Myria Vassiliadou, the EU's anti-trafficking coordinator, was in parliament to present a mid-term report on the commission's 2012-2016 EU strategy on the eradication of trafficking in human beings.
Members of parliament's civil liberties, justice and home affairs and women's rights and gender equality committees held a joint debate to discuss the issue, which affects thousands of EU citizens each year.
Vassiliadou pointed out that human trafficking "is the only form of organised crime explicitly prohibited in the EU charter of fundamental rights", and that it is not only a "severe violation of human rights", it is also "a threat to security".
While the commission official did concede that "by far the most widespread form of exploitation is sexual exploitation", she did highlight that human beings are trafficked into all sorts of sectors, such as construction, agriculture, shops and are even "sometimes locked in our own houses to provide domestic work".
Victims of human trafficking may also be forced into sham marriages or used for their organs.
The coordinator, who has held her position since 2010, said that "65 per cent [of victims in Europe] come from the EU", and that "80 per cent of victims are female and 70 per cent of traffickers are male".
However, she called on officials to "not just talk about numbers - these are real people and real lives".
"Unless we follow the money in all its forms and in all sectors, unless we address the demand for all forms of exploitation, […] we will never get anywhere" - Myria Vassiliadou
Vassiliadou said her and her team had "delivered on everything [they] promised to set out to do". Since the start of the commission's strategy in 2012, an EU civil society platform has been created which brings together over 100 NGOs from diverse areas. The Cypriot official said that thanks to this platform "we can share what is being done with NGOs at EU level, but most importantly we learn from the NGOs".
In addition, the commission has "published many handbooks and guidelines on victim identification, victims' rights [and] guardianship of children". Furthermore, a strategy is being drafted on the use of online resources to facilitate human trafficking.
Poverty is often cited as a cause of human trafficking, but Vassiliadou stressed that "two thirds of the world population lives in poverty - not all of them are victims of trafficking - [...] trafficking happens because it is profitable and because there is a demand for it". She added that "behind every victim there is a perpetrator and there is somebody asking for the service".
It is estimated that human trafficking generates €150bn in profits each year.
Vassiliadou underlined that whenever talking about dealing with the issue, the focus was on eradication because "anything else is an insult to the victims".
Calling on member states to work together to tackle the problem, she said, "while we're sitting politely in this room, people are disappearing […] - there is a clock […] ticking for people's lives".
Elissavet Vozemberg pointed out that trafficking is "a cross border activity, so cross border cooperation is going to be needed to combat it".
She called for member states to work on "information campaigns and [to be] clear as to what the sanctions" are for traffickers.
Luigi Morgano described human trafficking as a "new form of modern slavery", and said "constant aid of a financial nature to the organisations working in the field should be maintained".
For Marijana Petir, these "criminal activities [are also] very profitable form of entrepreneurship".
MEPs called for more work to be done in terms of prevention, and Myria Vassiliadou admitted that while the commission has not yet established what works, it has launched a study to determine best practices and "to ensure the work we do directly has an impact".
She stressed that human trafficking "is not about vulnerability - [it] is about money". Similarly, it is "not just a question of migration policy", as "most of the victims identified are EU citizens".
The commission will be deepening its cooperation with civil society, which is expected to "express [its] own ideas on how the law should be better implemented".
Vassiliadou warned that "unless we follow the money in all its forms and in all sectors, unless we address the demand for all forms of exploitation, […] we will never get anywhere".