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Graphic Novelists Expose Government Failure to Fight Trafficking

by Dana Liebelson for CHANGE November 04, 2010

The Tunnel, the first ever graphic novel published in Cyprus, doesn’t have any costumed vigilantes. Instead of a tool for entertainment, The Tunnel is a creative effort to expose weaknesses in the government’s anti-trafficking strategy. Cyprus is currently failing to live up to its responsibility to protect trafficking victims. But you can help the authors stop trafficking in Cyprus, and urge President Christofias Demetris to allot more money to victim support.

The Tunnel, which launched last week, is published by INDEX: Research and Dialogue, a non-profit that aims to promote public dialogue and shape policy in Cyprus. The protagonist is modeled off of extensive interviews INDEX conducted with real trafficking victims. One woman told the organization that after the police explained her right to social support and protection, she made the decision to testify against her abusers. But a year later, she left the country disillusioned by both the country’s failing support system and the lack of transparency among the judiciary. (more…)

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The following is an extract from INDEX

Sex worker in Soho, London. Photograph: Dan Chung

Sex worker in Soho, London. Photograph: Dan Chung

Trafficking – Grabbing ‘Figures From The Air’

One of the key problems in working around the trafficking issue is the difficulty of accessing and verifying quality emprical data about the nature and extent of the phenomenon. In the absence of good quality information speculation, guesswork and extrapolation of statistical evidence from limited data sets tends to the fill the gap. On the extremes, two propositions thrive in a situation where hard evidence is thinly sown.

Either this situation provides an opportunity for those who would wish to deny the significance of trafficking by asserting that there is little or no evidence of the phenomenon in Cyprus or, for those who wish to draw attention to its seriousness, there can be a tendency to over estimate the numbers of people involved. Over time, the credibility of those promoting either position is likely to be challanged as more reliable evidence evidence for the nature and extent of the phenomenon becomes available.

In Cyprus it would now be difficult for any public figure or state official to assert that trafficking to the island does not take place. NGO’s have been successful in promoting the issue and government departments as well as leading politicans, such as the current Interior Minister, have demonstrated a willingness to address the problem. Further, as recent court cases demonstrate, trafficking issues have a prominence within the public sphere which they did not previously enjoy.

However, both past and current research on the nature and extent of trafficking to Cyprus remains weak and underdeveloped. Vague speculations are made about the numbers of people subject to this process with the only hard and fast data being those women (and they have been all woman so far) identified as trafficked by the police. This evidence, in turn, must be treated with caution as issues can be raised as to the nature of the identification process – how are victims identified? How might we define trafficking in accordance with international standards? Should the police be joined by other agencies and organisations to identify victims? Are all victims of trafficking successfully identified given the current proceedures?

Of the evidence that is presented – beyond data generated in the form of police statistics – there is a noted tendency to assume that that woman working in cabarets in Cyprus can be unambigiously identifed as trafficking victims. This is a prominent assumption in the Mediterranean Institute of Gender Studies’ Report on Trafficking published in October, 2007 (the executive summary is available here). However, later in the summary it is acknowledged that: ‘Cyprus’ only recorded numbers of trafficked women available are those collected as a result of police raids and inspections of cabarets, nightclubs and pubs.’ (p3). In conflating the phenomenon of trafficking with the employment of female third country nationals in cabarets generalisations rather than verifiable evidence abound. So the trafficked women;

  • ‘…are forced into prostitution by traffickers who fraudulently recruit victims for work as “entertainment” dancers in cabarets and nightclubs…’;
  • ‘Most of these women are unable to move freely, are forced to work over and above their working hours, live in desperate conditions, isolated and under strict surveillance.’
  • ‘A significant number of trafficked women are misled into believing that they are expected to work as waitresses, or barmaids. Instead, most of these women are forced, through the use of threats and/or violence, into prostitution.’
  • Traffickers and/or many “employers” take possession of their personal documents (visa permit, passports).’

The problem with each of these statements is not that they fail to highlight aspects of the trafficking phenomenon in Cyprus. The problem lies with the difficulting of accessing the quality of the information upon which these generalisations are made. So, whilst the MIGS report is a useful document it begins with a generalised assumption that all woman working in cabarets are victims of trafficking and then adds more specific generalisations about the nature of thier victimhood.

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