FAQ


The FAQ are meant to give you a general impression of the issues, for more in depth information, please feel free to contact us!

1. What is human trafficking and conflict-related sexual violence? 

Human trafficking is defined in article 3 of the UN Palermo Protocol (2000). It entails, in short, luring a person into a situation of exploitation with the objective of making profit at the expense of that person. Human trafficking consists of three elements: the act (what is done), the means (how it is done) and the purpose (why it is done).
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According to the international definition, if a person recruits, transports, transfers, harbours or receipts persons [the act], by means of threat or use of force, coercion, abduction, fraud, deception, abuse of power or vulnerability, or giving payments or benefits to a person in control of the victim [the means], with the goal [purpose] of exploiting the person (sexual exploitation, labour exploitation, forcible removal of organs) then the person can be convicted of human trafficking. At the EU level, the definition is broader as the forms of exploitation also include forced criminality and forced begging (Article 2 of the EU Directive 2011/36/EU). Many different terms are used to refer to human trafficking (HT), including trafficking in persons (TIP), trafficking in human beings (THB), trafficking, sexual slavery, and modern-day slavery.

According to the UN Secretary General in its report on conflict-related sexual violence of 15 April 2017, “the term ‘conflict-related sexual violence’ […] refers to rape, sexual slavery, forced prostitution, forced pregnancy, forced abortion, enforced sterilization, forced marriage, and any other form of sexual violence of comparable gravity perpetrated against women, men, girls or boys that is directly or indirectly linked to a conflict. This link may be evident in the profile of the perpetrator (often affiliated with a State or non-State armed group, including a terrorist entity or network), the profile of the victim (who is frequently an actual or perceived member of a persecuted political, ethnic or religious minority, or is targeted on the basis of actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity), the climate of impunity (which is generally associated with State collapse), cross-border consequences (such as displacement or trafficking in persons) and/or violations of the provisions of a ceasefire agreement. The term also encompasses trafficking in persons when committed in situations of conflict for the purpose of sexual violence/exploitation.” The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) prohibits varies forms of conflict-related sexual violence as genocide (committed with a specific intent to eliminate a certain group of people), crimes against humanity (committed as part of a systematic and/or widespread attack against the civilian population) and war crimes (committed in times of international or national armed conflict); e.g. rape, sexual slavery, forced prostitution, forced pregnancy, forced abortion, enforced sterilization and any other form of sexual violence of comparable gravity (Articles 6, 7 and 8 of the Rome Statute of the ICC (1998); see also the ICC Elements of Crimes (2002)). Many different terms are being used to refer to CRSV, including sexual violence in conflict, sexual and gender based crimes (SGBC), and sexual and gender based violence (SGBV).

2. On what scale and where does human trafficking and conflict-related sexual violence take place?

Human trafficking affects many women, men, girls and boys, in every country of the world. It is the crime that is said to be the third most profitable after drugs and arms trade, explaining why it is so difficult to combat it. Unlike drugs and weapons, people can be used more than once, making it an attractive enterprise for criminals. Because of its hidden nature it is impossible to determine the full scope and scale of
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human trafficking. While on the one hand we know that what is discovered is only the tip of the iceberg, on the other hand we need to be cautious in valuing these estimates as these mainly provide dark (hidden) numbers. While there are many estimates about the number of trafficked persons worldwide (even up to 45,8 million), the most trusted source provided by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimated in 2012 that 21 million people were enslaved worldwide. During the 72nd session of the UN General Assembly (12-25 September 2017) the ILO will release new global estimates about human trafficking. What we do know is that worldwide the number of human trafficking for sexual exploitation is by far the highest in comparison to labour exploitation.

