ROOT: Trafficking of Women for Sexual Exploitation

Practice Aim

To widely investigate the role of organized crime - international and local - as a determining factor of drive and attraction for the victims of trafficking linked to sexual exploitation.

Target Groups

Human Trafficking Victims.

CISS, Cooperazione Internazionale SUD SUD – Via Marconi 2/a, 90141 Palermo (Italy).
Local collaborative networks with associations such as: Il Pellegrino della Terra, NIGARS – Nigerian Association Regione Sicilia, CESIE – Centro Studi ed Iniziative Europeo and the Department of Psychology of the University of Palermo.
[Project funded by the European Commission, Home Affairs, ISEC Programme – Prevention of and fight against crime]


The ROOT project focuses in particular on the phenomenon of trafficking of young foreign women who are sexually exploited and forced into prostitution. Forced street prostitution remains the most visible and well-known type of trafficking.
Human trafficking is an issue that affects Sicilian territory and is linked to migration phenomena, organized crime, violence against women, social development issues, vicious circles triggered by poverty in the countries of origin and distorted mechanisms of wealth distribution. Trafficking produces a violation of human rights in countries of origin, transit and destination.
The project was focused in particular on the trafficking of young foreign women linked to sexual exploitation in the prostitution market and was implemented in Palermo (Italy), with the purpose of preparing a transnational project aimed at eradicating trafficking in Sicily, working at European level.

Target: Vulnerable Group (VG) and type of host community

Associations, law enforcement representatives, journalists, representatives of immigrant communities and civil society organisation having a single objective: to eradicate Trafficking in Human Beings (THB) for sexual exploitation in Sicily, doing so through synergy and networking.
As part of the project, an in-training campaign was launched aimed at local communities with different targets: school teachers, journalists, third sector operators, public administration operators, lawyers, magistrates and law enforcement agencies.
The proposed training was addressed in particular to the members of the professional order of social workers of the Region of Sicily and focused on tools for the identification and protection of victims in order to set up more effective action of prevention in a local dimension.

Application setting: context

To understand how the project was born, it is necessary to go back in time: “It was February 10th, 2005 when, together with other associations working at local level for the defence of migrants’ rights, the CISS launched an S.O.S. against the repatriation of 300 asylum seekers whose applications had been rejected”, says one of the coordinators of the project. “There was great concern about the fate of many women from Nigeria, considered prostitutes but actually victims of trafficking, who could be arrested and immediately deported,” explains Margherita. Several years later, the focus is no longer on forced repatriation, but on the terrible living conditions of many young women and minors from Nigeria. According to CISS staff, human trafficking is one of the main problems that the NGO in Palermo is dealing with. “The Root project – concludes Margherita – was born above all out of the desire to understand the mechanisms at the origin of a phenomenon that seems unchanged, although it adapts to daily circumstances”.

The Palermo Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons (December 2000) considers Trafficking in Human Beings as the recruitment, transportation, transfer, housing or reception of persons, with the threat of use or the use of force or other forms of coercion, kidnapping, fraud, deception, abuse of authority or vulnerability or the offer or acceptance of payments or benefits to obtain the consent of a person who has authority over another, for the purpose of exploitation. The majority of trafficked persons come from EU Member States, China and Nigeria. 62% of victims of human trafficking are exploited for sexual services, 25% as forced labour. Women and children are more vulnerable.


  • To widely investigate the role of -international and local organized crime as a driving factor for the victims of trafficking linked to sexual exploitation.
  • To increase awareness of the impact of organised crime on the growth of trafficking linked to sexual exploitation
  • To support the creation of a transnational action plan to combat the sexual exploitation of girls and women victims of trafficking in Sicily and in the EU


  • A research with the aim of getting to learn more about the role of international and local organized crime driving factor for the victims of trafficking linked to sexual exploitation.
  • An information and training campaign on trafficking aimed at local communities so as to prevent the phenomenon
  • Meetings and technical workshops with specialised operators (representatives of law enforcement agencies, judicial authorities, public, social and health workers, educators, cultural mediators, representatives of immigrant communities and organised civil society, journalists)
  • Workshops in high schools in the area in order to create educational kits on the topic
  • A self-help group with young women who were former victims of trafficking
  • A transnational network between public and private actors in the territory and in the countries of transit and origin, with the aim of carrying out constant monitoring of the phenomenon and collaborating to its eradication.


The network activities at local and international level led to the definition of a transnational map to identify possible collaborations between different countries among local institutions and civil society, to the drafting of an international action plan and the establishment of an observatory with the aim of carrying out a constant monitoring of the phenomenon and collaborating in its eradication.


Participants improved their digital skills, became more confident and aware of their skills so as to show them in critical moments such as during job interviews a. In addition, a lot of energy was put into boosting entrepreneurial skills, also thanks to the creation of individual business plans. Furthermore, participants were supported in the creation of their Europass CVs and acquired important information about Italian employment and self-employment regulations through conversations with experts in the field.


In order to combat trafficking, a battle of knowledge is needed so as to unravel the dynamics of commodification and blackmail based on the vulnerability of the victims and linked to the crisis of development models, poverty, demand for cheap labour and sexual services, restrictive migration laws, which are based on the violation of human rights and justice. The awareness-raising campaign “Io Non Tratto” wants to be a small step in this direction.

Difficulties or constrains for its implementation

Human trafficking is a widespread phenomenon in Italy, but it affects especially Sicily, which remains one of the main migration routes. Migrants can suffer from exploitation due to their condition of greater vulnerability, and reduction into slavery once you reach the country of destination: a crime of transnational character that if on the one hand needs a certain irregularity, on the other must be under the eyes of all, as if it were an aspect of the urban landscape. Trafficking is based on forms of physical and psychological coercion exercised against the victims, it is linked to migration processes, the roots of organised crime, violence against women, development issues, vicious circles triggered by poverty and distorted mechanisms of wealth distribution. It produces a violation of human rights, in the countries of origin, transit and destination.

Year and length (duration)

2013 – 2015

CRITERIA actors or stakeholder are using to assess them as a “good practice”

  • Several EU Member States and some of the countries of origin, including Morocco and Nigeria, have been involved in a constant dialogue and exchange of good practices.
  • One of the initiatives featured in the project is an information and training campaign on human trafficking, aimed not only at local communities in order to prevent the phenomenon, but also at journalists and communication experts so that they can offer an account of trafficking which respects the victims and their dignity, to avoid spreading stigmas, prejudices and stereotypes.