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How to Use a Trafficked Woman. The Alliance between Political and Criminal Trafficking Organisations

John Davies et Benjamin Davies
p. 117-135


The principal argument of this paper is that migrant women with secure mobility rights and supportive social networks can avoid or mitigate many trafficking harms. However the paper contends that some actors have conspired to prevent such circumstances so as to pursue diverse political agendas at the expense of migrant women. The paper’s analysis restructures the trafficking contest from organised criminals versus law enforcement agencies to principally a contest between migrant women and those political agents who benefit from the moral panic associated with trafficking. It is then argued that it is these more sophisticated political actors rather than organised criminals and the clients of sex workers are the most important stakeholders in sustaining or exploiting trafficking harm. Therefore, it is concluded that resolving many trafficking harms in the EEA could be achieved by subverting political traffickers through improving migration policy rather than fighting organised crime.

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I. Who benefits from Trafficking ?

  • 1 European Economic Area.

1In the mid-nineties and through to the early part of the new Millennium I wrote and spoke extensively on how trafficking was being created and sustained by migration policy throughout the eea1 as means to increasingly criminalise all forms of irregular migration and to then reopen the contested debate about forced prostitution. Since that time the distinctions between the various degrees of migration irregularity that were demarked in the protocols to the Trans-national Crime Convention (un, 2003) have effectively been collapsed into trafficking. Anyone who assists an irregular migrant, including a refugee seeking access to the eea, can be demonised as a trafficker (Koser, 2001). ngos that are proactive in seeking to help endangered asylum seekers reach the safety of the eea are subjected to rigorous sanctions and harassment (Pauckstadt, 2004). Any migrant woman who enters the eea and is involved in any form of sex work is considered trafficked by many commentators, even if any harm she experiences is not specific or related to her mobility and regardless of her intentions or agency regarding her migration trajectory (Gradin, 1996 ; Giammarinaro, 2002).

2The “evils” of trafficking have also resulted in increasingly repressive anti-prostitution laws in the eea that are justified as being required to protect weak and vulnerable women from outside the eea (bbc, 2007a, bbc, 2007b). However, the impact of such legislation is the repression of all sex work activities, and the legislation is widely promoted by organisations that are not primarily seeking greater and secure mobility for women but, rather, a general suppression of all forms of sex work (Hughes/Roche, 1999 ; Davies, 2003a ; Weitzer, 2005, 2006). Therefore, it is obvious that the trafficked woman is a very useful person to have under your control. By capturing her body and voice it is possible to pursue a number of political goals, apart from any criminal gains. Thus the trafficking contest in the eea is not between criminals who would exploit and control the trafficked women for financial gain and those who would seek the safe mobility of women, but is between all those coercive groups that seek to use the trafficked woman to secure their political or criminal agenda and those who seek the right of women to move freely and securely in the globalised world. I call these political actors who deliberately use trafficking to benefit their political agendas rather than seeking to secure safe mobility for migrant women “political traffickers”.

3Therefore, the existence of the trafficked woman is a tangible benefit to those who gain financially or politically from her existence and, as such, a strange alliance has formed by which the political traffickers create the space in which trafficking can take place, the criminal traffickers then exploit her in that contrived space and, finally, the political traffickers reconstruct the trafficked woman and her “needs” according to their political priorities (Davies, 2002a). This exploitative partnership trades in trafficked women and has created a vast industry where not only are the bodies of supposedly weak foreign women repeatedly raped in every media, but (equally humiliating) their voices are stolen to serve political agendas that have little or no resonance with their own migration agendas (Doezema 2001 ; Agustin, 2005). This analysis deliberately posits an active facilitation in the eea by political traffickers of criminal traffickers, with the political traffickers having the power to direct the course and extent of criminal trafficking enterprises. Therefore, this analysis fundamentally challenges the presumed roles of many political stakeholders in the current eea trafficking discourse.

