Eva Biaudet's speach at theConference on How to Enhance assistance to Victims of HumanTrafficking

Eva Biaudet's speach at theConference on How to Enhance assistance to Victims of HumanTrafficking

Eva Biaudet
Ombudsman for Minorities /National rapporteur on trafficking in human beings
Conference on How to Enhance assistance to Victims of HumanTrafficking in the Baltic Sea Region 19.3.2014

Permanent secretary
EU antitrafficking coordinator
Ladies and Gentlemen

Only two days ago the Helsinki Court of Appeal gave a sentence on a serious human trafficking of a 17 year old girl here in Helsinki. That deserves our attention today. In particular I would like to point out the reasons why the Court convicted the traffickers for aggravated human trafficking. The judgment shows how the Court considered all relevant factors that made the victim vulnerable to abuse. The court also took into account the circumstances she was brought into and the consequences of the exploitation to the victim. All these aspects are important from the human rights perspective. The case was truly grave: the victim was underage, traffickers used violence against her and she was misled about the nature of her travel from Romania to Finland and she was kept in hunger.

The Court took into account the young age of the victim, the big amount of clients, 200-300, and the fact that the basic needs of the child: food, protection and security had not been met, as well as the psychological and physical harm caused by the exploitation.

The Finnish National Rapporteur welcomes this court judgment but at the same we are worried about the fact the Finnish criminal justice system seemingly has great difficulties in identifying and dealing with more subtle means of human trafficking, such as abuse of a position of vulnerability or power. In Finland, at the moment only the most serious and cruel offences are considered as fulfilling the elements of human trafficking. This means that most of them who actually also would need our help eventually drop out from the official system of victim assistance and the protective methods of the criminal justice system that could prevent re-trafficking. 

The flip side of the coin has to do with, in my view, the fact that the sentences in sex-trafficking cases often are quite low. The Penal Code allows for the courts to apply big discrepancies in sentencing the perpetrators of human trafficking. This recent court decision hence for the first time also gave cause to some public debate about the consequences for those who have committed an offence of human trafficking. 

Under the Finnish Penal Code, the sentence for human trafficking varies from 4 months to maximum of 6 years of or 2 to 10 years in aggravated cases. It seems rare that the court apply sentences even close to the legal maximum possible. In this case, where this 17 year old girl have been repeatedly so heavily violated, in fact raped hundreds of times, and enslaved for months the traffickers were sentenced with four years and a few months of prison. There is hence good reason to ask ourselves, what kind of even more serious human trafficking crimes could there be, to fulfil the intention of the lawmakers for giving prison sentences closer to the maximum, or even half of the max? The Finnish National Rapporteur also considers it very important that those committing human trafficking also are simultaneously convicted for other sexual offences, such as sexual exploitation of a minor and rape, as they are responsible for all exploitative acts This important not only because of the sentences but also of the level of compensation. 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Assisting Victims of Human Trafficking is a challenging task for all. To see the situation from the perspective of the victim, ensuring her or his rights are protected, is demanding. It takes a particular effort, and particular skills, enabling us to see the vulnerability, the dependency, the lack of trust and awareness of rights or better prospects, the distrust in authorities, the circumstances and the history that create vulnerability, the ill health -- all the factors that are difficult for the victim to express without a security and trust and viable future alternatives. It is important that the victim feels empowered and safe to make decisions on participation in criminal investigations.

This safety can be put aside by the authorities in every stage of the criminal investigation. Too often we hear about criminal investigation where these vulnerabilities, abuses and urgent need for help are not heard or responded to. The court proceedings where the victims are forced to face and even approached by the alleged perpetrators may actually cause secondary victimization and destroy the case. Anyone of us can imagine what effect this could have on a vulnerable and abused victim.

I am therefore sad to say that the identification and referral to the system of victim assistance and protection is unfortunately not something we here in Finland can take international credit for. We have worked hard with the official assistance system to lower the threshold for victims to enter to assistance, and big progress has been made. Joutseno reception center, which is responsible for coordinating the victim assistance worked hard in this field to improve procedures, make processes more transparent and accepting referrals from different actors. Nevertheless, we do face serious problems.

