Surviving Sex Trafficking: The Vicious Circle of Discrimination


The incidence of human trafficking in general, and of sex trafficking in particular, has seen a tremendous increase in recent years, partly as a result of the reinforcement of state borders as a means to deter legal migration pathways. However, other enabling factors include solid, well-organized trafficking networks uniting several individuals across nations as well as the feminization of poverty in source countries, where women are usually more severely affected by national adjustment programs and by systemic sexist behaviors often preventing them from accessing adequate education or employment. The Nigerian case is one of the many examples of the widespread trafficking flows intertwining migration, smuggling, organized crime, and female poverty, but it is unique in that it contains an element of trust very strongly related to indigenous beliefs in the supernatural. This paper explores the causes leading to the success of Nigerian trafficking networks in European sex markets, to later focus on the core importance of early identification of survivors to ensure their right to international protection both under international and EU law. In many cases, though, the recognition of refugee status or of beneficiaries of subsidiary or humanitarian protection does not automatically translate into the proper social inclusion of survivors of sex trafficking. Rather, protection programs often lack a long-term vision thus failing at tackling intersectional discrimination post-exploitation, which can significantly jeopardize survivors’ capacity to achieve financial autonomy and, ultimately, push them back into patterns of exploitation.