4In recent years an increasing number of feminist and other scholars have expressed concerns regarding various state interventions supposedly undertaken on behalf of “foreign” women (Doezema, 2000 ; Agustin, 2003). These interventions were undertaken and then justified in the public domain as actions intended to protect women from abuse from other, usually patriarchal, actors. Young has questioned the use of “woman protection” as a rationale for the support of the war in Afghanistan, and its subsequent reappearance as a justification for further war in Iraq (Young, 2002). Trafficking is another issue where powerful state and institutional forces are using the supposed vulnerable bodies of women as the justification for the protection of women, according to an agenda of imagined mutual convenience. The protection of women is sought, rather than seeking the means by which women might be empowered to overcome harm, or allowing for prejudicial institutional arrangements to be adjusted, so reducing vulnerability to trafficking harms. This compounding of obstacles to overcoming trafficking and associated negative outcomes for migrant women has been considered unexpected «collateral damage» by Dottridge and others (2007), but I would argue that such outcomes were neither unwelcome nor unexpected by many political traffickers.

II. Reconstructing the Trafficking Contest

5This departure from the normative methods for considering a trafficking contest is supported by the work of Foucault and Butler (Foucault, 1991 ; Butler, 1999). Although their work does not offer a complete theory for explaining vulnerability in trafficking, it does offer radical alternatives for considering how power is used by various actors to dominate trafficked women and how resistance to exploitation might be made more effective (Foucault 1991, 1993 ; Butler, 1999). If, as Foucault suggests, modern power has replaced pre-modern brutal violence and physical repression with more subtle and effective modes of domination represented by various social science technologies (Foucault, 1991 ; Butler, 1999), the present contest for control over trafficked women could be seen as representing a contrived contest between pre-modern methods of domination and the modern systems of discipline and control. The contest between criminal traffickers and political traffickers such as ngos and governments would then not be a contest to seek emancipation for the trafficked women from the supposed pre-modern dominance of the criminals. Instead, the various groups would be competing to dominate the bodies and to capture the voices of trafficked women within an arena constructed by the migration policies of the more powerful political traffickers.

6Fraser documents aspects of this mode of contest and specifically considers how various actors that supposedly oppose pre-modern dominance actually support and manipulate such processes for their own ends (Fraser, 1989). This requires consideration regarding the purposes for which these competitors seek this control, given that the outcomes are not the personal emancipation of the women concerned. Fraser’s suspicions regarding the real goals of the claimed altruistic actors seem to reflect Hayek’s free-market analysis of ethical behaviours and control being driven by personal or partisan interests (Hayek, 1944).

  • 2 “Law Enforcement Agencies may simply move trafficked people from one system of control to another- (...)

7The means by which power is exerted over the trafficked women represents various contests. Exploiting criminal men supposedly rely on traditional power such as physical violence (Raufer/Quéré, 2000 ; Choudhury, 2003 ; Kirby, 2005), while the state and most other actors depend on law enforcement agencies to forcibly dispossess the organised criminal and turn over the women involved to their control (De Stoop, 1992 ; Wong, 2002). ilo recognises this disingenuous paradox by which the trafficked person is not liberated or emancipated, but just transferred to another controlling agency2.

  • 3 Cuna means “boys” and is used by Albanian women to describe the men who control their trafficking e (...)

The Cuna3 beat you and threaten you, the police beat you and threaten you, so what is the difference ? (EK, Albanian trafficked woman in Lyon, France, 1999).

8Therefore, there is a need to examine if any of these interventions are welcomed by a trafficked person, or whether such action is just a matter of a change of controlling agent from traffickers to law enforcement or ngo. Possession of trafficked women’s bodies affords criminal men money ; disposition of those bodies allow states to demonstrate their rights to control their borders ; possession of the voices of trafficked women offers others power to influence policy on gender, migration, and other social issues. The benefit to trafficked women of such circumstances should be examined more thoroughly to see what, if any, benefits accrue to the trafficked women. It would be of considerable interest if an audit of benefits was to credit the criminal traffickers with offering more significant benefits for trafficked women than political traffickers.

III. The Evolution of Trafficking Vulnerability

  • 4 The Dutch Foundation against Trafficking in Women.
  • 5 Commonwealth of Independent States.
  • 6 Central and Eastern Europe.
  • 7 Particularly Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary.

