… Ze heeft geluisterd en gefactcheckt en toen in heldere woorden opgeschreven wat de deal is. HOE AMAZING IS DAT. (En ze schrijft zo scherp en taalwijs en funny <3)


No research at

Because I saw some folks thinking this was a website of a research project, a little disclaimer: it is not. It’s just a website of a couple of antiprostitution activists (the creepy extreme ones imho) trying to pass off their views as science.

You’ll find similar websites by US conservative christian ‘researchers’ showcasing the ‘harm of homosexuality’, the ‘threat’ of trans women or whatever anti-lgbti political goal is en vogue that week. You’ll find similar websites ‘proving’ how terrible and violent refugees behave in Europe, building elaborate narratives based on made-up news reports. Don’t forget anyone can publish nonsens on the internet.

That includes me, so don’t take my word for it – always be mindful of your sources. What are your source’s source? Do the research methods measure what the writer claims they measure? Are we talking about things we know or things we guess? Are you using first-hand or second-hand info? Is an ‘academic artice’ really published in a legitimate academic journal via a process of peer-review? Etc etc etc

Counting what counts: EU trafficking statistics

Van Dijk et al. (2014). Counting what counts; Tools for the validation and utilization of EU statistics on human trafficking. Final report of the TrafStat research project.

“In recent year several authors have critiqued the release of unfounded estimates of theglobal number of trafficked persons for sexual exploitation (United States Government Accountability Office, 2006; Jordan, 2011). Exaggerated estimates can, it is argued, trigger se n- sationalist media stories provoking policy responses that are more emotions -driven than evidence -based and that can lead to mistaken policy decisions.

Against the background of this ongoing debate, it was to be expected that the launch of the first Eurostat report on THB statistics would be critically assessed (Vogel, 2014). It has been pointed out that al t- hough the statistics on the numbers of identified victim s in the Eurostat report are duly surrounded with methodological caveats, the official press release nevertheless noticed an “alarming upward trend” and a preponderance of women and minors among its victims.

During our seminars with invited experts , many of them expressed concerns about the possible political use of THB statistics for other purposes than the protection of the human rights of victims. Statistics on THB could, for example , be misused for the promotion of ultimate political agendas such as those on more stringent migration policies or the abolition of all forms of prostitution.

Examples given include proposals for more stringent screening or refusal of visa applications of nationals of certain countries as a prevention measure of h u- man traffick ing. A case in point is the moral panic about the expected ten thousands of tra f- ficked persons on the occasion of the 2006 World Soccer Cup in Germany triggering calls for more stringent visa screening of potential sex workers (Jordan, 2011). In the event, no surge in human trafficking for sexual exploitation materialized.”

Together against trafficking in human beings

“Ultimately, sex worker rights organisations are not so different from anti-trafficking organisations. Just like anti-trafficking organisations, sex worker organisations provide information about rights and working conditions, and where to seek help in cases of rights violations. In anti-trafficking lingo this is called prevention of trafficking, awareness-raising, or empowerment.

In cases of rights violations, like anti-trafficking organisations, sex worker organisations offer assistance with filing complaints and dealing with the police, courts and immigration authorities, meeting basic needs, psychosocial counselling, family mediation and return to the community, and help with finding a new job. In anti-trafficking programming all these are broadly referred to as reintegration or social inclusion services.

Despite this important work, sex worker rights organisations are largely unrecognised and even vilified by the anti-trafficking community. In some of the research countries, we found that the contribution of sex worker organisations for anti-trafficking work was recognised by at least certain individuals in the local police or anti-trafficking unit. However, we also documented several cases where sex worker organisations had tried to join their national anti-trafficking task force or NGO network, but were either not allowed to or had to withdraw due to hostility.

We have seen the same exclusion and hostility at the EU level too. Several GAATW members and partners, who are either sex worker rights organisations or anti-trafficking organisations with a strong pro-sex worker rights position, were rejected from the EU Civil Society Platform against trafficking in human beings. Although the official grounds for the rejection had nothing to do with sex workers’ rights, this is most likely the reason, given the current climate in the EU and the vilification of sex worker rights supporters at the highest political level.

If the EU is serious about combating human trafficking, especially the trafficking of women and girls in the sex industry, as it claims, it can’t keep ignoring, and actively excluding, those organisations whose first and foremost priority is to ensure the safety and wellbeing of everyone involved in prostitution. On the contrary, it needs to recognise sex workers, and the organisations that represent them, and consult them in the development of policies and implementation of initiatives that may affect their lives, as recommended earlier this year by the EU-funded research project DemandAT.  After all, sex worker rights organisations have the most interest in keeping the industry free of coercion, violence, exploitation, and human trafficking.”

New EU Priorities on Trafficking in Human Beings: Time to recognise the contribution of sex worker rights organisations, GAATW, 2018

The WHO and sex work decriminalisation

“Globally, female sex workers are 13.5% more likely to be living with HIV than other women of reproductive age; in Asia, female sex workers are almost 30% more likely to be living with HIV.

Modelling studies indicate that decriminalising sex work could lead to a 46% reduction in new HIV infections in sex workers over 10 years; eliminating sexual violence against sex workers could lead to a 20% reduction in new HIV infections.” – World Health Organisation

I would highly recommend policy makers, health programmers, health service providers and human rights defenders to become familiar with the WHO’s publications on sex workers. It’s resources on the health of key populations are immensely well-researched and offer a clear approach to ensuring sex workers’ health and safety.


The World Health Organisation is the global authority on health. Through the WHO, UN member states do research on effective health interventions and decide on international health policy.

One of the WHO’s priority areas is HIV prevention and treatment. In the global HIV response, it has identified five ‘key populations’: men who have sex with men, people who inject drugs, people in prisons, transgender people and sex workers.

40-50% of all new HIV infections among adults worldwide occur among people from these key populations and their partners. The WHO states that “without addressing the needs of key populations, a sustainable HIV response will not be achieved.”

It is important to note that, based on its extensive research, the organisation urges countries to fully decriminalise sex work.

There’s two sets of publications I would like to highlight:

Consolidated Guidelines on HIV prevention, diagnosis, treatment and care for key populations

Full Guidelines (2016 update)
Policy Brief (8page introduction and summary of the ful, updated guidelines)
These guidelines are written for governments/policy makers and HIV programmers. The recommendations emphasize that an effective HIV response is dependent on legal protections and decriminalisation, addressing violence, community-empowerment and destigmatisation.
The guidelines were originally published in 2014. The 2016 update includes new research on the use of PrEP.

The Sex Worker Implementation Tool (2013) (SWIT)

Full Document & Policy Brief

In 2013, the WHO published this tool to offer practical advice on implementing HIV and STI programmes for sex workers. It is designed for use by governments/policy makers, HIV programmers and health service providers. The full name of this resource is Implementing comprehensive HIV/STI programmes with sex workers: practical approaches from collaborative interventions. It is usually referred to as the SWIT.


The WHO states: “Topics covered in the tool include approaches and principles to building programmes that are led by the sex worker community such as community empowerment, addressing violence against sex workers, and community-led services; they include how to implement the recommended condom and lubricant programming, and other crucial health-care interventions for HIV prevention, treatment and care; and they include suggestions on how to manage programmes and build the capacity of sex worker organizations. The tool contains examples of good practice from around the world that may support efforts in planning programmes and services”