New deal to update the Anti-trafficking Directive: Significant improvements for women’s protection announced

The European Women’s Lobby (EWL) welcomes the agreement reached this week by the European Parliament, the Council and the European Commission to update the 2011 Anti-Trafficking Directive. We congratulate the (co)-rapporteurs of the European Parliament in achieving notable progress for the protection of women and girls affected by this form of violence.

[Brussels, 25 January 2024] Taking into account the significant limitations of the General Agreement adopted by the Council when compared to the initial ambitious proposal made by the European Parliament, it is with relief that the European Women’s Lobby acknowledges the expansion of the scope of the Anti-Trafficking Directive which will now include forced marriage, illegal adoption and exploitation of surrogacy.

The online dimension of trafficking should also be tackled as the rapporteurs announced that the non-consensual dissemination of videos and images of a sexual nature can be taken into account by judges as an aggravating circumstance when handing out sentences and that, more generally, trafficking in human beings committed or facilitated through information and communication technologies, including internet and social media, will become an aggravating circumstance when it relates to sexual exploitation leading to higher penalties.

Better support for victims is also foreseen in the final text with facilitated procedures regarding asylum and residence status, international protection as well as mandating a gender-, disability- and child-sensitive approach in the provision of these services. Moreover, prosecutors will be able to choose to not prosecute victims of trafficking for criminal acts they were coerced into committing and Member States are asked to step up their efforts by guaranteeing the appointment of a national coordinator against trafficking and mandated to develop national action plans on this matter.

While we strongly regret that the initial proposal made by the European Parliament to criminalise the purchase of sexual acts from victims of trafficking was vetoed by the Council, we take heed of the inclusion of this reference in one of the recitals and hope that this is a first step towards further developments to end demand and protect all women and girls from sexual exploitation.

Similarly, while it is a pity that the Council opposed the removal of the criteria of the “knowing use” when receiving any act from a victim of trafficking, the European Women’s Lobby urges Member States to pursue their reflection on this matter as this clause hinders the prosecution of exploiters and prevents victims of trafficking to get protection and justice.

As 51% of trafficking in the European Union is for the purpose of sexual exploitation and as 87% of those sexually exploited are women, EWL counts on all Member States to implement the measures included in the updated Directive as soon as possible. We call on the Member States to be more ambitious to effectively address demand by considering adopting the Equality Model, including the criminalisation of the purchase of sexual acts and by removing the “knowing use” criteria from their national legislation as was done by Cyprus.

Let’s make a Europe free from sexual exploitation for women and girls a reality!

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EWL event "Progress towards a Europe free from all forms of male violence" to mark the 10th aniversary of the Istanbul Convention, 12 May 2021.

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