9In 1993-1994 two prominent anti-trafficking ngos in Belgium and Holland, Payoke and stv4 reported cis5 and certain cee6 women, particularly Hungarian and Poles, were seeking assistance in considerable numbers (iom, 1995). Since that time, women from the cis have continued to be highly represented in reports regarding “trafficked“ women, while women from the first wave accession countries7 have been noticeable by their increasing absence and replacement in most trafficking accounts of the late 90’s by women from the Baltic States, Albania, Romania and Moldova (iom, 2002 ; rcp, 2003). Therefore, there is a need to examine and consider the circumstances by which this apparent reduction in trafficking has taken place among the women of the first wave accession countries for eea membership. Certainly, women from the accession states have continued to migrate to participate in sex work and yet they are either more successful in avoiding the previous trafficking harms, or they are being subjected to a form of trafficking that is successfully preventing them from seeking or being extended assistance.

10From the mid-nineties women from the accession states were able to travel freely to the European Communities countries as tourists and could manage stays of up to 90 days in the Schengen States or 6 months in the uk. However, many Hungarian women reported that they lacked the necessary social networks by which they could independently sustain irregular employment in the eea and, consequently, they were usually dependent on criminal men to sustain their stay in the eea (Salamon Alapitvany Foundation, 1997). They also widely reported that this vulnerability would lead to a number of abuses that severely compromised their human rights and reduced the utility value of remaining in irregular employment in the eea (Salamon Alapitvany Foundation, 1997). Over a period of the next five years women from the accession states devised a number of enabling strategies that allowed them to minimise their exposure to such exploitative men. Such strategies included : marriage to eea nationals ; acquiring sufficient local knowledge, language skills, and eea documents so as to be able to represent themselves as eea citizens ; and also the development of seasonal work in various eea locations where they could either control their work or deal directly with local employers (Salamon Alapitvany Foundation, 1997). Some sex workers from the Czech Republic successfully sought to use country of accession associative agreements to register themselves as self-employed entrepreneurs in the Netherlands (cnn, 2001).

  • 8 Before the implementation of the Schengen II Agreement, citizens of Western Europe could travel to (...)

11In Northern Greece in the late nineties, Polish sex workers with irregular German documents began to dominate the licensed brothels, working according to terms and conditions that were vastly superior to those afforded to undocumented Albanians and that were even superior to those afforded to older Greek sex workers (Davies, 2008), while Hungarian and Czech women in Thessaloniki played an increasing and independent role in organising call-girl and erotic dancing agencies on a seasonal basis. They used their 90 day visa-free travel to the Schengen area8 of the eea as the means to avoid engagement with certain types of abusive men and arranged their sex work activities accordingly (Davies, 2008). Romanians, Bulgarians and others who did not have such capacity were required to rely on traffickers and their associates to effect and maintain their irregular migration and, therefore, they widely reported trafficking abuse (Davies, 2008).

12All of these protective strategies were predicated on the ability of such women to move freely and safely to and around the eea without recourse to traffickers and their mobility networks. Once the necessary local knowledge and social networks had been established, women acted to reduce their dependency on abusive men and they have established a number of successful strategies that have reduced their vulnerability in many cases to that of parity with eea women (Davies, 2003a). It should be noted that women working in Thessaloniki sex clubs were paid according to their country of origin, greater vulnerability to arrest as an illegal alien meant lower pay as more money had to be given to law enforcement officers and traffickers who sustained the woman’s migration in Greece. Therefore, the exposure of women from the accession countries to abusive men and exploitation in sex work is often no more than is common to local and eea women struggling to deal with a poorly regulated and stigmatised occupation. Such competency and successful agency is not usually acknowledged and lessons have not been learnt from the success of these women in subverting certain trafficking harms (Agustin, 2003 ; Davies, 2008). However, over the same period of time women from the cis appeared in increasing numbers in trafficking accounts. They were joined by women from the Baltic States, Albania, Romania and Moldova (Stop-traffic, 2001 ; iom, 2002 ; rcp, 2003). These women were far less successful in overcoming trafficking harm and reducing their dependence on traffickers to arrange and sustain their irregular migration episode. I would argue that the fundamental factors that divides these groups is the regular mobility opportunities of the women from the accession states, which when coupled with an increasingly well-informed and well-developed series of social networks has allowed these women to pursue their migration agendas without resort to trafficking networks (Davies, 2008). When they are required to engage with exploitative men within sex work, they seem to be able to do so with seeming parity with eea women.

