Victims of human trafficking need to be heard

EDW
October 19, 2017

  Roxana Stanciu

“I have a decent education, I’m physically fit. It’s a `How could this happen to me?´ sort of thing. It’s really, really difficult for people to understand that it could happen to anybody. It just requires somebodies’ circumstances to change, that things get worse for them. It could happen to absolutely anybody.” These are the words of Mark, a victim and survivor of human trafficking in the UK.

The 11th EU Anti-Trafficking Day was held on the 18th of October. To mark the event, the Global Action against Trafficking in Persons and the Smuggling of Migrants (GLO.ACT), together with the European Economic and Social Committee, organised an exhibition in Brussels entitled “Hear their voices. Act to protect”. It featured 15 life-size cut-outs representing the broad range of victims and their testimonies.

 

Only victims are never heard

Myria Vassiliadou, EU Anti-Trafficking Coordinator, was present at the exhibition. In her welcome remarks, she emphasized the fact that “[i]t is only the victims that are never heard. It is about real people and their stories. We have to make the victims visible but also the perpetrators.”

Unfortunately, these criminals never pay the price of their illegal actions nor are they held responsible for the suffering they inflict upon their victims across the EU.  That is why, according to the EU organisers, “victims need to be placed at the centre of any strategy against human trafficking.”

 

A 600% increase in potential sex trafficking victims in Italy

The numbers show that human trafficking is very far from being an isolated phenomenon within the EU.  In a recent article, EDW analysed what the numbers say about recent trends.

Additionally, a report published by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) indicates a tremendous upswing in cases of human trafficking across the EU. Italy alone has seen an almost 600% increase in the number of potential sex trafficking victims in the past three years.

This upward trend has continued in the first six months of 2017, with most victims arriving from Nigeria. Furthermore, according to the IOM, 80% of the girls arriving from Nigeria are potential victims of sexual exploitation.

However, it is important to remember that this is not about abstract numbers; it is about human beings – which is one of the things the exhibition was intended to highlight.

The words of Cristina, for example, a recent survivor of human trafficking, prove this: “[O]ne day, my mother married me. A friend of hers came to our house and said he wanted to marry me. I heard this and cried (…) My husband was 18. I was only 13 and couldn’t do anything. (…) I stole and he stayed at home. I never wanted to steal, but he saw and he hit me.”

 

There is also the heart-breaking story of Mary, a survivor of human trafficking from Nigeria: “I left Nigeria at the age of 17. I was completely alone and had no prospects at all. (…) I was held in Libya for months in a house with not enough food and cut off from everyone. I wanted to flee, but I had nothing. (…) My life is still terrible. I feel like I’m in prison. The only place I’ll ever be is in this room. I’ve been abandoned here and I can’t tell anyone what’s inside me. I’m so confused I can’t focus. I just want to be free.”

 

For the victims it is often too late

In her comments, Vassiliadou emphasized the fact that it is not just governments that are responsible for eradicating human trafficking, but society in general has to be accountable. We should all ask ourselves what we do or what we could have done, she suggested. “For the victims it is often too late,” she said. “The answer is prevention and targeting criminals.”

Trafficking in human beings is extremely profitable. It produces generous rewards for both the criminal sector, as well as for the legal sectors that are engaged in potentially illegal activities. It thus creates a cycle driven by extreme profits that the demand.

Vassiliadou emphasized the fact that “[t]he more engaged we are as regular community members, the more we are able both to prevent but also to tackle this horrifying crime that affects people to such a profound extent.”