Transgender People as Victims of Human trafficking from an intersectional perspective

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by Christiana Gennata, researcher of the unit «Social and Humanitarian Issues» 

“No one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark.” Warsan Shire

Introduction

Human Trafficking is considered to be the ‘illegal trade’ of individuals whose aim is to exploit them through forced labour and/or sexual exploitation. Αccording to the US Department of State, human trafficking or the so called ‘trafficking in persons’ is a modern crime which is being hidden within societies and smaller or bigger communities. Human trafficking consists in various forms some of them demonstrable through‘recruiting, transporting, supplying and obtaining individuals for involuntary labor or repayment of debt by the use of coercion, force, or fraud’. Furthermore, a victim of human trafficking may be forced to engage him/ or herself in methods of forced labor such as commercial sex work (prostitution, exotic dancing, and pornography) or personal service (domestic or sexual servitude). Apart from the above types of human trafficking includes forced labor in sweatshops for instance, manual labor at agricultural or construction sites, employment without the consent of the person in nail salons, and finally may include coercive job  within both hotels and foodservice industries. Especially the last decades, this phenomenon is rapidly increasing, and that is why it has a significant impact on the growing criminal industry and every country and nation across the globe. Due to his nature and his broad variety, this issue is defined as modern day slavery. Trying to prevent the population from being victimized, research has found that there are specific groups of people who are more prone to become victims of human trafficking within society/community rather than other who are not in that risk. Such vulnerable groups are socially constructed minorities with core examples to be stateless people, individuals with disabilities, members from religious subgroups, immigrants and LGBT minor or adults. Regarding LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer) individuals, it must be taken into account, that such category is a minority due to the sexual orientation and gender identity which means that they experience discrimination and violence because they do not confront with the normative and expected gender roles and gender expressions. Statistics have been shown that especially transgender people may fall more easily victims of human trafficking than other. According to United Nations research, transgender youth experiences severe physical and psychological violence (murder, torture, assault, kidnapping, rape, sexual violence). In many countries, transgender women are at particular risk of physical, psychological and sexual violence and forced labor in family and community settings. In 76 countries, laws are used to discriminate, harass and detain or make restrictions on the freedom of trans peoples’ gender expression. Such discriminatory laws are the main factor of discrimination and stigma, as well as hate crime, police abuse and misuse of their authority, family hate and community violence. Transgender people are frequently denied legal recognition of their preferred gender or face abusive requirements such as forced sterilization, treatment or divorce to obtain it, without which they suffer exclusion and marginalization. Due to the wide range of marginalization and exclusion of transgender people, it is easier for trans individuals to obtain more risky behavior and traits of falling into the category of victim of human trafficking.

Transgender Homeless Youth as victims of human trafficking

Transgender minors and young adults who are homeless belong in the most dangerous position for becoming victims of sex trafficking and sexual exploitation. According to the U.S. National Coalition for the Homeless homeless LGBTQ+ youth are much more vulnerable to sexual exploitation and trafficking than other homeless youths. In other words, being identified as transgender, works as a mitigating factor on being a victim of human trafficking. Research supports that many minors and young adults become victims because they face in a really young and crucial age core challenges such as discrimination and abuse not only in the social context but within the family too. Statistics show that transgender people who are out, tend to be not welcome in their own house which leads to go out on the streets or stay to a friend for a short period of time and in parallel searching for a job without the minimum standards because they have financial dependencyand social acceptance. The lack of supportive adult figures, lack of education and lack of means to earn an income leads them often to engage themselves in sex trafficking in order to meet their basic needs: shelter and food. Shelter seems to be the first ‘need’ that traffickers come to fulfill in return for sexual involvement of the person. Although there is a legal distinction between sex trafficking and survival sex, it seems that in practice they often overlap reporting fluidity between the two. Most of the homeless victims report that initially start working in the field of survival sex and most of the times this leads to coercive and violent sex trafficking.

Investigating the profile of traffickers, it has been found that 36% of traffickers were immediate family, 27% friends of family, 14% boyfriends and 9% of the traffickers were strangers. They follow a procedure of showing love and affection to the victim, they convince the potential victim that they care about him or her and they attempt to gain the person’s trust. All of the victims were forced without their consent and decide to proceed into commercial sexual engagement. Interesting information is considered to be the fact that a great number of traffickers seem to gather around areas where homeless LGBTQ+ / heterosexual individuals are staying permanently. They spot them in those places and tell them that the shelters are full and ‘offer’ them a place to stay instead of being on the streets.  Researchers have found that survival sex is approximately three times more prevalent among street youth, than homeless youth in shelters. This supports the notion that survival sex is an economic strategy ‘linked to housing stability and duration of homelessness’. But it is reported that this is not applicable/realistic since survival sex is turned into human trafficking (including sex trafficking and forced labor). And this happens, because when the trans victims kicked out their homes, it is possible to return into a past abusive relationship while they are in a panicked state and the abuser may let the victim stay in his house in exchange for sexual activity (exchanging sexual acts for shelter or basic needs). The majority of victims’ narratives report that ‘when you do not have another option, when your family is not talking to you, the circumstances are forcing you to do it, I could not be on the streets’. Which means that actually the victims do not have a choice, they are being coerced to follow that path in order to survive.

Apart from commercial sex which leads to sex trafficking,a correlation between being homeless and labor trafficking has also been established.. Labor trafficking in this case includes forced drug sales and forced begging. Moreover, there are other types of potential labor trafficking such as shoplifting rings, credit card scams and ‘delivering packages’, but due to the difficulties of precisely identifying them as such, they are not officially written as labor trafficking.