In many conflicts around the world, sexual violence has been committed against women, men, girls and boys alike. Due to, amongst other things, stigma, shame and lack of trust in the legal system by victims, the magnitude of sexual violence in conflict situations is oftentimes not fully known. Although most of the times accurate data on the prevalence of conflict-related sexual violence is not available, the numbers of victims of sexual violence oftentimes run in the thousands (as was the case in Kosovo) to – more often – tens to hundreds of thousands of victims (as was the case in e.g. Asia and Europe during World War II and in Bangladesh, Cambodia, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda). As a matter of fact, a study into armed groups’ involvement in conflict-related sexual violence reported a total of 129 active conflicts in the period 1989-2009 alone. Another study also made clear that wartime rape is not specific to certain types of conflicts or to geographic regions: It occurs in ethnic and non-ethnic wars, in Africa and elsewhere. CRSV can be a “weapon of war”, ordered to take place on a massive scale, but CRSV can also be isolated events or taking place on a large scale being tolerated. In light of the usual underreporting of these crimes, the prevalence of sexual violence is alarming, although conclusive data on whether this crime is increasing, decreasing or staying the same are not available. Yet, more recently, empirical studies on the magnitude of conflict-related sexual violence have become available for some countries, such as the DRC, which gives a better understanding of the scale on which these crimes are taking place.

3. What are the similarities/links between human trafficking and conflict-related sexual violence?

Although both crimes are most of the times looked upon separately, there are many similarities to be found. One can think of the sexual nature that can be found in both crimes, the taboos and stigmas surrounding both crimes, the difficulty in defining the crimes, the focus on law enforcement (prosecution) rather than on prevention, prosecutorial challenges (e.g. protection, secondary victimization, reliance on victims’ testimonies), lack of comprehensibly understanding victims’ rights and needs, misconceptions about perpetrators and victims, and
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the fluidity of victim- and perpetrator roles, the consequences of both crimes (e.g. trauma, children born as a result), the causes and purposes of the crimes, to name a few. Both human trafficking and conflict-related sexual violence take place in times of peace, post-conflict and conflict; the crimes can take place at the same time or follow each other consecutively. In the context of mass migration, women and children affected by conflict, displacement or violent extremism are particularly at risk of falling prey to traffickers owing to the collapse of protective political, legal, economic and social systems.

The UN Secretary General in its report on conflict-related sexual violence of 15 April 2017 for the first time reported about the link between conflict-related violence and trafficking in persons. It was held that the term conflict-related sexual violence also encompasses trafficking in persons when committed in situations of conflict for the purpose of sexual violence/exploitation. Developments during the year 2016, including the rise in violent extremism and mass migration, drew attention to the attendant risk of trafficking in persons for the purpose of sexual violence/exploitation. In Resolution 2331 (2016) of 20 December 2016 of the UN Security Council was, moreover, the nexus between human trafficking, sexual violence, terrorism and transnational organized crime was for the first time addressed. With this resolution sexual violence as a tactic of terrorism was officially acknowledged.

4. How are human trafficking and conflict-related sexual violence different from each other? 

While human trafficking and conflict-related sexual violence have many similarities, there are also differences between both crimes. One of the differences is, for example, that whereas CRSV primarily concerns crimes of a sexual nature, human trafficking includes many other forms that are not sexual in nature, being labour exploitation, forced removal of organs, and, in the EU, forced begging and forced criminality.
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However, what needs to be noted, is that although CRSV is primarily sexual in nature, when sexual violence is, for example, committed in the form of sexual slavery/forced marriage/conjugal slavery, other non-sexual aspects come into play as well, such as forced labour and gender discrimination and here the crimes converge again. Another difference relate to the avenue for prosecution. While HT has initially been prosecuted on the national level, more developments in dealing with this crime can now be seen on the international level. For CRSV this goes the other way; attention and prosecution initially started on the international level (e.g. Tribunals) and this development now finds its way on the domestic level. A similar development can be witnessed for recognizing that both crimes can take place in times of peace and conflict. HT had for a long time been seen as a crime in the context of peace, while CRSV as a crime taking place in times of conflict only. However, with Resolution 2331 (2016) of 20 December 2016 of the UN Security Council and UN Secretary General in its report on conflict-related sexual violence of 15 April 2017 this division has been erased. For example, when CRSV is taking place as part of crimes against humanity (committed as part of a systematic and/or widespread attack against the civilian population), the CRSV can also occur during peace time. A third difference between HT and CRSV is that while HT can be considered a national, transnational and international crime, CRSV can be seen as a national and international crime. The similarities between both crimes are therefore more profound than its differences.

5. Who are the victims of human trafficking and conflict-related sexual violence and how do these crimes impact on their lives? 

