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The Impact of Criminalising the ‘Knowing Use’ on Trafficking in Human Beings

La Strada International Policy Paper on the upcoming revision of the EU Trafficking in Human Beings Directive

Cover LSI Policy Paper 2011/36/EU

The Directive 2011/36/EU on preventing and combating trafficking in human beings and protecting its victims is the EU's main legislative instrument to combat this phenomenon. As the application of the Directive is still not sufficiently implemented, the European Parliament initiated an evaluation of the EU Trafficking in Human Beings Directive in February 2021.

Some stakeholders and policy makers are pushing for a revision of the Directive to make Article 18(4) a binding provision. With the aim of reducing the demand for trafficking in human beings, Article 18(4) of EU Directive 2011/36/EU recommends criminalising the "knowing use of services which are the object of exploitation". The consumption of such services should be criminalised.

La Strada International (LSI) interviewed numerous experts from 10 EU countries to learn more about the application of the law to all exploitative services, as well as possible positive impacts and concerns and harmful effects that could arise if "knowing consumption" is criminalised. Based on these interviews, supplemented by secondary research, LSI has published a policy paper, Conclusions and Recommendations regarding the possible transformation of Article 18(4) of EU Directive 2011/36/EU into a statutory provision.

The report concludes that there is still too little research on the possible impact and side effects of criminalising "knowing consumption" on combating trafficking in human beings. So far, there are only few prosecutions for "knowing use" and a relevant reduction in demand has not been confirmed.

Often, the legal scope of this provision is limited to the use of sexual services by trafficked persons. According to the report, this limitation of the scope of application bears the risk of abuse of criminalisation in order to "covertly combat prostitution". Furthermore, in practice, it is difficult to prove the "knowing use" of other services.

In the LSI survey, experts expressed concerns about the harmful side effects for trafficked persons and precariously employed (sex) workers. Examples include increased vulnerability and stigmatisation, as well as the risk of secondary victimisation and erosion of trafficked persons' rights.

LSI believes that the revision of the EU Trafficking in Human Beings Directive should not lead to a binding provision, as it not only seems to have a very limited impact on combating trafficking, but is also very likely to have serious harmful consequences.

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