The National Rapporteur has in our annual reports, pointed out the obvious defect in the system that victims have become sexually exploited in Finland are rarely referred to the assistance system. Although the Rapporteur is happy to see that so many economically exploited migrant workers find the services of the system of victim assistance it is exceptional from the international perspective that so few sexually exploited victims are, in fact, identified and assisted. The Finnish National Rapporteur does consider that this picture does not correspond to the existing reality. 

The reasons behind this serious situation need to be examined and addressed systematically. According to CEDAW, Finland does not have a good record in identifying and assisting women who have been sexually and physically abused. Because the Police today is the main point of referral, we need to allocate resources and train the police officers on trafficking and the dynamics of victimization to improve identification also of sexual exploitation. Recent development has showed good progress in law enforcement effectively considering referrals and investigations of labor trafficking. This is indeed good news.

In many countries social workers and workers in healthcare have become active in identifying presumable victims and referring to assistance. Also here we see great potential for improvement of capacities and procedures and increase of awareness and competencies of social and healthcare workers. To accomplish this, we need systematic training for better identification and procedures for referrals. For this reason we are very pleased that the Ministry of Health and Social Services is co-hosting this conference. Now is time for planning and benchmarking goals for this sector. We do know that the victims, in fact, have requested assistance, often repeatedly, they have been patients and even treated for severe psychological and physical damages, without any identification of the trafficking situation or the overall assessment of the needs of the victim. This must change.

The importance of the work of NGOs, identifying victims and providing assistance and support to presumable victims cannot be underestimated. Unfortunately, the number of the referred victims in the system of victim assistance is remarkably low. One reason behind this is definitely the poor resources and the little amount of NGOs active in this field. Outreach work is very demanding and deserves more support from our society. But there may also be other reasons behind the lack of referrals. The NGOs are bridge builders between the victim and the authorities. There has to be trust in receiving assistance and durable protection and ways out of vulnerability and dependency for victims. There has to be time for recovery and assistance to empowerment and healing as a prerequisite of successful criminal proceedings against perpetrators. And there cannot be links to any conditionality for receiving this assistance. 

Assistance and protection without conditions is not only a requirement of national legislation, it is also a commitment coming from EU directives and the Council of Europe Convention. In Finland, the law on victim assistance is currently under a reform process and the Finnish National Rapporteur is worried about the direction the process has taken. We need to make sure that the human rights based approach will prevail strong and the requirement of unconditionality of assistance is guaranteed in practice. 

I am extremely pleased to stand here together with the EU anti-trafficking coordinator. The Commission is doing a great job pushing for the anti-trafficking directive and anti-trafficking work is effectively implemented in all EU member countries. The handbook on EU rights for victims of human trafficking is a useful tool to be recommended to everyone. 

Once again I want to emphasize how this serious criminality of human trafficking and the challenges we are facing are similar in all of our countries. We can indeed learn from each other. At the moment there are many countries investigating the mandate of the Finnish National Rapporteur. The mandate has proved to be essential for monitoring and producing evidence-based analysis and recommendation for improvement. Senior Adviser Venla Roth will tell you more about the mandate and duties in the next session of the conference.

Protecting victims and providing assistance to victims of different forms of exploitation is the core issue in anti-trafficking work. Victims need to know that there is a way out and that there is assistance available to them. Assisting victims is a precondition for making perpetrators accountable for the exploitative acts. This conference with so many experienced speakers will be an excellent opportunity to share knowledge.

Action against human trafficking is a package. We need to improve our preventive policies and measures against trafficking and related forms of exploitation in the first place. Every victim is one victim too many. Prevention includes addressing the demand for all forms of human trafficking. The Finnish National Rapporteur welcomes Mr Wallin's report on berry pickers and share his main conclusions and opinion that many cases actually meet the criteria of human trafficking. 

Addressing trafficking for sexual exploitation has proved to be difficult in Finland. Attitudes that presumed consent to prostitution actually relieves abusers from criminal liability even for violence, seems to prevail among many, even sometimes among authorities. In prostitution, the criminal offences against women are largely overseen; they are rarely identified as any kind of victim and hardly ever as victims of trafficking by the police. Only the most aggravated and cruel cases find themselves to the system of victim assistance and courts. 

Without improving identification and assistance of sexually exploited victims and without addressing also the demand for commercial sexual services, as required in the EU directive, too many women and children will become victims here, and the sex industry will find a prosperous place of investment in our neighborhoods.