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Experts Urge Governments to Improve Approaches to Human Trafficking - 2001-07-20

Trafficking women for prostitution is increasing around the world. No country is excluded, though some are more heavily involved in the traffic than others. Dreaming of a better life, women from poor countries remain poor, while the brothels prosper, along with corrupt government officials who protect them.

Trafficking in both men and women is expanding worldwide, says Ann Jordan, director of the initiative against trafficking in persons at the International Human Rights Law group. "It is the third-largest organized crime activity in the world right now, behind guns and drugs," Ms. Jordan says. "And it is becoming increasingly popular among organized crime because it is very easy to ensure the silence of a victim, whereas if you are caught with drugs in your hands, you are definitely going to be convicted."

Disorganized crime is also involved in trafficking, says Ms. Jordan, because it is quick, safe money for small-time racketeers.

She adds the trafficker first becomes familiar with where the women live and where he plans to take them - a kind of cultural assimilation. "The typical pattern is somebody from a country of source, say Ukraine or Russia, will manage to get some sort of residency permit in the country of destination, like Israel, the United States, France, whatever," Ms. Jordan explains. "That gives them the ability to fly in and out all the time. Once they get their residency, then they will go back to their country of origin and into the communities they know, and that is when they start their business."

The people in small isolated communities, of course, do not know the traffickers' true business, says Ann Jordan, and are easy targets. They are no match for the sophisticated traffickers.

Martina Vandenberg, European researcher with Human Rights Watch, is just back from Bosnia, where a large number of women are held in brothels. She says this will continue in Bosnia and elsewhere until governments take the problem seriously. "Governments around the world frequently close their eyes to trafficking, and in that sense they are complicit in trafficking," Ms. Vandenberg says. "They do nothing to fight it, and they would prefer just to ignore it. Trafficking worldwide cannot flourish without corruption and without officials in governments who are actually involved. In many cases, governments do not want to prosecute their own."

Martina Vandenberg says governments need to rethink their approach to trafficking, they are too inclined to treat the victims - the women as criminals and jail or deport them. The women should be used to bring the real criminals - the traffickers - to justice. "If you really want to prosecute traffickers, you have to have witness protection in place," Ms. Vandenberg says. "You have to have services for the victims, because otherwise the victims have absolutely no incentive to testify. In fact, they would be crazy to testify. Many of them face threats of violence against their families back at home and they themselves face threats of retaliation if they testify."

There are some signs of progress, says Martina Vandenberg. The United States has just issued new guidelines for prosecuting traffickers and identifying and protecting their victims, who will be provided with low-cost legal help, medical care, and translation services if needed. Two nations - Italy and Belgium - are considered near models for dealing with trafficking. They allow temporary stays of deportation for women to recover from their ordeal and press charges against the traffickers, if they wish.

Italy follows up when the women return home. "The women who are sent home from Italy go home with a resettlement package of several-thousand dollars," Ms. Vandenberg says. "That money goes to the International Organization for Migration, and the organization takes that money and uses it for whatever it is the woman wants, whether it is education or professional training or medical care or anything she sees as her most important priority now that she is home."

Martina Vandenberg says other nations should follow Italy's lead.