Sex Trafficking, forced and voluntary prostitution, and Freedom’s response

Sex trafficking

We are witnessing the largest global movement of refugees and migrants since World War Two. The particularly easy exploitation of those escaping high levels of poverty, persecution, conflict and organized crime has led to the understanding that migration routes are mirroring flows of trafficking in human beings.

A simplified portrayal of trafficking (often used by human rights activists) is that of individuals being recruited, transported or maintained by force or coercion, and used as commodities for the profit of others. This severe violation of human rights has culminated in a $150 billion illicit industry and more slaves in the world today than ever before. The guesstimate is 21 million, of which 22 percent are sexually exploited.

The complicated and controversial relationship between migration and sexual labour has led other activists against trafficking to replace the term ‘sex trafficking victim’ with ‘sex worker’ to depict migrant prostitution as a form of instrumental action against extreme terrorism and oppressive gender norms in the country of origin for example, and restrictive migration regimes that force reliance on traffickers. These activists emphasize the right of individuals to control their own bodies and employment decisions.

It is argued that failure to understand sex trafficking as a broader pattern of interconnecting factors beyond that of the over-simplified victim stereotype will:
•  Scupper attempts to change the behaviours of those buying and selling sex.
• Perpetuate anti-trafficking motivations that can be more about moral positioning, than appropriate and effective responses.
• Perpetuate reactive responses (such as criminalisation and deportation) that not only fall short of their goals, but exacerbate the vulnerability of those they aim to rescue.

Forced and voluntary prostitution

Forced prostitution occurs when an individual is forced to submit to sexual labour under the power of the mafia, a pimp or oppressive family figure, for example. Voluntary Prostitution describes an individual resorting to sex work through drug addiction or poverty, for example.  Up to 90% of those in forced and voluntary prostitution have already been sexually abused as children.

The problem in Spain, and Freedom’s response

In hosting the highest European population buying sex daily, Spain is acknowledged as a key driver in the demand for, and consequent sexual exploitation of female illegal immigrants.  Freedom represents and responds to the needs of sex workers who are trafficked to Spain, or in forced or voluntary prostitution.  Our person-centred and conciliatory approach is helping to bring greater aspects of freedom into their lives.  Alongside, we aim to increase awareness of the realities of sex work, and therefore more appropriate and effective objectives and support practices.


What is debt bondage?
The majority of individuals enter sexual labour in three ways: They’re trafficked (often involving debt bondage), forced by an authority figure or volunteer in difficult circumstances.  Debt bondage describes the obligation of the trafficked sex worker to pay a debt (often between €40-60,000) to her trafficker.  Legal documents are retained, and sex workers and their families live under threat of violent repercussions until the debt is paid.  Sometimes it is increased.

What are the risks associated with sexual labour?
Sexual labour has devastating consequences, including social isolation, long-term physical and psychological trauma, disease (including HIV/AIDS), substance abuse, unwanted pregnancy, malnutrition and cervical cancer.

Who is at risk of sex trafficking?
Anyone can be sex-trafficked, but certain groups of individuals are especially vulnerable:
• Migrant populations, homeless, runaways, ex-foster care.
• Victims or witnesses of sexual abuse (for example, rape, incest, pornography).
• Those living with addiction or under oppression.

How can I help?
Please see what we do and  become involved. 

Key references
European Commission. (2012). An E.U. Strategy towards the eradication of trafficking in Human Beings (2012-2016).
Farley, M., et al. (2004). Prostitution and Trafficking in Nine Countries: Update on Violence and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. Journal of Trauma Practice 2 (3-4): 33–74.
Group of Experts on Action Against Trafficking in Human Beings. (2016). Report concerning the implementation of the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings by the United Kingdom. Second Evaluation Round. Council of Europe.
House of Commons. (2016). The House of Commons Home Affairs Committee. Prostitution. Third Report of Session 2016–17.
International Labour Organization. (2012). Global Estimate of Forced Labour: Results and Methodology. International Labour Office, Special Action Programme to Combat Forced Labour.
Plan Integral. (2015-2018). Plan Integral de Lucha Contra la Trata de Mujeres y Niṅas con Fines de Explotación Sexual. Ministerio de Sanidad, Servicios Sociales e Igualdad.
Red Espaṅol Contra la Trata de Personas. (2015). Spanish Network Against Trafficking in Persons. Report by the Spanish network against trafficking in persons for the European Coordinator against Trafficking.
United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. (2016). Global Report on Trafficking in Persons.
United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. (2017). Human Trafficking.
United States Department of State. (2016). Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report.