by Heli Askola. Portland OR: Hart Publishing, 2007. 238pp. Hardcover. $70.00/£35.00. ISBN: 9781841136509.

Reviewed by Andrew Kowalsky, Osgoode Hall Law School of York University. Email: AndrijKowalsky [at]


The Hanseatic City of Hamburg, Germany, considered a Northern Venice, also doubles as Europe’s largest red light district. During a recent trip, this dyad exposed itself to me. Lodged at the epicentre of the Reeperbahn the cross street Grosse Freiheit (Great Freedom) juts into the “the mile of sin” enticing passer-byes with a neon haze circulating from its bars, clubs, theatres, and bordellos. Prostitution is legal in Germany, but the brunt of the commercialized sexual freedom symbolized by the Grosse Freiheit falls squarely on the shoulders of sex workers, some of which are trafficked into the trade.

The 2006 FIFA World Cup of Soccer, hosted by Hamburg and eleven other German cities, stoked international concern that traffickers mobilized an estimated 40,000 women for prostitution. Evidence suggests that as no spike in trafficking in women was attributed to the World Cup, preventative and educative measures launched by governments and NGOs may account this, though further research of large international events is required to test the correlation (Tavella 2007). Creating effective anti-trafficking campaigns, laws and policies that prevent and curb trafficking in women is one of the most pressing contemporary concerns for European Union (EU) legislatures. Rightly so, an estimated one hundred thousand of the suspected six to eight hundred thousand cases of human trafficking worldwide annually occur within Europe (European Parliament, 2006).

The legal and policy aspects surrounding the EU’s approach to human trafficking for sexual exploitation is the subject of Heli Askola’s recent publication, LEGAL RESPONSES TO TRAFFICKING IN WOMEN FOR SEXUAL EXPLOITATION IN THE EUROPEAN UNION (LEGAL RESPONSES). LEGAL RESPONSES is an adapted version of Askola’s dissertation, submitted to the European University Institute, Florence in fulfilment of a PhD on European Law. Although a longstanding clarion call exists for more studies in law that are empirical (Consultative Group on Research and Education in Law 1983), the complex subject of human trafficking lends itself well to an extended comparative analysis and critique of European laws. Askola’s work, however, is not a treatise directing a comprehensive approach for tackling the trafficking of women for sexual exploitation, nor does it explore outcomes of human trafficking for purposes other than prostitution.

The purpose behind Askola’s work, “seeks above all to create a framework of analysis in which the interconnections [*382] between the push for a more ‘comprehensive’ approach and the role of the European Union can be broadly conceived” (p.1). Three exploratory questions are posed to ground the study: 1) How is trafficking in women for sexual exploitation conceptualized in the Member States and in the EU setting? 2) What is the role of the European Union in the relevant policy spheres regarding anti-trafficking and its relationship with the Member States’ policy convergence/divergence? 3) What implications do the intersections of these areas and continuing European integration have for the possibilities of formulating a more comprehensive approach to trafficking in the European Union? (pp.8-9) Concomitant discussion adopts a critical feminist perspective, and sources official and unofficial reports from governments, international organizations, research bodies, and NGOs along with European and International laws, in addition to relevant jurisprudence. Against the backdrop of increasing European integration, a comparative legal examination using the themes of free movement, external migration, criminal justice and human rights is undertaken to assess the diverging anti-trafficking platforms of the Netherlands, Sweden, and Italy. This exploration of subject nations’ anti-trafficking courses of action permits Askola’s evaluation of current policies, invites conjecture if responses are harmonizing European law, and invokes scrutiny into whether a more comprehensive continental approach to trafficking is necessary.

LEGAL RESPONSES proposes that blinkered policy frameworks frustrate effective solutions. For example, precisely because human trafficking is a human rights abuse, it creates an onus under international legal norms for states to afford trafficked persons a right to seek reparations from traffickers and help in initiating legal suits. However, this response calls for an individualistic, private rights solution to a much greater social phenomenon that overlooks the broader, systemic factors that condition trafficking. Public inspired forums of action, such as migration laws, are suggested not only to give traffickers the tools with which to control their victims but also contribute to exposing women to the risk of trafficking (p.96). According to Askola, a law and order approach is also misguided: “In short, trafficking is a structural problem, and where it is entrenched no amount of criminal enforcement can ever do more than catch a few of the perpetrators, expel (or ‘save’) some of the victims and confiscate a minimal percentage of the profits” (p.119). Seemingly, then, legal solutions, in and of themselves, are inefficient in halting human trafficking.

