Trafficking in women for the purpose of sexual exploitation

Table of Contents:

Trafficking in women for the purpose of sexual exploitation

Outline of the Community (European Union) legislation about Trafficking in women for the purpose of sexual exploitation


These categories group together and put in context the legislative and non-legislative initiatives which deal with the same topic.

Justice freedom and security > Fight against trafficking in human beings

Trafficking in women for the purpose of sexual exploitation

Document or Iniciative

Commission communication of 20 November 1996 to the Council and the European Parliament on trafficking in women for the purpose of sexual exploitation.


In November 1993 the Council adopted a set of recommendations to combat trafficking in human beings. In June 1996 the first European conference on trafficking in women was held in Vienna. It was organised by the Commission and brought together players from various sections of society (universities, NGOs, police and immigration services, government and parliaments). One of the measures proposed by the conference was the development of a comprehensive action plan with a structured approach.

The communication takes up these proposals and formulates practical solutions to combat the phenomenon of trafficking in women from third countries who are brought to the European Union and sexually exploited through intimidation. This problem is linked to that of trafficking in children, although the latter requires specific responses which are discussed in another communication from 1996.

Information on this phenomenon, and in particular accurate figures with which to evaluate it, is elusive. The International Organisation for Migration estimates at 500 000 the number of victims, increasing numbers of whom come from Central and Eastern Europe and the Newly Independent States. Whole networks have been set up that have political support and significant economic resources. Often, trafficking in human beings is also linked to other forms of crime (drug trafficking, money laundering).

The Commission would like an integrated policy to be put in place with the participation of all the players mentioned in point 1. This policy could cover several areas.

Interdisciplinary proposals

It is planned to:

  • adopt a programme intended for those responsible for combating trafficking in human beings and the sexual exploitation of children (the STOP programme);
  • obtain reliable data on the various aspects of trafficking in human beings by financing and disseminating studies and research;
  • improve coordination between the Member States in terms of collecting and exchanging information and in terms of work in international bodies such as the Council of Europe;
  • encourage dialogue between NGOs in the EU and in third countries;
  • carry out information campaigns intended for women in their countries of origin and also intended to discourage potential clients within the EU.


Training for officials responsible for immigration, asylum and external borders could be funded by two of the EU’s programmes (STOP and Sherlock). Victims who agree to testify against traffickers could be granted a temporary residence permit until the end of judicial proceedings.

Judicial cooperation

Between 1900 and 1950 various international instruments were adopted to combat trafficking in human beings and prostitution but none has been ratified by the Member States. To increase knowledge of the legislation in force in each Member State, an inventory of applicable national legislation should be drawn up. The third countries concerned should also be encouraged to apply criminal penalties against traffickers. At EU level, joint action to set up judicial cooperation covering trafficking in women will be considered. Lastly, it would be useful if this trade were penalised in a similar fashion in all the Member States.

Police cooperation

To facilitate cooperation between the Member States’ police forces, trafficking in human beings has been made part of the remit of the Europol Drugs Unit, and people are designated in each Member State as national contact points. A directory of specialists in the fight against crime, with the fight against trafficking in human beings being a priority, is currently being drawn up. Training police forces to raise awareness of the problem of trafficking and to provide an appropriate response to victims will be developed, notably under the ” Oisin ” programme. This police cooperation will be extended to third countries, particularly those in Central and Eastern Europe.

Social and employment cooperation

This is an extensive area. Apart from the information campaigns already mentioned, it is planned to combat social exclusion and reintegrate victims of trafficking through the existing social, educational and health programmes. Assistance will be given to Member States which want to set up reception and rehabilitation centres. As regards employment, stricter criteria on working conditions have been drawn up by certain Member States in order to combat exploitation. Exchange of information on best practice and coordination between both social and health inspectorates and police forces should help better identify victims of trafficking. Specific training for social and health personnel could be organised to help reintegrate victims.

Cooperation with third countries

Action is planned in the general framework of development cooperation. For the countries of Central and Eastern Europe and the Newly Independent States, the Democracy programmes (protection of human rights) and LIEN (for NGOs in the social sector) are the main instruments in the fight against trafficking in human beings. The legislative framework in these countries must be developed and cross-border cooperation activities to prevent illegal immigration could be considered. The African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries are also the beneficiaries of activities supporting human rights. The Commission plans to use the European Development Fund to strengthen action taken on three fronts: prevention, training and reintegration. As regards Latin American, Asian and Mediterranean countries, preventive action is planned (improving girls’ education and the status of women) as are reintegration measures in cooperation with NGOs.

The annexes show the list of actions proposed by the Commission, extracts from the main texts on trafficking in human beings and a subject bibliography.

Related Acts

Commission communication of 20 November 1996

to the Council and the European Parliament on trafficking in women for the purpose of sexual exploitation.

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