BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA — The forms of recruitment vary. For some, it’s the promise of a job from a bogus employer. For others, it’s a bouncer at the door of a nightclub who drags passersby in. And others find themselves sold to the highest bidder by a trustworthy-seeming boyfriend.
But the outcome is the same: they are forced into sex work – here in Argentina’s capital and across the country – while their traffickers profit from the illegal practice.
Young women and girls are targets of sexual exploitation from Argentina to neighboring Bolivia and Paraguay. The average compensation for someone who sells a girl below the age of 13 to a trafficking network is 10,000 Argentine pesos ($588), while someone older than 15 will yield as much as 8,000 pesos ($470), according to Margarita Meira, founder of Madres Víctimas de Trata, an organization that helps families of sex-trafficked persons.
Some women and girls manage to escape from their captors and traffickers, but others are burned, raped and drugged when caught making an attempt to escape, Meira says. When trafficked women are identified and rescued by the police, she adds, it is difficult for them to reconnect with their families and return to their communities because there are few resources to help them and, at times, no place for them to live.
“Those girls need shelter, which doesn’t exist,” Meira says.
In Argentina, the law forbids and punishes trafficking in persons, both for forced labor and sexual exploitation. A government program started in 2008, the Programa Nacional de Rescate y Acompañamiento de Víctimas Damnificadas por el Delito de Trata de Personas, also targets the illegal practice by providing psychological, social, medical, and legal support to trafficked persons.
But advocates, including social organizations, say that resources available to trafficked women who have been rescued by police from forced sex work are inadequate.
Lucila Pellettieri, GPJ Argentina
Globally, 71 percent of trafficked persons are women and girls, according to a 2016 report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, while 57 percent of trafficking activities in South America are for sexual exploitation.
In Argentina, a total of 11,169 trafficked people either received assistance or were rescued between April 2008, when the anti-trafficking program began, and June 2017. But some nongovernmental organizations and public officials say there is more work to be done.
One issue is shelter. Some persons rescued from trafficking networks by police raids are offered government assistance until they testify in court against their offenders, Meira says, but the government struggles to provide shelter where trafficked women can live and receive assistance, and treatment is often infrequent.
“There should be a specialized center to treat victims of trafficking,” Meria says. Her organization, Madres Víctimas de Trata, plans to offer living space for trafficked women where they can receive government assistance, but lacks money to start building.
Shelter is not the only issue facing trafficked persons. Sometimes, social workers and psychologists fail to contact them after they have been rescued, says Georgina Orellano, secretary general of Asociación Mujeres Meretrices de la Argentina en Acción por Nuestros Derechos, an organization that advocates for labor rights of Argentine sex workers.
Meira says the government currently does not have an effective way of identifying trafficked women, alive or dead, making it difficult for them to carry out rescue operations and provide assistance. Most times they rely on testimonies and corroboration from clients at brothels, Meira says. She says several organizations, including hers, advocate a government-owned database of fingerprints to make identification of trafficked persons easier.
Other advocates in Argentina seek additional legislation to ensure that trafficked women receive adequate and consistent assistance and offenders receive punishment. Juan Manuel Abal Medina, a political scientist and former senator, says that, even though trafficking in persons is punishable by up to 15 years in prison under current law, he supports a bill to declare human trafficking a crime against humanity.
“We’re up against big criminal organizations and so we need to be able to count on new tools and shelter structures for the victims,” says Abal Medina. “This bill is one of those tools.”
The government is also considering ways to help trafficked persons achieve economic stability when they return to their communities, says Marcelo Colombo, a prosecutor at Procuraduría de Trata y Explotación de Personas, a government agency. Assets confiscated from traffickers in raids can be used to help trafficked women start their own businesses, he says.
Lourdes Medrano, GPJ, translated this article from Spanish.