13It is of considerable interest that women from Belarus will often try to acquire Polish documents as they understand that such an identity offers them better options for managing their migration and avoiding trafficking harm. Albanians will frequently use Hungarian or Czech documents as often as they will Italian or Greek documentation. Since March 2001, Romanians and Bulgarians have been granted visa free travel to the Schengen area. Accordingly, considerable numbers of Moldavian women sought to acquire Romanian documents or second citizenship. The numbers of trafficked Romanians and Moldavian with Romanian documents started to decrease as such women started to build migration and social networks based on their new mobility rights that afforded them the same protections as the systems developed by the Hungarians, Czechs and Poles (Davies, 2003a). The subsequent dramatic fall in the number of “Romanian” women being trafficked through Albania was credited as a result of better policing, rather than the consequence of their new visa privileges that no longer required them to use irregular routes through Albania to reach the eea (rcp, 2003).

14In the Balkans there was a nexus between sex work migration routes that represented the power of accessible, affordable and safe mobility in subverting trafficking harm. The first route was a well-documented trafficking route that starts in the Ukraine and Moldova, crosses Romania into Serbia, Kosova, Montenegro, Albania and then into Italy. The second route was a sex work and irregular labour migration route that is sourced in Poland, Czech Republic and Hungary, and passes through Macedonia into Greece. The second route shared its space with a number of irregular migration networks that were used by non-sex working women who travelled to work irregularly in Greece as nannies, domestic workers, carers, and in the tourist trade. Although the two routes physically intersect in Serbia, where it is possible for Romanian and Moldavian trafficked women to use the same rest-stops as Hungarian and Polish sex workers, the routes are otherwise separate and never link (Davies, 2003a).

  • 9 An au pair is a foreign-national domestic assistant working for, and living as part of, a host fami (...)

15During that time there were no reports of Hungarian sex workers trapped in the sex bars of Prishtina, nor could you find any such sex workers in the oppressive environment of the Arizona trading area in Bosnia. Yet Hungary is geographically close to both locations. However, as Hungarian women did not need to engage with the trafficking networks that supply these areas, they were effectively protected from the trafficking harms associated with these places. A Hungarian woman who wanted to participate in sex work in the eea could catch the same bus as her girl-friend who wanted to be an irregular waitress or au pair9, and they could travel together safely as legal visitors to the eea. Both could then access extensive and effective social networks that enable them to sustain their irregular work in the eea without recourse to “traffickers”. Their right to leave and re-enter the Schengen area also allows them to return home, if circumstances become difficult, with the knowledge that re-entry to the Schengen area was a simple formality for them. Many other women without such mobility rights consider themselves compelled to remain in a trafficking harm, because to leave the Schengen area would require them to engage in an expensive and difficult process of acquiring re-entry to the Schengen area (Davies, 2008).

  • 10 International Organisation for Migration.

16In the mid-nineties, Hungarian women were the object of considerable trafficking panic and an iom10 awareness raising campaign (iom, 1998) was undertaken in the country using fear of rape as its principal message. Young women were told that travel for work outside of the country was dangerous and that sexual assault and slavery were likely outcomes for innocent au pair and other migrant women. The campaign offered little effective advice to women on how to ensure their migration was safe, and the campaign offered no advice to women who wanted to travel for sex work, even though iom’s own research revealed that as many as 6% of young Hungarian women were willing to travel to engage in erotic labour (iom, 1998). An outcome of this campaign was a reduction in the number of applications to registered au pair placement agencies (iom, 1998). Companies advertising for erotic dancers for foreign employment reported no reduction in applications (Salamon Alapitvany Foundation, 1998).

17It seems likely that trafficking was co-opted in the nineties by political traffickers as a device by which it was attempted to control the growing migration of women through the use of fear of rape (Andrijasevic, 2007). The anti-trafficking messages have been consistent in their «don’t leave home or you will be raped» messages, rather than providing women with information on how to effect a safe irregular or regular migration (Andrijasevic, 2007).

