When we talk about human trafficking, we are possibly facing one of the most clandestine crimes in our society, being a reality all over the world, including countries of origin, transit and destination. We must bear in mind that the main structural factors that are part of trafficking are capitalism, the feminization of poverty, migration and racism, among others.
Different organizations advocate for improved detection, and comprehensive and specialized care for people who suffer from trafficking in all its forms. This is needed especially for women and girls, since, in much more extreme situations, as in the case of forced migration, gender inequality is aggravated, and causes most women to end up as victims of machista violence and/or trafficking for sexual exploitation. Lack of opportunities and resources, and the responsibilities they feel and have towards their families mean that economically and socio-culturally disadvantaged women and girls face a greater risk of being exploited by others. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) estimates that there are at least 2.5 million victims of human trafficking and according to the same source, approximately 79% of all human trafficking has the purpose of sexual exploitation.
According to the latest Global Report on Human Trafficking 2020, female representation has been increasing: out of every ten victims detected worldwide, about five are adult women and two are girls. However, we are facing a serious lack of visibility of the female collective in these circumstances and we are facing a socio-cultural naturalization of violence against women, which causes trafficking for sexual exploitation purposes to remain a taboo crime even at the border.
In the case of Melilla and Ceuta, the number of women who jump the fence is negligible, as they tend to be very exceptional cases. So how do these women get to the border from their countries? We must think about the alternatives they have to resort to in order to migrate, and about situations of forced violence they may find themselves in just because they are women, which adds to their vulnerability. The probability of dying at sea, with their children in their arms, is so high that many women join the trafficking networks knowing what awaits them, being aware that this is the only way to reach the destination country alive. But there is a clear problem, as journalist Patricia Simón mentioned in 2019 during her visit to Melilla: "Administrations are much more focused on generating discourse against trafficking and prostitution than on fighting its causes: inequality, racism, colonialism and borders".
What is observed at the Spanish border is mainly a denial of trafficking, and a lack of coordination between institutions, organizations and the UCRIF (Central Unit for Illegal Immigration Networks and Documentary Forgery - unit of the National Police) to actually detect and identify human trafficking. This work at the border should be done by specialized and well trained units to prevent the women from continuing in the trafficking networks when they are transferred to the mainland. Women who are in real danger should be transferred urgently and with comprehensive care by specialized organizations. Common misperception is thinking that women manage to escape the trafficking network by paying their debt. The reality is that women flee without the slightest protection, risking their lives and physical integrity (and that of their children, if there are any). For this reason, it is crucial to provide specific training to the different border professionals who work on migration issues, since we are talking about women, and sometimes about girls who are totally unprotected and in a situation of extreme vulnerability. We should not forget that the victims of trafficking arrive with traumatic experiences that often cause them to remain in a spiral of fear, to the point of not identifying themselves as victims of trafficking or not even being aware of it.
Some of them do initiate complaint procedures to obtain asylum, but in many cases they end up withdrawing it. And it is at this point that an exhaustive follow-up should begin, as it means that the woman is likely to continue to be coerced and in direct contact with the traffickers. Prostitution in Ceuta and Melilla is another reality that can lead us to identify this type of cases, together with the indicators managed by the organizations and through the follow-up of consumers.
There is also something that plays against providing a solution to this situation. The most characteristic arguments regarding the tightening of laws and border control policies is precisely the need to fight against human trafficking mafias. But it is these same laws that, according to the United Nations, mean more profits for traffickers, even more so in times of the covid-19 pandemic and border closures. The excuse of human trafficking and smuggling to tighten immigration control is something that is too integrated into the political discourse and is undeniably making an impact on public opinion. If we continue with dehumanizing migration policies, increasing security measures at borders, all lacking a cross-cutting gender perspective, the fight against this illicit business will be increasingly difficult, complicating detection and thus complicating giving women and girls the opportunity for a dignified life.