Applying Gender-Sensitive Approaches in Combating Trafficking in Human Beings

Applying Gender-Sensitive Approaches in Combating Trafficking in Human Beings

Applying Gender-Sensitive Approaches in Combating Trafficking in Human Beings

Executive Summary

By ratifying the international instruments related to combating trafficking in human beings (THB) and adopting the OSCE commitments regarding the same, all of the OSCE’s 57 participating States have committed themselves to implementing gender-sensitive approaches to combating THB. While these instruments take into account the fact that trafficking affects women, men, girls and boys, in none of the legal or policy anti-trafficking instruments is there clear guidance about what a gender-sensitive approach entails. Moreover, current approaches are fragmented, as they do not cover all aspects of the crime of THB or responses as related to gender.

This Occasional Paper is based on findings from a multi-method research project (hereinafter the Study), which included surveys, expert interviews and expert group meetings carried out with participants from more than half of the OSCE’s participating States (36). By bringing together the voices of survivors, anti-trafficking experts, service providers and law enforcement, this paper provides a broad account of gender aspects in THB. It also offers a basis for discussion about possible ways to apply gender-sensitive approaches. Supplementing the data from the Study, desk research and an analysis of existing literature on the topic of THB and gender has demonstrated that behind the term “gender-sensitive approaches”, there are a number of elements related to the crime of THB and responses to it that are still concealed by gender stereotyping.

The paper therefore explores a range of gender aspects that are often not addressed in existing prevention, protection and prosecution strategies. Taking into account both the promising practices and problem areas that have been identified during the Study, the following steps are recommended for ensuring that policies and programmes undertaken in response to THB are truly effective:

Political will and advocacy

To support the identification of both male and female victims in non-corresponding trafficking sectors, as well as to respond to their specific needs and address their vulnerabilities, it is urgent to garner political will and provide support to all victim groups through the three pillars of prevention, protection and prosecution. It is also important to invest in supporting gender equality to tackle the root causes of trafficking, such as gender discrimination, gender-based violence and other gender-related risk factors.

Data collection and research

Lack of data on the role played by gender in different forms of trafficking impacts the ability of policy-makers to develop adequate prevention, protection and prosecution strategies. It is therefore important to establish proactive mechanisms to gather gender-disaggregated data, especially with regard to under-researched forms of trafficking. Continued research on gender aspects of THB can also play a key role in supporting the development of adequate prevention, protection and prosecution strategies that match the actual experiences of trafficking victims and their needs.

Capacity building

Gender biases and stereotypes make certain victim profiles and forms of trafficking less visible. Lack of knowledge and methods to deal with this hinders adequate prevention and detection work. It is therefore critical to increase the knowledge of anti-trafficking actors to strengthen their ability to identify non-ideal victim profiles and adequately respond to the needs of all victims, whether female or male, in line with States’ gender-related obligations and commitments.

Comprehensive intersectional and non-discriminatory approach

Gender alone does not determine whether a person is at risk of being trafficked. It is thus important to look at other intersecting factors, such as age, disability, illness, substance abuse, homelessness, ethnicity or racial belonging, and sexual orientation. It is also important to address the risk of double victimization that occurs as a result of victim-blaming attitudes and discrimination in the delivery of assistance and justice. This can be done by combating stereotypes and designing assistance programmes based on the actual needs of victims, taking into account multiple factors impacting the individual’s wellbeing.

Awareness-raising and education

Stereotypical representation in anti-trafficking campaigns can be detrimental, not only to identifying all victims, but also to the victims themselves. It is therefore essential to develop campaigns that do not reinforce the image of the ideal victim, but instead include aspects of gender that often remain unaccounted for in awareness-raising. It is also important to educate on harmful and positive masculinities in order to promote engagement and tackle stereotypes.

Organizational changes in the criminal justice sector

Last but not least, the lack of adequate gender-sensitive approaches throughout the criminal justice process has an impact on the treatment of victims and the outcome of prosecution cases. All efforts should be made to strengthen training of law enforcement and judicial professionals in victim-centred and gender-sensitive approaches, and to promote female representation in criminal justice systems to improve interactions with both male and female victims. Developing comprehensive gender-sensitive prevention, protection and prosecution strategies is of paramount importance to ensure that no victim, regardless of the form of exploitation, is left behind, and that no form of trafficking, regardless of the number and gender of the victims affected, is unaddressed. It is also important to remember that such a holistic approach does not involve a visibility competition between different groups of victims, but is rather a way to ensure that all victims receive adequate protection and justice. Over the last 15 years, the share of detected male victims of trafficking has more than doubled. They now represent 35% of detected trafficking victims worldwide.3 However, increased attention to the needs of men and boys or other persons who do not fit the ideal victim profile should not imply a reduced space for addressing the needs of women and girls and tackling the most identified forms of trafficking on the ground. Trafficking cases present different gender markers, since the needs of victims differ according to a number of factors including their gender and the form of exploitation they have been exposed to. These needs permeate all areas of prevention, protection and prosecution. To break the trafficking cycle, anti-trafficking responses must be designed accordingly. While acknowledging that there are not only financial and political limitations, but also complexities in the practical implementation of a gender-sensitive approach, gender considerations cannot be dissociated from responses to THB and should be incorporated meaningfully into all anti-trafficking efforts.

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