Despite the fact that most of the studies present that transgender homeless youth are considered to be more prevalent to engage in sex and/ or labor trafficking, there are some that support the notion of trans youth getting involved in survival sex without evidence of force or fraud. Several trans individuals trade sexual activity in return for food, money, clothing, or shelter. In order to estimate better the situation it is important to take into account the great limitation trans people have associated with intersectional discrimination, severe bullying and lack of constructive employment opportunities.

From a socioeconomic and legal perspective, a lack of funding, standards for shelters and other social service organizations to ensure they understand the needs of transgender youth, and nondiscrimination regulations nationwide are greatly contributing to the incidence and impact of transgender youth homelessness. Finally it is worthy saying that the lack of adequate data collection on transgender individuals of all ages (minors, adolescents, young adults) makes it really difficult to precisely measure and examine the scale of the problem of transgender people who are being victimized and forced to engage themselves in human trafficking, but population estimates paint a disconcerting picture.

Asylum seeking Transgender Refugees as Victims of Human Trafficking

Another vulnerable group of transgender individuals are trans refugees who have fallen victims of human trafficking.  According to UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), a victim or a potential victim of human trafficking can make a claim for asylum when the victim has been trafficked in a foreign country, has escaped of his or her traffickers and wants to be legally protected from the State that she or he stays at the current time. Another option of a person who has been trafficked in a country is to fly to another country, away from his or her abusers/traffickers, and seek for asylum there, since she or he is being protected under the international law. Same scenario goes for the case in which an individual is not yet a victim of human trafficking but there is a strong and valid possibility complementary with the fear that the person is considered to be at the high risk group of victimization and the person can claim for legal protection/prevention before the victimization happens. Refugee laws prevents, protects and fulfils the needs of vulnerable groups such as women refugees, LGBTQ+ refugees and children. In the real world, trans people face discrimination and abuse from a really young age. Some of them attempt to address that situation by flying from their home countries and try to seek protection in another country. More often than not, due to non conformance to stereotypical heteronormative gender roles, Transgender refugees are being marginalized and they are being excluded from the social context (no family or community support), which leaves space for the traffickers to attract the victims.  For instance, documented migration cases are the Caribbean and Latin American LGBTQs who move to Western Europe, or victims from Africa who are being sent and found in Europe (mostly in Scotland), and African LGBT victims of Arab Gulf–based trafficking rings who are becoming by force sex slaves for the wealthy in United Arab Emirates, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia.

From a legal perspective, trans individuals are entitled to all human rights on an equal basis with others. They are being protected under the non-discrimination in relation to sexual orientation and gender identity principle, which is applicable in the refugee context. Moreover  the 2007 Yogyakarta Principles on the Application of International Human Rights Law in relation to Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity set out the human rights protection framework as applicable to trans individuals, including in the refugee concept.

It is very difficult to protect legallytransgender individuals especially in some countries because there are countries with laws that define same sex relations, cross-dressing and/or sex work a crime. Which means that it is possible, a trans refugee who seeks for asylum in one country, to be prosecuted for criminal behavior, if his or her request for asylum is based on his or her gender identity. As a result, from a societal perspective those individuals are more and more excluded, the laws often are used against them and to be more specific are used disproportionately resulting in higher levels of abuse and in higher possibilities of second victimization regarding human trafficking. The social exclusion increases due to other contributing factors such as the racial, national, general and specific health (HIV/AIDS) related discrimination that trans-refugees experience when they decide…. to flee to another country for protection. In addition, there is a huge stigma and abusive for the victim assumption made, when it is presented the fact that she or he is a victim of sex trafficking and his/her gender identity is not in confront with his/her biological sex. Major issues for the State and the laws of most countries appear when the person has been assigned as male for example in his/her documents and the person claims that his/her name is another from the one which is written in his/her identification card. Another disadvantage for asylum seekers considers to be the length procedures of accepting/deny the request. During this period of time the safety of this person is ambiguous, which may lead to re victimization or secondary victimization.

Conclusion

To summarize the most crucial points of the above written paper, human trafficking is a phenomenon which grows up with a very fast tempo affecting in various ways social minorities or other vulnerable groups. Within every community and every society across the world, intersectionality is an essential part of it since it has been observed that different group of people with one prevalent trait appear to have other mutual characteristics with another group of people since this is the only way of showing our uniqueness and complexity as human beings. A vulnerable group with more than one risky traits to victimization is considered to be transgender individuals who face discrimination, hate and abuse on a daily basis due to their gender  identity and their gender expression (cross dresser). Another impact transphobia has regarding a trans person’s life is the lack of decent employment opportunities which leads them sometimes to follow sex trafficking and/or labor trafficking in order to survive apart from survival sex. In this paper, two main categories of intersectionality have been discussed: transgender youth who are homeless and transgender refugees who seek for asylum, strongly connected with human trafficking. While analyzing trans youth who were driven out of their houses, it has been shown from previous studies that they are forced to engage themselves into sexual activities in return to shelter, food, or other basic goods. Their ‘deviant’ expression of gender identity and the biased society leads them very often to experience severe sexual or not sexual abuse while they start from a really young age to believe that they do not have another choice this is the only ‘job’ they can get to gain their financial independence and meet their basic needs. When it comes to trans refugees there are legal issues arise about their seeking  and requesting of asylum due to discrimination of their gender identity and/or because of them being a victim of human trafficking or being afraid of becoming a victim of human trafficking in another country. Every country has different laws and refugee laws which sometimesit is difficult to protect such vulnerable group in a proper way and they may end up being victimized again either from the society and the political/legal system or by the traffickers.


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