Ex sex-trafficated Nigerian women’s perceptions and needs to improve integration projects and policies: the case of Barcelona

Forced Migration, Attention and Integration Strategies

by Chiara Gunella

This project aims to research integration strategies enacted by (ex) sex-trafficked Nigerian women in the city of Barcelona and the integration projects and policies that this city offers to survivors of human trafficking. I decided to focus specifically on women that survived sexual exploitation because, at the EU level, women and girls represent 96 % of the survivors of trafficking for sexual exploitation (Walby et al., 2016). In Spain, in 2019, authorities reported 467 victims of human trafficking of which 250 were sex trafficked. In contrast, NGOs report having assisted approximately 638 victims and 4,842 potential victims of human trafficking during the same year (United States Department of State Publication: 2020). The data show the relevance of sex trafficking in the country, which remains nevertheless still understudied and in need of more empirically grounded investigation.

My target group is composed of Nigerian women because in Barcelona they are the collective more involved in trafficking. They represented 43% of the total number of people trafficked in 2018 and 33.01% in 2019 (Ajutament de Barcelona, 2019). Human trafficking recurrently intersects with irregular migration and data shows that this interchange is experienced by Spain too. In 2016 the number of possible victims of human trafficking was 642. Of these, more than 32% of the survivors were in an irregular administrative situation (European Commission: 2019). Academia often has not included this intersection in their research and my research aims to fill this gap.

Previous studies on sex-trafficked women have focused mainly on: the reintegration difficulties women face to enter the labor market (Anthias, Morokvasic-Müller, & Kontos, 2012); the social stigma encountered in the host society (Blazyte, 2018); the relationship between the migrant country of origin and the migrant itself (Spyropoulos, 2018); the role of trauma in integration (Shigekane, 2007); and the cultural practices embedded in family and kinship relations which encourage and rationalize sexual trafficking of girls and young women (Long, 2004). These studies show the social, political, cultural, and economic difficulties sex-trafficked women face in the host community. However, these studies do not fully acknowledge the migrant perspective and their “expected integration path”. Therefore, in my project, I want to study the perceptions of women towards integration policies using participatory action research methodologies. Policies and projects will be analyzed with women and new integration toolkits will be developed to give experience-based solutions to NGOs and political institutions working in the field.

This field will be empirically investigated through in-depth qualitative methodology: participant observation, in-depth interviews in associations that support women who were trafficked, and feminist participatory action research. The analysis will i) provide new and up-to-date ethnographic data on the needs of women who have experienced human trafficking; ii) identify these women’s perceptions and
integration strategies; iii) evaluate the quality and effectiveness of municipal targeted offer for ex-trafficked women, and iv) develop policy guidelines for more effective and inclusive policies for ex-trafficked women in Spain. An intersectional paradigm, a survivor-canter outlook, and a decolonial and cross-cultural approach will guide the entire development of the project.


Chiara Gunella

Chiara Gunella is a Ph.D. candidate in Social and Cultural Anthropology at the University of Barcelona and a researcher for the H2020 project SO-CLOSE. In her Ph.D. she aims to investigate (ex) sex-trafficked Nigerian women’s perceptions and needs towards integration policies and projects through feminist participatory action research. Meantime, together with the SO-CLOSE team, she is studying and developing new pedagogical and technological tools to foster social cohesion between locals and refugees through the sharing experience of forced migration. She holds a Bachelor in Anthropology, Religions, and Oriental Civilizations obtained at the University of Bologna and a European Master in Migration and Intercultural Relations (EMMIR).


Ajutament de Barcelona. (2018) Unidad Municipal contra el tràfico de seres humanos (UTEH). Anthias, F., Morokvasic-Müller, M., & Kontos, M. (2012). Paradoxes of integration: Female migrants in Europe. In Springer Science & Business Media (Vol. 4). Blazyte, G. (2018). Victims of human trafficking. (Re) integration into the labour market in the context of European Union. Lithuanian Social Research Center, (January 2011). European Commission. (2019). Spain – Together Against Trafficking in Human Beings European Commission. Retrieved from https://ec.europa.eu/anti-trafficking/member-states/spain_en Long, L. D. (2004). Anthropological Perspectives on the Trafficking of Women for Sexual Exploitation. 42(1). Shigekane, R. (2007). Rehabilitation and Community Integration of Trafficking Survivors in the United States Rehabilitation and Community in the United States Integration of Trafficking Survivors. Human Rights Quarterly, 29(1), 112–136. Spyropoulos, D. C. (2018). The Application of Ethical Principles in Treating Juju Believing Nigerian Sex Trade Survivors. Journal of Pan African Studies, 12(5), 218. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.ug.edu.gh:2048/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=edsglr&AN =edsgcl.572716759&site=eds-live%0Ahttp://files/2816/Spyropoulos – 2018 – The Application of Ethical Principles in Treating .pdf United States Department Of State Publication Office to monitor and combat trafficking in persons. (2020). Trafficking in Person Report: 20th Edition
Walby, S., Apitzsch, B., Armstron, J., Balderston, S., Follis, K., Francis, B., … Tunte, M. (2016). Study on the gender dimension of trafficking in human beings. Final report. In Journal of the Koraan (Vol. 54).