Immigrant Council calls for gender-specific legal, housing and psychological supports for survivors of sex trafficking


– Best-practice guide on supporting trafficked migrant women launched in Dublin today –

Survivors of sex trafficking need a range of tailored gender-specific supports to integrate into the societies in which they live. That’s according to the Immigrant Council of Ireland, which today (24.11.20) launched a best-practice guide on supporting women who have been trafficked into EU countries for sexual exploitation.

The principles were developed by the member organisations of ASSIST, a European project led by the Immigrant Council, which includes partner agencies from Scotland, Germany, Spain, Italy and Belgium.

Launching the guide, Dr. Nusha Yonkova, Gender and Anti-Trafficking Expert at the Immigrant Council, said it was necessary to adopt a “gender-specific approach” in supporting trafficked women. Human trafficking is a recognised form of gender-based violence and sexual exploitation is the most widely spread form of trafficking, with the highest economic and social cost, she said.

“Women and girls are the primary target  of traffickers in Europe, and they are primarily trafficked for sexual exploitation,” she said. “This means we must adopt gender-specific anti-trafficking measures, and support trafficked women and girls to come forward and reclaim their lives.

“The ASSIST project is working to develop gender-specific legal assistance and practical supports for trafficked migrant women, in order to contribute towards their integration. Our work addresses their specific legal needs; the availability and accessibility of material assistance and safe and appropriate housing; specialised psychological support; access to training and employment; and overall integration supports. Survivors of trafficking play a central role in this project, providing us with insights and advice borne from their personal experiences, and participating in peer-to-peer support programmes.”

The best-practice guide developed by ASSIST highlights key areas of support for survivors of sex trafficking, with recommendations included for each area:

1. Access to assistance:

  • It is important that women are treated as victims of crime before any restrictive migration framework is applied to their case, and that their right to claim international protection is not conditioned in any way.
  • The assessment of the age of young survivors of trafficking must eliminate any risk of further abuse and sexualisation, for example by accommodating young girls within mixed-gender adult establishments, such as homeless shelters or asylum hostels.

2. Specialised legal assistance:

  • Gender-specific legal assistance plays a central role in the integration process.
  • Trafficked women need holistic legal representation in light of the myriad problems they face and the complex assistance regimes they negotiate.
  • Trafficked women must have legal representation to help them navigate the complex assistance regimes in place in EU States.

3. Attention to motherhood and children:

  • Having had a child while prostituted or having been forced to abandon a child could be a cause of depression and stigma for the mother. Some trafficked women have fears with regard to children left in their country of origin, which can act as a barrier to their cooperation with investigating authorities. In some cases, assistance with mothering skills and psychological counselling, both for the mother and child, are required. These factors must be incorporated into assistance considerations.
  • The pressure on a mother to provide for her child increases the risk of relapse into exploitation, and this must be taken into account in the provision of material assistance.

4. Safe and appropriate accommodation:

  • Accommodation supports for sex trafficking survivors is best provided by staff trained in responding to sexual abuse, rape or domestic violence.
  • Mixed-gender accommodation settings should be avoided. Accommodation should be safe, secure and geared towards the recovery of the woman in question without risk of further exploitation or unwanted attention from traffickers or members of the public.

5. Psychological assistance:

  • Trafficked women have been exposed to a complex mix of abuse, betrayal, domination and control, and the rates of post-traumatic stress disorder are high. Recovery from sexual violence is at the core of their psychological needs. Appropriate psychology and psychotherapy supports must be made available to survivors to help them overcome the traumatic experiences they have endured.

6. Medical assistance:

  • The medical needs of survivors of trafficking have parallels with women in prostitution and survivors of rape, so there is merit in resourcing existing medical services to respond to women recovering from trafficking for sexual exploitation.
  • Consideration also needs to be given to the communication between hospital staff and trafficked women who do not speak English.

7. Training and education:

  • Childcare provision is essential to allow trafficking survivors to participate in training and education.
  • Assistance should be geared towards long-term integration and economic independence.

8. Borrowing good practice from other areas of response to violence against women:

  • Existing relevant support infrastructures for violence against women should be resourced to cater for trafficked women and girls. Shelters, counselling centres, professional codes of practice and best practice approaches in achieving recovery from assault and abuse can be additionally funded and adapted for trafficked women.

9. Feminist independent services:

  • Independent, specialist, feminist organisations with all-female and woman-centred staff are best equipped to design and implement recovery interventions. The expertise of established service providers specialising in gendered crimes against women may be invaluable for trafficked women.

10. Incorporating the voices of survivors and peer-to-peer support:

  • Trafficked women should have a say in the process of assistance.
  • The language used among practitioners assisting women should include and emphasise the term ‘survivor’.
  • Involving survivors in the delivery of services to trafficked women provides positive role models and helps  trafficked women avoid stigmatisation.
  • Support by peers strengthens the resilience of survivors  and prevents re-trafficking.

“Women who have survived particularly vicious abuse and exploitation are fundamentally strong individuals who can recover their ability to fend for themselves if they are given the right supports,” said Dr. Yonkova. “To date, however, Ireland has performed poorly in this regard. We are currently on the ‘Tier 2 watchlist’ of the US State Department’s annual global Trafficking in Persons report, which means we are not meeting even the minimum standards for supporting people who have been trafficked.

“There have been notable moves by the Government to address this in 2020, and we are looking forward to working with all relevant stakeholders on the continued improvement of Ireland’s responses. We must begin to treat human trafficking as a form of gender-based violence, and use this approach to inform compassionate, survivor-centred responses. We hope legislators and policymakers will draw on the best practices described in this new guide to make real strides in how we, as a country,  support trafficked women.”


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