Human trafficking is often called the slavery of our time. It occurs all over the world both within and between countries. In recent decades, criminal activity has increased. All countries are affected in different ways and affected by the “trade”. Human trafficking means that a person, through improper means such as threats or coercion, is transported somewhere else for the purpose of being exploited, for example through unpaid work under slave-like conditions. The most common form of human trafficking is exploitation for sexual purposes, for example in big cities’ prostitution districts and brothels. Human trafficking also occurs in legitimate industries such as agriculture and construction where people are used in labor exploitation.
Human trafficking is a global problem. It is common for people from poor countries to be taken to rich so-called destination countries, where there is demand. But there is also another type of human trafficking, where people are taken from rural areas to larger cities. In the EU in 2021, 44 percent of registered victims were reported to have been exploited in their home country, which is common in, e.g., Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary. Common destination countries in Europe between 2019-2020 were France, the Netherlands, Italy, Romania and Germany (source). Of the EU citizenship victims, the most represented countries were Romania, France, Italy, Bulgaria and Poland. For non-EU victims, it was Nigeria, China, Moldova and Pakistan. However, as the European Commission writes, it is likely that the real number of victims is greater than statistics show, since many of the victims of human trafficking remain undetected. People who fall victim to human trafficking are often in a vulnerable situation. This can be due to poverty or be marginalized and vulnerable groups where many are women and children and where several of them have a background of exposure to violence.
Human trafficking is today one of the largest criminal activities in the world and, according to the ILO, turns over 150 billion dollars annually, of which around 99 billion dollars come from the sex trade (statistics from 2014). Europe is said to have the highest number of people exposed to human trafficking for sexual purposes per capita in the world, according to Siddharth Kara, author of “Sex Trafficking: Inside the Business of Modern Slavery“.
Human trafficking mainly affects women and children
Human trafficking affects millions of people, mostly women and children. According to the latest figures (Global Slavery Index) from Walk Free, as many as 40.3 million people were in slavery-like conditions worldwide in 2016, with almost three out of four victims being women or girls. In the EU in 2021, the proportion of women and girls was more than two-thirds (68.4 percent) of all human trafficking victims. Furthermore, it is estimated that around 1.2 million children fall victim every year. Some believe that there has never been as much human trafficking as there is today.
Human trafficking can take place in various forms of exploitation purposes; prostitution, organ trafficking, adoption and slave labour. The latest EU statistics show that the majority of human trafficking is for sexual purposes, as this form of exploitation accounted for approximately 56 percent in 2021. Between 2019-2020, the corresponding proportion was 51 percent, of which approximately 87 percent of the victims were women and girls. For more statistics, read the European Commission’s fourth report on developments in the fight against human trafficking.
Trafficking in children for sexual purposes, “child sex trafficking”, is also a global problem. Unicef explains that it involves a form of sexual exploitation and that it is more or less organized. In many cases, the perpetrators and pedophiles travel from a rich country to a poorer one (although it also occurs within national borders) where they commit paid sexual abuse of children.
Difficult to estimate the number of victims
There is a lack of resources to make accurate and comprehensive assessments of how many people fall victim to human trafficking and it is therefore difficult to present accurate figures. Countries also choose to spend varying amounts of resources in different time periods on seeking out victims. In addition, different authorities carry out different types of data collection which are not always comparable. But, authorities and organizations are estimating that human trafficking is increasing.
If we look at the number of registered victims for human trafficking in Europe, i.e. people who have had contact with authorities, the reported number was as low as 7155 people in 2021. See statistics for previous years here. It is noteworthy that Sweden, together with the Czech Republic, did not report the number of victims for human trafficking that occurred in Sweden to the European Commission’s data compilation on human trafficking in the EU for 2017-2018. Even in the European Commission’s fourth report on the development in the fight against human trafficking, which covers the years 2019-2020, it was reported that several data from Sweden were missing. Consequently, the number of unrecorded cases is large as other estimates from the media and aid organizations testify to a large percentage of potential victims of human trafficking. This also applies to prostitution, which takes place in different countries more or less openly. Prostitution is part of men’s violence against women, and the fact that it is legal in many countries in turn leads to increased demand. In countries without sex-buying laws, the police have no tools to intervene where the “trade” takes place.
Human trafficking and prostitution in Sweden
In the early 2000s, Sweden stated the figure for possible human trafficking victims as 400-600 people. Today, it is difficult not to conclude that situation reports and the collection of statistics on the number of victims of human trafficking are difficult to understand as well as deficient. We can partly take the Police’s compilations in the Situation Report 23 as a starting point, which refers to the year 2021. They state that the number of reported “purchases” of sexual services rose sharply from 1055 in 2020 to as much as 1886 in 2021. The same report states that most victims for human trafficking for sexual purposes who were recruited to Sweden in 2021 came from Romania, Ukraine, Colombia, Poland, Hungary, Thailand and Venezuela. The ability to identify victims is strongly linked to the police’s prioritization of resources to combat prostitution and human trafficking.
Before the Sex Purchase Act was introduced in 1999, it was stated that 12.5 percent of Swedish men paid for sexual services. In the latest figures published by the Public Health Authority in 2017, it is stated that close to 10 percent of men in Sweden between the ages of 16-64 have paid for sexual services at some point. This report also shows that 80 percent of Swedes’ “sex purchases” took place abroad and the statistics indicate that several “sex purchases” took place during business trips. However, the assessment after the pandemic is that prostitution has increased in Sweden and that it has gained a stronger foothold in various arenas, including digitally on so-called escort sites as well as at Thai massage parlors.
Deficient mapping in Sweden
In addition to Situation Report 23, there is the Equality Authority’s report ‘Prostitution and human trafficking‘ from 2021. It was published after the authority was tasked with finding out how widespread prostitution and human trafficking for sexual purposes are. However, this has been criticized because it is difficult to get an idea of the extent of the number of victims of prostitution and human trafficking. Even RealStars, which is a member of the Platform against human trafficking, has criticized the mapping in a debate article, both regarding the design and method of the study, and demands that they make a new one. In part, the report contains a very worrying and problematic use of terms. In addition, there is a lack of representation for a large proportion of those who are exposed to this crime in Sweden, who are “women who are lured to Sweden from other countries under threats and coercion or through false promises”. Read the full article here.
The EU’s anti-trafficking work
The EU’s anti-trafficking directive from 2011 has been central to preventing and combating human trafficking in Europe. After an evaluation, the European Commission proposed a tightening of the rules on December 19th 2022. The proposed changes will give law enforcement and judicial authorities better tools to investigate and prosecute people for new forms of exploitation. Among other things, the EU Commission wants to prioritize work against demand by criminalizing “deliberate use of ‘services’ by victims of human trafficking” (source). However, the tightening is far from sufficient to stop organized sexual exploitation. A unified view of prostitution is also necessary because human trafficking for sexual purposes and prostitution are very closely connected. Feel free to read our blog post on the tightening of the EU directive here.