Balancing protection and prosecution in anti-trafficking policies

A comparative analysis of reflection periods and related temporary residence permits for victims of trafficking in the Nordic countries, Belgium and Italy

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When victims of trafficking are identified in a country of destination, they are often in a situation marked by lack of clarity. In response to this, most European countries have a so-called reflection period for victims of trafficking, typically lasting from 30 days to six months, during which the victim cannot be sent out of the country, and where he or she can reflect upon the above issues and receive assistance. The intention of the reflection period is to help protect victims, but also to prosecute traffickers. How can these two – sometimes conflicting – goals best be met? This report discusses implications of the models in the Nordic countries, Belgium and Italy.




As anti-trafficking work gained momentum over the past decades, it was internationally recognised that protection of victims was often hampered within existing migration frameworks. Victims of trafficking may lack legal residence, or they may have violated laws while being trafficked. Persons trafficked for sexual exploitation were sometimes detained for offenses under prostitution laws and others, trafficked for begging or criminal activities, could find themselves in similar situations. Thus, many trafficking victims were unceremoniously deported from countries of destination and often not even identified as victims. This was also due to a lack of awareness of human trafficking and how to identify potential victims. Some victims were prosecuted for the crimes that they had committed as a consequence of being trafficked. Not only was this a problem in terms of individual victims’ human rights and their protection; it was soon realised that it also posed a significant problem for efficient investigation and prosecution of traffickers. Several countries therefore sought to remedy this by designing special residence schemes for victims, now known as reflection periods. The reflection period was later formalised as an international obligation on the European stage in two instruments, a European Union Council directive from 2004, and the Council of Europe Convention (CoE Convention) on trafficking from 2005.


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