Thursday, April 30, 2015

Personal Speech on the Romanian Parliamentarian Conference on Combating Human Trafficking

On the 22nd of April, more than 200 representatives of international and national NGOs, key Romanian politicians came together to discuss about how politicians and civil society could work better together to combat Human Trafficking. This meeting was organized by the European Christian Political Movement, the Romanian Parliamentary Working Group on combating the trafficking of persons, and the European Freedom Network.

H.E. Angel Tîlvăr, Romanian Government Minister for Romanians abroad and coordinator of the Romanian Parliamentary Group on combating trafficking of human beings chaired the morning session and was a keynote speaker. Other Romanian speakers were amongst others: Emil Constantinescu, President of Romania (1996-2000); Daniel Ioniță, State Secretary for Foreign Affairs; Codrin Scutaru and Ioana Cazacu, both State Secretaries for Labor, Family and Social Protection; Paul Nicolae Petrovan, the Prefect of Bucharest, Branislav Škripek MEP; Spiru Bărbuceanu, Direction for the Countering of Organized Criminality, Mariana Petersel, President "Young Generation" Association; Irene Hirzel, ACT212.  Also representatives of important international NGOs from the European Freedom Network shared their messages

Read here my message 

Your Excellencies, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen dear friends

It is for me a great honor and pleasure to speak at this international conference on Human Trafficking organized by the Group for Combating Trafficking in Persons of the Parliament of Romania, the Ecumenical Prayer Group of the Romanian Parliament and the European Freedom Network. The fight against prostitution is one of the key issues where the European Christian Political Movement (ECPM) is focused. ECPM was one of the initiators of the report on “Prostitution, Trafficking and Modern Slavery in Europe” drafted by rapporteur Mendes Bota. Besides, there were other reports such as the Honey Ball report in the European Parliament on “Sexual Exploitation and Prostitution and its impact on Gender Equality” and the report “Shifting the Burden” issued by the ‘All-Party Parliamentary Group on Prostitution and the Global Sex trade’. Seemingly, there is a growing awareness that prostitution is clearly linked with human trafficking. Therefore, the best way to diminish human trafficking is to deal more effectively with the problem of prostitution.

This latter was deeply treated by report of the Council of Europe on “Prostitution, Trafficking and Modern Slavery in Europe” did. The number of Human Trafficking victims worldwide is estimated at 20.9 million, of which 5.5 million are children, with 75% of identified cases being victims of sexual exploitation. The International Labour Organization (ILO) estimated that in Europe between 70,000 and 140,000 people are trafficked every year. It is estimated that 84% of these victims are trafficked for purposes of sexual exploitation. Other reports, such as the report of the former Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom in April 2013, show an alarming trend with cases of trafficking that have increased by 18% while convictions of traffickers have fallen by 13% over the same period. Moreover, 61% of the victims of trafficking are EU citizens.

Maternity Trafficking

There are other ways of trafficking such as Maternity Trafficking where women are used to bear and give birth to a baby for third parties. A recent report of different feminist organizations and European Women’s Lobby condemn all forms of surrogacy which endangers the physical and psychological health of the surrogate mothers. They call for the adoption of an international convention to abolish all forms of surrogacy. In the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, a motion has been tabled to investigate the ethical and human rights conflict that is interrelated with this new trafficking such as the maternity one. It is with great regret that I have observed that in Romania the discussions on surrogate motherhood have started with as aim to allow this new type of trafficking. To allow this maternity trafficking is clearly against women’s and children’s rights. 

Council of Europe and Prostitution

Back to the direct link between prostitution and human trafficking, the Council of Europe report of Mendes Bota researched the different prostitution models and the way these latter affect sexual exploitation and the trafficking of persons. He investigated the models in the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland and Sweden. 

In the Netherlands, many people working with prostitutes and victims on human trafficking indicated that the EU enlargement in 2007 had marked a milestone. In Germany (also called the biggest brothel of Europe), it is estimated that Romanian and Bulgarian girls and women represent 85% of victims of trafficking in Germany.

The report clearly shows that the liberal prostitution model in the Netherlands and Germany fail and instead of protecting the prostitutes and give them better working conditions it actually gave the opposite effect. In many cases, the legalization brought an increasing criminality, dependency on prostitution, and flourishing of traffickers. Although the Netherlands try to have an active policy on attempting to ‘extinguish the fire of human trafficking’, they keep on putting oil on the fire because of a naïve and old-fashioned idea that the majority of prostitutes are doing this on their own will while the reality is quite different. Voluntary, free and independent prostitution is a little more than a myth, as it applies to a small minority of sex workers.   

