Elizabeth is the fictional name of a teenage girl who was sold at the age of 12 for the price of a few beers to be sexually exploited and who was trafficked between Burundi and Tanzania. In a bar in Argentina, the plastic bracelets some women wore showed the number of men they had been forced to have sex with.
These painful examples are just a small sample of the horror experienced by tens of thousands of women and children around the world, including in our country. For this reason, every year on the occasion of the International Day against Sexual Exploitation and Trafficking of Women, Girls and Boys, which we celebrate today, September 23, it is important to recall the data and facts provided by national and international institutions and organizations, because behind each from these numbers lies a story as terrible as those that are the occasion of this article.
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) provides eloquent figures in this regard: human trafficking is a global phenomenon (the UN collects data from 152 countries, 94 percent of the world’s population) and, although very diverse, trafficking for sexual exploitation represents 50 percent of all forms of trafficking and its victims, up to 92 percent of whom are women and girls.
If we focus on Europe, 72 percent of victims of all forms of trafficking and 92 percent of victims of trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation are women and girls. In Spain, these same percentages between 2017 and 2020 are 59 and 93 percent, respectively; If we talk exclusively about victims of sexual exploitation, without talking about the crime of trafficking, during this same period up to 97 percent of the victims were women and girls.
In addition to the percentages, it is important to give concrete data that paint in our heads how many girls like Elizabeth and how many women like those from the bar in Argentina exist in our cities: last year the National Police and the Civil Guard freed 1,056 victims of trafficking networks and crimes of sexual or labor exploitation, including two minor girls. Victims freed from human trafficking networks for the purpose of sexual exploitation were 136 and victims rescued from situations of sexual exploitation were 355. Actions by the two bodies also enabled the identification of 4,704 people at risk of prostitution. That’s what we’re talking about.
Therefore, today is a day to stop and reflect. First of all, we are talking about a crime with a huge gender dimension, based on the well-known structural inequality on which all societies on the planet are based, and which gives rise to violence as terrible as that reported by survivors of sexual exploitation. That is why it is urgently necessary to strengthen international cooperation, first to put an end to one of the most profitable criminal businesses in the world; and secondly, to improve the living conditions of women and girls, whose situation of inequality makes them extremely vulnerable.
Second, it is essential to listen to survivors and their testimonies, because they are the ones who can give us the context to fight against these crimes; They need to feel our protection and encouragement as a society to break the chain of fear and blackmail they are subjected to. And, of course, we must protect them, end their stigma and provide them with opportunities for a new life.
We must also continue to work to end impunity for those who despicably exploit women and girls and make those willing to pay to think twice because sexual exploitation would not exist if there was no one to pay for it .
We must continue to support the state security forces and corps so that they can continue the magnificent work they do to prevent, detect and prosecute crimes that have worsened with the pandemic and spread online thanks to the global use of technology. Likewise, Spain, a modern country with a society based on the recognition of human rights, must equip itself with the necessary legislative tools to end one of the worst forms of slavery in the 21st century.
Also extremely important is the work of awareness and social attention that the entities of the third social sector develop and to which from the regional government we support with different lines of help, within our reduced scope of competence on this matter, from which we pay attention and of the victims.
It is true that from our reality it can sometimes be difficult for us to imagine the ordeal of abuse and violence that victims of trafficking and sexual exploitation go through; the filth of places where women, girls and boys are sexually exploited or the vulnerability and desperation of those who seek a better life or who are said to have just arrived in this world and yet are already victims of organized networks or unscrupulous people who have no problem destroying the lives of creatures…
It is hard to imagine, but we cannot close our eyes to the reality that we have an obligation to fight individually, because as humans we are united with the rest of humanity; and collectively, because we must not continue to allow the pain and suffering of thousands of women and children to continue in the darkest corners of our society, through which mafias and criminals move.
The challenge is great, but the greater the challenge, the more necessary it is for us to raise our heads, clench our fists and teeth, strengthen our spirit and move forward, without fear, without fainting and without stopping to do so, which should. By the way, at the age of 16, Elizabeth was able to return home to Burundi with her family.
Blanca Fernandez Morena
Minister for Equality and Spokesperson for the Government of Castilla-La Mancha