The Failures of Identification and Response to Trafficking of Women in Eastern Europe

Thursday, April 17, 2008
5:00 PM - 6:30 PM
Bechtel Conference Center
  • Madeleine Rees

Ms. Rees explores the business of sex trafficking in Eastern Europe particularly from the standpoint of her own personal experience. She explains, from her many years in Bosnia, the tragedies of the business, as well as the failures in attempts to stop it. In addition, Ms. Rees looks forward and argues how she feels the problem should be tackled in the future.


Ms. Rees sets the tone for her talk from the start by stating that while our interventions are a response to the phenomenon of sex trafficking, the phenomenon develops as a result of our interventions. Offering a simplified definition, she explains that the sex trafficking business consists of three main stages: recruitment, transfer, and exploitation. Mr. Rees continues by arguing that although there are many different perceptions of trafficking, focusing on only one of them, such as purely the prostitution aspect or solely the migration factor, will lead to eventual failure.

Placing strong emphasis on the fact that sex trafficking is a free market affair and therefore must be treated as such, Mr. Rees begins her focus on the business in Eastern Europe from the perspective of the dire economic situation in post-Soviet states. Discussing primarily her personal experience in Bosnia in the midst of the Balkans conflict, she explains the situation was one where organized criminal activity was for survival. In addition, Ms. Rees reveals that the status of the region both during and after the conflict was perfect for sex trafficking. There were almost no border checks, the 60, 000 peacekeepers provided a large and convenient market, and the police were easily corruptible. Ms. Rees explains that this messy situation lasted until 1999-2000 when the international community finally realized the seriousness of the problem at hand.

Resulting from the stabilization of the region and increased international attention, the crime of sex trafficking and its response was becoming increasingly sophisticated. However, Ms. Rees explains the role of the UN consisted of, in large part, offering clients and doing little to punish their conduct. She also expresses discontent at the UN program of bar raids which shifted the business underground, making it much harder to track. Similarly, Ms. Rees examines the efforts the International Organization for Migration and her concern with the tactics of coercive testimony. Ms. Rees also focuses on the period after 2003, once the UN peacekeepers had left, where the market had shrunk and the business was legitimizing. As women were starting to make money, the law enforcement approach was becoming increasingly messy, and Ms. Rees examines the certain merits of shelters and legal advice for the female victims.

Ms Rees concludes on a more somber note, exposing her belief that Bosnia was a failure in attempts to stop sex trafficking. She emphasizes that it was a failure with considerable economic ramifications. Finally, Mr. Rees finishes by arguing that current approaches do not listen enough to the subjects of the crime, the women. These are who we must base our efforts around.

Ms. Rees also kindly takes the time answer the audience’s various questions, raising a multitude of issues. She explains the inaccuracy and impossibility of estimating the numbers of the sex trafficking industry. Ms. Rees also explores the issues of HIV and pregnancies, as well as immunity for foreign workers such as the UN peacekeepers. Another key point raised was the potential effectiveness of prosecuting clients of the sex trafficking business.

Sponsored jointly by the Forum on Contemporary Europe, Center for Russian, East European and Eurasian Studies, Stanford Law School, and Michelle R. Clayman Institute for Gender Research.

This keynote speech kicks off the Trafficking of Women in Post-Communist Europe conference April 18.