Constance Gunderson, Human Trafficking: The Trafficking of Women in Northern Germany for the Purpose of Sexual Exploitation. Systematic Overview of Community Based Responses and Challenges (Bremen: Lit Verlag, 2012)

For this research, she interviewed thirteen people within the fields of policy making, law enforcement and victim personnel working in Bremen and other regions of Lower Saxony. Furthermore, in a total of four pages, a brief summery is given “with information regarding ten women’s perspective of supportive services they received following their trafficking experiences in Bremen and Lower Saxony.” Actually, only five are quoted in these four pages dedicated to the victim’s side.


With the interviews, the author wants to achieve three things: first, to inform the reader about the interaction of legislation, policy and law enforcement; second, to “explore inter-relational aspects among persons and organizations involved in the issue”; and last the information would be useful in “intercultural social educational fields” (p.89). And according to the backside of the book, the gained insight will also help to “end human trafficking”.


My problem with the book is that it does not shed light on the topic; on the contrary, it obscures it. The first hundred pages – half of the book – are nothing but an uncritical overview of the literature on human trafficking. In length, the author presents the literature on prostitution and human trafficking, but she does not analyse it. For example, one would assume that within the discussion of human trafficking and prostitution it might be interesting to look at the impact of the legislation about prostitution on human trafficking, since different approaches are possible. On the one extreme there is the Swedish way, where the buyer is punished; whilst on the other extreme there is the German way, where prostitution is legalized. Obviously, these two approaches have an impact on human trafficking and therefore should be relevant for the topic. The author mentions the two different approaches but is not interested to analyse the consequences for the prostitutes. More important for her is to give in this chapter a brief historic overview of the legal situation of prostitutes in Germany, where she claims that in “Eastern Germany” (I assume she means GDR or ‘East Germany’) “prostitution was formally prohibited, although escort services existed for the elite.” (p. 45) This was new to me; unfortunately, no source is given to support this claim.


One could say in her defence that it is not within the scope of this study to evaluate the impact of the legislation on human trafficking and I would agree with this if she wouldn’t draw a conclusion at the end of the chapter, where she refers to a research which assumes that “criminalization on the demand side of the issue has contributed to combating prostitution and human trafficking for sexual purposes.” (p.49) There is no source given and ten lines earlier she had quoted another study, this time with a source mentioned that concluded that the Swedish legislation leads to the redirecting of human trafficking away from Sweden and to other countries. The author refrains from discussing this obvious contradiction.


A PhD dissertation might be helpful for a moral cause, but in order to be helpful, it should provide proper facts and not moral outcry. A basic demand for a PhD is accuracy, which cannot be balanced out by good intentions alone. In her chapter on “What we know about human traffickers” for example, I read: “Human traffickers may be transnational criminal businesspersons; they calculate the market access, profits margins, and the level of risk before investing into trafficking in a particular place.” (p. 54) This sounds to me as very impressive, but I would like a source to support this claim. Instead I get a quote from Iris Yen, who supposedly claimed that bribing and falsifying of documents is involved in human trafficking. The only problem here is that the quote does not exist. Since I was curious to know how Yen supported her claim, I checked the quoted article, which is available on the web; unfortunately I could not find the quoted page. The author keeps on writing about “safe-houses” in Europe where human traffickers hide: “These ‘safe-houses’ during transit guard for secrecy and allow for her quick relocation, most often to another city or country.” (p. 60). This sounds more like a James Bond movie to me than a serious study; again, no source to support this claim is given.


When the author actually names sources she does it in a very selective or creative way. The author uses several times the report published by the Bundeskriminalamt (Federal Criminal Police Office) in 2010 on human trafficking. According to Gunderson, in this report it is written that “in 2009, the German criminal police documented 710 identified woman victims. Eighty six percent of the victims were of foreign descent.” (p. 58) This is not written in the report, for the report states that in 2009 there were 710 victims, 87% female and the German victims were with 25% again the biggest group. The only correct number given by the author is the page number of the report. The same report is used again to support another claim: “Over half of the victims were pressured by the perpetrators or their associates not to make a statement to the police (Bundeskriminalamt 2010, p.10)” This sounds very serious, but again the report states something different: “Half of the victims were willing to disclose if there has been any attempt made by the perpetrators to influence their willingness to make a statement to the police. (…) Around 12 % of the victim willing to answer the question stated that pressure was applied on the willingness to make a statement.” (Bundeskriminalamt 2010, p.10) Wouldn’t 12% have been enough, or do I as a reader need at least half of the victims being pressured in order to see the moral abyss in front of me?


The whole purpose of this book remains a mystery for me. If you need to invent your facts in order to make your point, why not writing a novel, or are basic scientific standards not required when it comes to a PhD dissertation on human trafficking?