Or are they? In November 2000, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children (Trafficking Protocol). The Trafficking Protocol supplements the first, legally binding United Nations instrument directed at organized crime, the United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime, as a corollary treaty addressing the international trade in human beings. The Trafficking Protocol equips national lawmakers with a policy and legislative platform to prevent human trafficking, protect victims and punish offenders. It legislates victim protection and assistance measures for persons of [*383] human trafficking, albeit these measures suggest a minimum standard of care and are mainly discretionary (Trafficking Protocol, Art. 2, para. 2). For good measure, State Parties must provide mandatory procedural requirements and basic safeguards, such as protecting the privacy of victims (Trafficking Protocol, Art. 6, para. 1) and endeavouring to provide for the physical safety of trafficked persons while in their jurisdiction (Trafficking Protocol, Art. 6, para. 5). Signatories are also required to ensure that measures exist for an opportunity to seek compensation for damages suffered by victims (Trafficking Protocol Art. 6, para. 6).

The proliferation of human trafficking is provoking tough questions about the Trafficking Protocol even though ratifying State Parties are implementing various crime control measures. That LEGAL RESPONSES does not canvass subject EU countries implementing the Trafficking Protocol protection measures leaves the extent of these measures unclear, though the study suggests that most Member States have delayed ratifying the Trafficking Protocol. Such analysis would become all the more welcome given that an alternate anti-trafficking framework considered, the EU Council Framework Decision on Combating Human Trafficking is law that, “omits practically all of the UN Protocol’s (optional) provision on prevention of trafficking and the protection of victims of trafficking” (p.125). At minimum, an effectual criminal law approach imbricates prosecution with protection and assistance measures sensitive to victim needs (Anti-Slavery International 2002).

Of the bourgeoning literature on human trafficking, LEGAL RESPONSES deserves attention as the work takes a more holistic approach to trafficking in the EU than currently exists. It reads: “Any ‘comprehensive’ approach is, therefore, one that tries to advance ideals of global justice, including gender equality, narrowing the gap between the rich and the poor (as utopian as these ideals may seem), while at the same time matching these goals with those elements of current, planned and hypothesised anti-trafficking efforts that can be judged helpful or which, at they very least, do not make things worse, as further criminalisation of migrants would do” (p.162). As is the case with prescriptive recommendations, whether the multi-lateral political and legal will exists to enact change remains to be seen, given that this entails appraising how EU government policies contribute as much as prevent trafficking.

As studies of human trafficking increase, so should the quality of research, which LEGAL RESPONSES demonstrates through a reasoned policy critique and response that broadly diagnoses trafficking. A well-research and written book attracts its own audience, but those who would best benefit from reading LEGAL RESPONSES, are comparative, human rights, socio-legal and EU law scholars, feminist theorists, lawyers and policy makers concerned with human trafficking, as well as NGO practitioners. Doctoral students in various disciplines interested in studying the mechanics, argument, essence and culmination of a quality dissertation should also take note of LEGAL RESPONSES. Much work is still required in effectively curbing human trafficking; LEGAL RESPONSES is a [*384] thoughtful step in the right policy direction.

Anti-Slavery International. 2002. HUMAN TRAFFIC, HUMAN RIGHTS: REDEFINING VICTIM PROTECTION. Horsham, UK: The Printed Word.


European Parliament. 2007. Press Brief: Strategies to Prevent Trafficking in Women and Children. Retrieved March 25, 2008, from:

EU Council. 2002. Framework Decision on Combating Human Trafficking. 2002/629/HJA, [2002] OJ L 203/1.

Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women, Foundation Against Trafficking in Women, and International Human Rights Law Group. 2003. “Human Rights Standards for the Treatment of Trafficked Persons.” CANADIAN WOMAN STUDIES, 22:3/4, 115.

Tavella, Anne Marie. 2007. “Sex Trafficking and the 2006 World Cup in Germany: Concerns, Actions and Implications for Future International Sporting Events.” NORTHWESTERN UNIVERSITY JOURNAL OF INTERNATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS, 6:1, 196-217, retrieved March 25, 2008 from:

United Nations. 2000. Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, supplementing United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime, A/55/383, Annex II.

© Copyright 2008 by the author, Andrew Kowalsky.