IV. Solutions to Trafficking ?

18There is also often a presumption that if women are given vocational training and poverty is alleviated, then women will not migrate (Commonwealth Secretariat, 2003 ; Home Office, 2004). However, the migration decision making of many young women is influenced by factors more complex than pure economics (Davies, 1998). Many women seek to use migration and even a trafficking episode as a transition to a more secure and equitable social condition (Agustin, 2002). Many Albanian women interviewed in Lyon, France, in 1999-2001 while in their trafficking episode, reported that the trafficking experience was an attempt to access other options and possibilities rather than just acquire money (Davies, 2008). During this two year period, all resolutions of trafficking harm among these Albanian women happened as the result of self-solutions that were unassisted by any ngo or other agency (Davies, 2008). Self-solutions to trafficking harm have been consistently ignored by Governmental and non-governmental agencies, and consequently many of the “disappeared” women are reported as supposedly dead or as being trafficked to other locations (Malarek, 2004), rather than being acknowledged as having successfully resolved the trafficking episode by marrying a local citizen or acquiring some other permanent status, particularly through the asylum system :

I needed him to get here and to have a way of staying her, so of course I gave him the money, but what do I need money for ? What I need is a French Husband and papers. Once I have those, that bastard is history (A1, Albanian trafficked woman in Lyon, France, 1999).

Get here, get fucking, get a husband, get the papers, get out, it is the perfect plan and works 100%. Only the silly ‘I am in love with him brigade’ can’t seem to manage it (Z1, Albanian trafficked woman in Lyon, France, 1999).

19Furthermore, ngos regularly over-estimate the numbers of trafficked women. In Lyon one agency would publicly discuss the 150 sex slaves engaged in local street based prostitution, while in fact there were never more than 50 street sex workers from the cis/cce countries working at any time (Torres, 2001 ; Davies, 2008). Such over estimations have a direct impact on the funding of ngos and is a clear example of how trafficked women are used to benefit agencies that chose to “speak” for them (Davies, 2008).

  • 11 “One Europe or Several” Research Programme of the EBRD, 2002.
  • 12 European Bank for Reconstruction and Development

20From the esrc11 study prepared for the ebrd12 it can be seen that the migration intentions of Albanians were more indicative of actual behaviour than most other groups. This might be explained by the greater opportunities and access to irregular migration that Albanians had. Young men and young women reported almost equally in their intentions to migrate, so consequently we can conclude that a young Albanian woman who intended to migrate actually would arrive eventually in the eea (Papapanagos/Sanfrey, 2002). Socio-economically, the Albanian groups most likely to migrate were the working poor and the highly educated (Papapanagos/Sanfrey, 2002). Therefore, training unemployed women to join the working poor as a garment worker or other labourer will not mitigate her likelihood to migrate at all (Massey, 1993). In fact the low paid work might just be sufficient to finance her migration. This would suggest that most prevention and integration programmes that seek to mitigate trafficking and migration through the vocational training of women to improve their economic security in the country of origin will not achieve their goals as they do not properly address the real motivations for migration (Davies, 1998 ; Davies, 2008).

21Many women report their motivation for migration and willingness to risk trafficking harm as the desire to secure lives free from cultural and social repression in their community of origin (Agustin, 2002 ; Davies, 2008). Even women in trafficking episodes express an unwillingness to surrender many of the perceived liberties they have acquired, particularly freedom to associate and behave more independently from previous cultural norms (Davies, 2008). Therefore, the failure of many repatriation and reintegration services relates to the fact that most trafficked women wish to transit their trafficking episode to a goal of personal security and liberty away from their country of origin. Solutions that do not resolve the migration agenda of the trafficked woman are no solutions at all. They often act as a perverse form of reverse trafficking in which a state exercises compelling force over the migration of the woman, rather than the trafficker, and returns her to her country of origin.

V. Reverse Trafficking versus Safe Mobility

22The exercise of power in trafficking is usually assumed to be the exercise of criminal power intended to assure the criminal traffickers’ effective control over the trafficked women (Williams, 1999 ; Zakaryan, 2005). The trafficked woman’s lack of power to control the terms and conditions of her labour is used to demonstrate the pernicious abuse inherent in trafficking (McCauley, 1998 ; Pearson, 2001 ; McGill, 2003). Therefore, being “un-trafficked” would require a previously trafficked woman having the power to access decent work in some location of her choice. Decent work as described by Piguet is represented as a minimal standard regarding terms and conditions of work (Piguet, 2006), so ensuring access to decent work as described by Piguet, could reduce the vulnerability of women who are seeking decent work. However, other actors - and especially political traffickers - often move and control trafficked women with little regard for the wishes or needs of the women so obstructed or constrained. The term “Reverse Trafficking” can be used to describe the processes such as deportation forced upon trafficked women, particularly by political traffickers, that do not allow the women involved meaningful agency.