Although media sometimes seems to give an impression otherwise, victims of human trafficking are not easily defined. While surely some factors make a person more vulnerable than others (e.g. poor economic situation, lack of or limited social network, lack of knowledge about rights or how to reach out, irregular status) there is no single profile for trafficking victims.
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Trafficking happens to adults and minors, men and women, in rural and urban communities, to foreigners as well as natives. Victims have diverse socio-economic backgrounds, varied levels of education, and may be documented or undocumented. Thus, it can virtually happen to each and every one of us, at any given time. Being trafficked may result in psychological and physical trauma. Also it can cause serious socio-economic damage: stigma, shame but also financial problems are among the often-heard consequences of being trafficked. Financial problems relate not only to unpaid salaries for the work performed but also to debts incurred as a result of the trafficking situation. Generally, victims of trafficking need to start over and rebuild their lives from scratch after the situation of exploitation. This is why support to victims of trafficking is of vital importance.

Victims of CRSV may similiarly not be who we expect them to be. Victims can be male or female; adults and children. They can be civilians, UN and humanitarian aid workers, child soldiers within armed groups or otherwise. It is important to see for each and every situation who the victims of CRSV are and not to think in stereotypes of victims, such as only women are victims of CRSV. If there can be any generality drawn about the impact of sexual violence on survivors, it is that the devastating consequences of such crimes continue long after hostilities have ended. Not only must survivors cope with the physical impact of CRSV (e.g. genital injuries, unwanted pregnancies, stomachaches, headaches, and back problems), but with long-term psychological trauma (e.g. feelings of hopelessness, anger and guilt, recurrent nightmares or intrusive memories of the event) and socio-economic damage (e.g. social isolation, stigma, shame, poverty). CRSV can attack victims individually as well as a society at large and may also constitute a threat to international peace and security. Where survivors of rape during conflict have experienced other crimes committed in the course of conflict, they are exposed to multiple traumas that can render healing a seemingly insurmountable challenge.

6. Who are the perpetrators of human trafficking and conflict-related sexual violence and why do they commit these crimes? 

Similar to the victims, no generalisations can be made about the perpetrators of human trafficking. Since there are many forms of exploitation (sexual exploitation, labour exploitation, forced organ removal, and – in the EU – forced criminality and forced begging) the trafficker is not easily defined. Everyone in the trafficking circle (from the bus driver to the exploiter) is considered a perpetrator of human trafficking. Traffickers can be
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lone individuals, family operations, small businesses, loose-knit decentralised criminal networks and international organized criminal organisations. There are two main reasons that drive human traffickers: human trafficking is a high profit and low risk crime. Much money can be made in trafficking human beings and the risk of being caught is low. This makes human trafficking a very lucrative business.

Perpetrators of CRSV may not be who we expect them to be. Perpetrators can be male or female; adults and children. They can be UN or government officials, militia members, rebels, terrorist and violent extremist groups, civilians or otherwise. It is important to see for each and every situation who the perpetrators are and not to think in stereotypes of perpetrators, such as only men are perpetrators of CRSV. CRSV against women and men is often carried out for many different reasons. One can think of the following reasons: to humiliate or degrade victims, to prevent procreation, to disempower, emasculate or feminize victims, to make people think the (male) victim is homosexual, to incentivize recruitment, to terrorize populations into compliance, to displace civilians from strategic areas, to elicit operational intelligence, to generate revenue, to be used as “wages of war” as gifts to fighters, to be used as human shields and suicide bombers, to eliminate a group, and so on.

7. What are the underlying causes for human trafficking and conflict-related sexual violence to occur?

Human traffickers prey on people who are hoping for a better life, lack employment opportunities, have an unstable home life or have a history of sexual or physical abuse. Traffickers promise a high paying job, a loving relationship or new and exciting opportunities and then use physical and psychological violence to control them.
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What may start as a voluntary act (agreeing to a promising job, getting into a relationship with a charming man or woman) can thus turn into a situation of exploitation. All of this is done with the sole purpose of making as much profit off the backs of others.

For each and every situation it needs to be seen what the underlying causes are for CRSV to take place. The causes can oftentimes be found in a combination of the following factors: militarized masculinity, opportunity, substitution (that sexual violence ‘substitutes’ for sex with, for instance, prostitutes), patriarchal culture, gender norms devaluating women in peace time crossing over in conflict time, even more strongly, and poverty, amongst others.