A report of the KLPD, the Dutch national police from 2008, states that between 50% and 90% of those in licensed prostitution work involuntarily. A careful estimation of the KLPD report of 2012 estimates a percentage of 55%.  The Dutch National Justice Officer on Human Trafficking Warner ten Kate, estimates in a documentary on prostitution, recently broadcast on the Dutch national Television, that the rate of forced prostitution lies around 70% from being physical forced towards being pushed by lover boys

Even in cases where we take into account the most conservative number of forced prostitutes, it means that hundreds of women are raped every day in Amsterdam. The documentary mentioned before is called “Jojanneke in de prostitutie”. It showed the effects of the Dutch liberal policy on prostitution. Jojanneke interviewed pimps, prostitutes, and police etc. in order to observe the reality of Dutch prostitution. It was a shocking documentary and caused many reactions in the Dutch public opinion. 

Therefore, my question is: do we want to sacrifice the dignity and rights of a big majority of women being abused and raped and while protecting a small minority of women doing this voluntarily? In the Netherlands, the Dutch political parties, ChristianUnion, Socialist Part, and the Labor party introduced a legislative proposal to criminalize the purchase of sex when the buyer may be reasonably presumed to be aware of the abuse. The Draft Bill seeks to amend the Dutch Penal Code by delegating the police and the judicial authorities the possibility to combat human trafficking through the combat of the demand side.

Because of the high level of criminality and human trafficking, prostitution zones have been closed and the government agreed to fund special programs on prostitution to assist prostitutes willing to abandon the prostitution. Prostitution is not a normal industry. Unfortunately, prostitution is the most widespread and socially tolerated while the buyers who create the demand for prostitution are invisible and feel unrestricted. 

Nowadays, many people mistakenly assume that prostitution is sex, rather than sexual violence, and a vocational choice, rather than a human rights abuse. There has been far more clinical attention paid to sexually transmitted diseases among those prostituted than to their depressions, lethal suicidality, mood and anxiety disorders (including post-traumatic stress disorder) dissociative disorders, substance abuse and traumatic brain injury. Regardless of its legal status or its physical location, prostitution is extremely dangerous for women. 

Prostitution is also linked to violence in several ways. A number of oppressive elements including gender inequality, sex and race discrimination as well as psychological and physical violence perpetrated by male relatives and partners are shown to increase the likelihood of women and girls being forced in prostitution.The victims of human trafficking are mainly from Romania and Bulgaria. Therefore, a close collaboration is needed to change the situation in the Netherlands in order to protect the Romanian citizens.

Human Trafficking and the European Union 
Fortunately, the European Union has made notable efforts to tackle human trafficking. The EU Directive on human trafficking sets minimum standards for provisions for victims of trafficking such as non-prosecution of victims and special provisions for their protection and support, recognizing the increase vulnerability of child victims. Furthermore, the European Commission has committed itself to submitting a report by April 2016 establishing as a criminal offence the use of services which are the objects of exploitation of trafficking in human beings.

Concerning the condition in Romania, the Group of Experts of Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (GRETA) welcomed the efforts of the Romanian authorities in the area of investigation and prosecution of trafficking cases and the introduction of specific legal provisions guaranteeing the non-punishment of involuntary victims of trafficking. However, in spite of criminalization, prostitution is widespread in the country in hotels and private apartments included. Among the channels giving access to sexual services there are hotel staff, taxi drivers and the internet. 

Sexual Objectification 
There is a concern of creating a culture of sexual objectification in the society. Sexual objectification of women happens when her body or body parts are singled out and seen as separate from the rest of her as a person. As a result, she is objectified, seen and considered primarily as an object of male desires. We may find many examples in the media where women are portrayed as commodities available for male pleasure, a recreational attitude towards sex and a desensitizing towards sexual exploitation. Pornography plays a large role but also ‘soft porno’ elements in the media.

In conclusion, I consider that holding the client liable is the best way to combat human trafficking. We have to shift the burden. Prostitution is not the oldest profession, but the oldest oppression. It does not fit in a time where human rights and dignity should be respected. A culture of social sexual objectification should be changed into a culture of respect for the dignity and equality of women. We should avoid accepting new forms of human trafficking like surrogacy.

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