23Reverse trafficking is typically resolved according to the agenda of the more powerful actor. However, the resistance of trafficked women to these outcomes by re-engaging with other traffickers to negate the reverse trafficking imposed on them is of considerable interest. The deliberate re-engagement shows that current assumptions about the objectives of many trafficked women are misplaced or are deliberately ignored. Rather than a satisfactory outcome and conclusion to a trafficking episode, a reverse trafficking experience is often just another aspect of an ongoing trafficking episode. Interventions that result in reverse trafficking offer the trafficked woman only a demonstration of the perverse symbiosis that exists between the criminal traffickers and political traffickers. Each actor seems to parody the other in their treatment of the trafficked women : criminal traffickers take the woman to a place she wants to be, but abuse and exploit her there ; the political traffickers often try to stop that abuse but usually insist that the trafficked woman then returns to a place where she does not want to be, or be disposed of according to the political trafficker’s moral or political agenda.

  • 13 International Catholic Migration Project in Tirana, Albania.

24The icmp13-iom shelter for non-Albanian trafficked women in Albania was often used by Romanian and Moldavian women as a respite after deportation from Italy so they might prepare to re-enter Italy, rather than as a means to escape trafficking by returning to their country of origin. This use of their services was quite a surprise to some of the staff of the shelter, who then began to view their clients as not being real victims and somehow being complicit in their own trafficking (Davies/Vullnetari, 2001). However, there has been little attempt to examine the social exchange considerations that trafficked women use in calculating costs and benefits in using trafficking as a migration tool.

25Safe mobility avoids the need to engage with traffickers, but political traffickers have hi-jacked trafficking as a means of engaging in a needless repression of the irregular migration of women (Davies, 2002a ; Agustin, 2003). The labour of women is needed, and safe mobility programmes would allow young women to engage in sexual labour more safely, or avoid sexual labour in favour of other employment for which women are increasingly required (Anderson, 2000 ; Blanchet, 2002). As previously discussed, many women see their participation in migratory sex work as a means by which to transit to other occupations or greater social adulthood (Agustin, 2005 ; Kempadoo, 2005). If direct access was available to other labour, many women would likely reduce their participation in sex work or not enter sex work at all.

26The present irregular labour migration of women is certainly driven in part by the increasing need of the eea for the labour of women (Hear, 1998 ; Koser/Lutz, 1998). More rational labour migration policies would allow most women to avoid certain types of trafficking harm by mitigating any need to engage with traffickers to effect their migration (Davies, 2002b ; Plant, 2003). Presently, young women are held hostage by the migration policies of the eea countries, and are sacrificed as the offering required to establish a casus belli for the war on trafficking, which also conveniently allows the authorities to attempt to disrupt the irregular migration networks that occupy the same spaces as trafficking networks. The refusal to acknowledge the sustaining role and support for trafficking of present migration policies will eventually result in the indictment of policy makers as the political traffickers who are the real power behind trafficking (Davies, 2002b).

VI. Demand and Trafficking

27There is also a widely disseminated proposition from some commentators that prostitution is a demand-driven industry in which the demands of men for sex with exploitable women increasingly fuels forms of induction that coerce more and more women to be trafficked into forced prostitution (Barry, 1995 ; Hughes, 2002). It is therefore presumed that if male demand can be mitigated or controlled, then fewer people would be compelled by various exploitative actors to participate in prostitution and, as a result, trafficking would be reduced (Hughes, 2002) :

Any business would collapse without customers ; the sex industry in particular is driven by the demands of its consumers (Shannon, 1999 :125).

Above all, state bodies and non-governmental organizations should understand that prostitution is a demand market created by men who buy and sell women’s sexuality for their own profit and pleasure. Legal reforms should therefore create remedies that assist victims and prosecute perpetrators (Hughes/Roche, 1999 :56).

