South-Eastern Europe addresses trafficking in persons for sexual exploitation

11-12 May 2022, Dubrovnik, Croatia: UNODC held a reginal conference on “Improving Response to Trafficking in Person for Sexual Exploitation, especially Women and Girls, through Addressing Demand in South Eastern Europe” attended by 50 anti-human trafficking experts from around 20 countries and territories to discuss measures to tackle sex trafficking in South Eastern Europe by focusing on the demand that fuels sexual exploitation.

Regular research, conducted by UNODC, consistently shows that the most detected form of human trafficking is for the purpose of sexual exploitation - with the majority of victims being women and girls. “Demand is the bridge between the victim and the trafficker – without the demand, there would not be the supply,” said the Head of UNODC’s Global Programmes against Trafficking in Persons and Smuggling of Migrants. “Traditional counter-trafficking strategies focus on prevention activities aimed at reducing the vulnerability of potential victims. But, today, it is clear that effective strategies need to include demand reduction. We need to fight this crime from all sides,” she added.

Diane Martin, a survivor of trafficking who was sexually exploited in her late teens in London and the Middle East, told the conference participants that “now is the time to focus on demand that fuels and sustains the oppressive system of prostitution and sex trafficking”. She has spent the past 25 years supporting women to exit prostitution and rebuild their lives and is the Vice President of the International Survivors of Trafficking Advisory Council.

Considering that South Eastern Europe registers high levels of domestic trafficking and is a constant source of victims who are trafficked to Western and Southern Europe, countries of origin, transit, and destination for trafficking of victims from South Eastern and other parts of Europe were represented at the event.

Law enforcement officers, prosecutors, judges, and representatives from anti-human trafficking units, as well as civil society, academia, ministerial offices, and the private sector who were present at the event discussed not only what is working but also focused on the challenges and obstacles and how to improve cooperation.   

The UNODC regional conference was organized in cooperation with the Office for Human Rights and Rights of National Minorities of the Government of the Republic of Croatia and OSCE and was funded by the Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs of France, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Sweden, and sponsored by the City of Dubrovnik.

This activity contributes to SDG 16, particularly Target 16.2 to end abuse, exploitation, trafficking and all forms of violence against and torture of children.