Trafficking in human beings is a hideous human rights violation
and one of the most lucrative activities for criminal organisations
worldwide. It occurs for various purposes, including forced labour,
criminality and organ removal. In Europe, trafficking for sexual
exploitation is by far the most widespread form: an estimated 84%
of victims are trafficked for this purpose.
Efforts to tackle trafficking in human beings have intensified
in the last decade but remain insufficient. As transnational trafficking
represents the greatest part of this phenomenon, harmonisation of
legal standards and effective international co-operation in criminal
matters are crucial to succeed in the fight against human trafficking.
The lack of reliable and comparable data on prostitution and trafficking
in Europe is a major barrier to making and implementing effective
policies against trafficking for purposes of sexual exploitation.
Creating a Europe-wide data collection system on prostitution and
trafficking is therefore crucial. As a pan-European organisation,
the Council of Europe has an important role to play in promoting
such a data collection system.
Some Council of Europe member States have drawn up prostitution
regulations and policies aimed at countering trafficking by curbing
the demand for victims. This is true of Sweden, together with Iceland
and Norway. The “Swedish approach”, based on criminalising the purchase
of sexual services, is currently under consideration by legislators
in several European countries as a possible tool for tackling trafficking.
While each system presents advantages and disadvantages, policies
prohibiting the purchase of sexual services are those that are more
likely to have a positive impact on reducing trafficking in human
beings. Irrespective of the legal approach adopted, prostitution
regulations should include harm-reduction measures aimed at countering
the negative effects of prostitution on the people involved and
supporting those who wish to leave the sex industry.