28The demand proposition is apparently based on unreformed Keynesian economic theory (Keynes, 1965) and it should not go unchallenged. It should be realised that the supply of sexual services for reward or favours is often first experienced as a form of barter and often as part of a reproductive labour contract in the private domain (Rubin, 1975). Men and women will informally exchange sex with a partner in exchange for food, accommodation, and other personal securities in the context of a private consensual relationship (Pateman, 1988 ; Shrage, 2004). This behaviour is then used as a form of grooming by some exploiters (Barry, 1979). As such, sex work (and particularly sex work as a survival strategy for overcoming poverty) is often a commercialised extension of a pre-existing, common domestic and barter behaviour (Rubin, 1975 ; Pateman, 1988). Such commercialised behaviour is often predicated on the failure of a previous domestic relationship that was based on precisely such a barter arrangement (Jordan, 1991 ; Lim, 1998 ; Davies, 2008).

29The importance of prostitution’s economic proximity to barter is that it makes prostitution a behaviour that is more likely to be represented by Say’s economic laws, rather than any form of rigid Keynesian theory (Hazlitt, 1977 ; Ruby, 2003). Say’s theory emphasizes the importance of supply in creating demand and his law is widely acknowledged as being the best explanation of barter economies (Sowell, 1972). As critiques of Keynesian economics have progressed, Keynes dismissals of Say’s theory regarding supply are now widely considered to have been ill-conceived and inadequate (Hazlitt, 1977 ; Kates, 1998, 2003). This revision regarding the importance of supply has not been readily reflected in work relating to the issue of demand and prostitution (Davies, 1998 ; Lim, 1998 ; Hughes, 2002).

30While undertaking research in Lyon, France, among the clients of Albanian street based prostitutes, it was noted that many new clients specifically stated that it was the visibility of the women in new locations near to the workplaces of the clients that eventually led the men to engage with the women. These men had not usually bought sex before, and none of them had visited the traditional red light areas of the city. It was a specific incidence of how the supply of a group of sex workers was used to create a demand (Davies, 2008).

31The National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Life-Styles found that men in London were more than twice as likely to have paid for sex than men in Britain in general (Field, 1990 ; Johnson, 2000). It would be interesting to discover why London men are successfully demanding more paid sex than men in general. However it is possible that the supply of sexual services in London has generated increased demand. If demand was the defining element in the supply of prostitution services, we could have expected a more even distribution of men who were able to purchase sex, presuming that male demand for paid sex is actually distributed normally. There is a need for further research around this issue, but the simplistic assumption that trafficking and prostitution is primarily created by the demand of men for commercial sex underestimates the importance of political traffickers (Davies, 1998 ; Lim, 1998). Therefore, this assumption should not form the primary basis of policy or practice regarding trafficking without proper consideration of how to first mitigate the influence and power of political traffickers.

VII. Acknowledging the Role and Interests of Political Traffickers

  • 14 EEA funded network of NGOs in countries of origin, who have often used fear messages to deter femal (...)

32Hopefully, policy will become more rational and eventually the fear of rape messages will be replaced by safe mobility strategies and ngos such as La Strada14 will eventually be reconstructed as labour recruiting agencies, offering practical and non-prejudicial advice to all female labour migrants to assist them in their migration decision making. Certainly an increasing number of agencies including ilo are beginning to see trafficking as an institution mostly created and sustained by poor policy, that could be most appropriately addressed by better informed and more rational labour migration policy (Lim, 1998 ; Plant, 2003 ; Vullnetari, 2003).

33Trafficking in the eea must be understood as mainly a construction of policy, and the war on trafficking should not be primarily directed at those members of organised crime who have responded to the opportunities created by policy, but should, as a priority, be directed towards the policies that actually endanger the women whose labour the eea requires. The beneficiaries of trafficking must also be reconstructed to include all those groups who make political, financial or other gains from the trafficking of others. The importance of trafficking to political traffickers who want to justify repressive action against irregular migrants in spite of the institutional need of the labour markets for such disposable labour must be clearly identified, as should the interests of morality or feminist groups who use trafficking as a means to legitimise the repressing of prostitution.