8. Can human trafficking and conflict-related sexual violence be prevented, and if so, how? 

Human trafficking can be prevented but it is going to be a long battle. Raising more awareness and learning more about the phenomenon can contribute to preventing the crime. Going after the perpetrators is an important element of prevention too. As mentioned before, human trafficking is a high profit and low risk crime, which makes it a lucrative business.
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In order to prevent it, trafficking needs to evolve into a low profit and high-risk crime. To realise this, much more action should be undertaken to ensure that perpetrators are successfully prosecuted and that they are hit where it hurts most, in their pocket. Ensure high compensations for victims, confiscating assets that are the result of the trafficking situation, can all contribute to preventing the crime.

The answer to this question is yes; CRSV can be prevented, although the cases in which CRSV has not been perpetrated are still quite rare. According to Wood, CRSV can be prevented “where the organization prohibits sexual violence and effectively enforces that decision through a tightly controlled military hierarchy in which punishment is swift and severe,” which was the case with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam of Sri Lanka. This finding is hopeful as it makes clear that CRSV is not an inevitable product of conflict and can be prevented. Commanders in effective control of their troops are legally liable for CRSV that they fail or refuse to prevent or stop from taking place. Other ways of preventing CRSV include: changing norms, creating safer spaces, improving reporting, ending impunity, mitigating sexual violence after conflict, increasing the focus on individual perpetrators and their backgrounds, and by fostering military and public cultures in which perpetrators of sexual violence are exposed and condemned. Surely more will need to be understood about how to prevent CRSV as prevention is the key for these crimes not to take place any longer.

9. How is human trafficking and conflict-related sexual violence addressed? 

To address human trafficking, the UN Palermo Protocol and additional documents have adopted a 4-P Approach (i.e. Prosecution, Protection, Prevention and Partnership). It means that in order to address human trafficking States that have ratified the Palermo Protocol first and foremost need to criminalise human trafficking and to prosecute the crime as well as to take measures to prevent it.
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At the same time States need to offer protection in the form of support and assistance to victims of human trafficking. Finally, in order to effectively combat (and prevent) human trafficking, States are further urged to cooperate with others and to close partnerships. As trafficking does not respect borders, an effective and comprehensive approach to combat the crime includes international cooperation. The extent to which these measures are realised in practice varies among States, depending on available capacity, institutional structures and political will. Still much can be achieved in this respect. UNDOC supports States to implement the UN Palermo Protocol.

CRSV is prosecuted on the international and national level. For example, international criminal tribunals, such as the Rwanda, Yugoslav, Sierra Leone and Cambodia Tribunals, have prosecuted high level officials for rape and other forms of sexual violence as genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. The permanent International Criminal Court also does so. These developments, coupled with other global initiatives such as the publication of an ‘International Protocol on the Documentation and Investigation of Sexual Violence in Conflict’ (Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative, UK FCO) which aims to support national and international investigations of sexual violence as well as the (slight increase in) national prosecutions of sexual violence in several countries where conflict-related sexual violence was committed, are promising. In addition to these legal mechanisms, also non-legal mechanisms are available to address CRSV and include Truth and Reconciliation Commissions (e.g. South-Africa, Peru, Sierra Leone), mock-tribunals (e.g. Women’s Tribunal in Tokyo), transitional justice mechanisms (e.g. gacaca in Rwanda) and Commissions of Inquiry (e.g. Libya, Guinea).

10. What can YOU do to prevent and address human trafficking and conflict-related sexual violence?

There are several things you can do to prevent and/or address human trafficking and conflict-related sexual violence. For example, you can address the issue by talking about it to friends and family to create awareness or by discussing it via social media, in a school paper or opinion pieces in the newspaper.
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You can be cautious about the products you buy and make others aware that many goods we use are made at the expense of others. You can try to get attention for both topics by raising its importance at schools for them to include the topics in their curricula. You can engage with the political leaders in your country, or even at the EU and UN level. You can also always get in touch with us and we can think of a plan how to act against these scourges together. We can all ACT and make a PACT to create an IMPACT!