34The demand for vulnerable labour and the need to be able to dispose of such labour when politically expedient as well as the need to justify the increasing policing of irregular migration is the driving force behind political trafficking by state actors. The benefits of increased financing for anti-trafficking agencies that actually have very little engagement with trafficked women and almost no relevance to their migration agendas should also be clearly named as motivation for such groups to promote continuous histrionics about trafficking. Anti-prostitution groups can now demand the repression of prostitution as the means to protect trafficked women. Consequently these groups have seen a worldwide revival of interest their cause, which had previously been faltering for many years. Such groups are now re-branding domestic prostitution as internal trafficking, and are intent on removing the original parameters that defined trafficking as a vulnerable form of mobility so as to conflate trafficking with pandering for prostitution (BBC, 2007c). The ease with which trafficking can be re-branded by political traffickers demonstrates how trafficking’s social construction is driven by their agendas. This adaptation disregards the original mythology that had allowed for Western women to be accorded some agency in their sex work activities while presuming foreign women to be inherently vulnerable because of their “foreigness” which is used to mean weakness and naivety. The casting of foreign women as inherently weak and exploitable also allowed an opportunity for the girl-child to simultaneously be framed as particularly vulnerable (un, 2003). The previously secure Western sex worker is now being reconstructed as the earlier victim of internal girl child trafficking and spaces that had been considered reflective of agency among sex working woman are becoming the locations where internally trafficked girl children will be constrained after their grooming into sexual exploitation. Consequently there is no aspect of sex work that can not conflated into trafficking and every female participant regardless of previous concerns around their mobility can now be a trafficking victim. Overcoming the apparent agency of some western sex workers has been achieved by the creation of internal trafficking and some astute time travel, by revisiting the childhood of any sex worker they can be constructed as a child victim of internal trafficking. This political manipulation of the adult sex worker into child sex abuse victim is a distraction from investigating the experiences of men and women whose mobility results in a forced labour outcome. Trafficking is quickly becoming a meaningless category by which to examine or understand the vulnerabilities experienced by migrants and there is a need to rebuke those who have traded in the forced labour experiences of migrants to pursue a mostly irrelevant moral agenda.

35In summary, trafficked women in the eea have proved a useful boon to various political actors. The heady mix of sexual violence, erotic foreigners, and organised crime have offered the ready means by which to introduce legislation and programmes throughout Europe that conveniently serve various political agendas regarding irregular migration and paid sex. It is time that such uses of trafficked women are more openly acknowledged and appreciated by such political actors and that the role of political traffickers in sustaining trafficking is better researched.

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1 European Economic Area.

2 “Law Enforcement Agencies may simply move trafficked people from one system of control to another- from being controlled by traffickers to being controlled by law enforcement officials” (ILO, 2003, p.14).

3 Cuna means “boys” and is used by Albanian women to describe the men who control their trafficking episode.

4 The Dutch Foundation against Trafficking in Women.

5 Commonwealth of Independent States.

6 Central and Eastern Europe.

7 Particularly Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary.

8 Before the implementation of the Schengen II Agreement, citizens of Western Europe could travel to neighbouring countries by showing their national ID card or passport at the border. Nationals of some countries were required to have separate visas for every country in Europe ; causing delays and costs to both such visitors. Since the implementation of the Schengen rules, border posts have been closed between participating countries. Citizens of non-EU, non-EEA countries who are exempt from usual visa requirements may visit any part of the Schengen area for a period of up to 90 days.

9 An au pair is a foreign-national domestic assistant working for, and living as part of, a host family.

10 International Organisation for Migration.

11 “One Europe or Several” Research Programme of the EBRD, 2002.

12 European Bank for Reconstruction and Development

13 International Catholic Migration Project in Tirana, Albania.

14 EEA funded network of NGOs in countries of origin, who have often used fear messages to deter female migration.

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John Davies et Benjamin Davies, « How to Use a Trafficked Woman. The Alliance between Political and Criminal Trafficking Organisations »Recherches sociologiques et anthropologiques, 39-1 | 2008, 117-135.

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John Davies et Benjamin Davies, « How to Use a Trafficked Woman. The Alliance between Political and Criminal Trafficking Organisations »Recherches sociologiques et anthropologiques [En ligne], 39-1 | 2008, mis en ligne le 03 mars 2011, consulté le 17 janvier 2022. URL : ; DOI :

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John Davies

FRSA, Sussex Centre for Migration Research, University of Sussex, Dr.

Benjamin Davies

MA (Migration Studies), Sussex Centre for Migration Research, University of Sussex.

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