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NOT FOR SALE an anti-slavery movement that is at the forefront of fighting human trafficking and exploitation an exclusive report by Saskia Wishart
The modern-day slave trade is fast becoming the most lucrative criminal activity on the planet: affecting every population demographic, stealing vulnerable individuals away from their families and into exploitation, commodifying human lives, and leaving victims strapped with insurmountable debts. Active in urban and rural settings, criminals from both highly organised crime networks and low-level crooks make an enormous profit out of the trade of human beings.
The scourge of human trafficking has become one of the most talked about global issues of the day. It is estimated that over 30 million people are living in slavery at this moment. Human trafficking is an issue that has, in recent years, made its way to the forefront of global minds, assisted by mass-media attention and the tireless advocating of social activists.
Not For Sale (NFS), a solutions based anti-trafficking organisation has taken a lead role in the movement to abolish slavery once and for all through the creation of tools that connect business, government, and the grassroots movement in order to
incubate and grow social enterprises to benefit enslaved and vulnerable populations.
Not For Sale was founded by David Batstone, a professor of Business at the University of San Francisco, who discovered human trafficking in ‘his own backyard’. Batstone read in a local paper that his favourite Indian restaurant was the center of a human trafficking ring that trafficked over 500 people into the United States. His shock at this crime turned into an all-consuming passion that took him around the world where he met many abolitionists who dedicated their lives to addressing modern slavery. Reporting on his experiences, he wrote the book, Not For Sale, and founded the organization to give everyday individuals the opportunity to take action.
Not For Sale focuses on cross-sector collaboration with leaders in the movement to design innovative social enterprises that provide new opportunities for survivors of trafficking and change the circumstances of those at-risk to
My own personal journey with the issue of human trafficking started in 2008. I was living in South Africa volunteering with an organization that provided human trafficking prevention programs to at-risk students living in poverty stricken communities. We told kids how they could protect themselves from human trafficking, but instead found they educated us on the truth and reality they were experiencing. At the end of our presentations, hands were raised as the children shared stories of how others had left with recruiters on promises of careers in modeling and domestic work. Those who left were never seen again.
During this time I read David Batstone’s book, Not For Sale, and realized that the same stories we were hearing in Cape Town were occurring all over the world. I wanted to be part of this global movement to end slavery; I wanted to be equipped to make a difference. I attended the Not For Sale Investigative Training Academy in San Francisco, and learned practical skills for identifying cases of human trafficking. I returned to Cape Town and co-founded Not For Sale South Africa. Our first goal was to document and identify human trafficking in a city where previously very few cases had ever been recorded. My work led to the development of relationships with highly placed law enforcement, and the creation of a government supported rapid response protocol to address cases of trafficking. In the course of one year, our team uncovered 45 cases of human trafficking. At the same time, we ran awareness-raising campaigns that spread across the country.
The more victims of human trafficking we identified, the more difficult it became to simply assist with the rescue and placement of individuals. After victims were placed in a government shelter, there was little to offer them in terms of employment. Many women I encountered came from Eastern Europe and South-East Asia. I constantly faced the same challenge: send a woman back to her home country and risk her falling back into exploitation, or push to have her stay in South Africa where without employment opportunities, there was a high risk of her falling back into exploitation. With minimal reintegration programs available, victims seemed to fall into a vicious cycle of exploitation. I knew we needed to move beyond awareness and basic care; thus, the idea of designing and incubating social enterprises through Not For Sale became more and more attractive to me.
But how will social enterprise be used to address this global crime? Not For Sale’s research on the issue of human trafficking revealed that this is an economic issue demanding economic solutions. Many victims of human trafficking come from poverty-stricken communities, where those most at-risk -young men and women looking for work – are easily lured away from home by promises of a brighter future. Most often dreams of a better future never materialize as victims find themselves trapped in a cycle of debt-bondage, violence, and coercion. All the while, traffickers profit from their victim’s situation of duress. To address the flow of individuals vulnerable to human trafficking, NFS has begun moving ‘upstream’ to alter the opportunities for at-risk communities. This enables the dreams of dignified employment and provision for families to be addressed before the lure of traffickers ensnares them in a system of exploitation.
The critical need to stop the cycle of exploitation hit home for me while working on a case involving a 28 year-old woman Ukrainian woman named Elena*. Elena was trafficked to South Africa, had her passport taken away, and had been working in a strip club to pay off an outrageous debt. I remember sitting across from her as she told me that she had moved to Switzerland when she was 18 because she had been promised a job as a nanny. When she arrived, she was given alcohol, and told that she had to entertain men. In a few short weeks she was working in prostitution. After several months, she was identified as a victim of exploitation and sent back to Ukraine. However, when she arrived home, her family was angry with her. They expected her to return with money and successes. Instead, she returned home with psychological damage from months of abuse. Her father told her to find another job or go live on streets.
A friend of Elena’s offered her a position as a dancer in the Dominican Republic. From there, the scenario repeated itself. For ten years Elena had been moved from country to country, always under the same circumstances. She told me that every time she thought things would get better. “I believed that things could be different,” she recounted in broken English, “I didn’t think it would happen again.” I was shocked as she showed me her passport, full of stamps. The serious young face of the beautiful woman staring from her passport photograph was entirely unrecognizable to the Elena who sat in front of me. Years of exploitation had stolen her beauty, her youth, and her mind. I faced the harsh reality that if she returned to Ukraine, she would probably not be trafficked again, because after ten years, she was not even profitable for a trafficker anymore. She was so far emotionally and mentally damaged that her best option was to be admitted into a mental health ward.
I left Elena that day, and questioned how this could have happened. How could one person be rescued and re-trafficked so many times? And how can we stop this system of exploitation before we are left with another case like Elena? A month after meeting Elena, I moved to Amsterdam to join NFS in piloting a program to combat the sex trafficking of women through ‘upstream’ preventative solutions.
In Europe, Not For Sale is answering the question of how to stop the flow of victims through a unique social enterprise, HOME. This business delivers nutritious and inexpensive soups to women working behind the windows in Amsterdam’s red light district where prostitution has been legalized since the year 2000. Originally, when the Netherlands legalized its sex industry, the hope was that by bringing prostitution into the public eye and regulating it, the Dutch government would create a safer environment for prostitutes. Unfortunately, the seedy underworld of organized crime and human trafficking has infiltrated the red light districts across the Netherlands. Approximately 70 percent of the estimated 25,000-30,000 women working in prostitution are foreigners from Eastern Europe and Africa. Not For Sale researched the situation in Amsterdam’s red light district and determined that access to healthcare and proper nutrition were two large gaps facing the Eastern European women working in prostitution.
Nikolina* a 26 year-old from Bulgaria told me that when girls first arrive in Amsterdam, everything is arranged by the pimp who brought them. “You don’t speak the language, you don’t know what the laws are, you don’t know how to buy groceries, and you don’t know that there is free health care. When you are with a pimp, all you do is sleep and work.” Nikolina was able to escape her pimp after 6 months, but 6 years later, is still working in prostitution. I asked her if she would like to do other work, and she replied, yes, definitely. But when I asked her to say what she would like to do, she shrugged. She explained that as a Bulgarian, her working options in the Netherlands are limited. She cannot work in a service industry. Her only option is to be self-employed. She does not have the resources to start her own business, and so she remains in prostitution.
Not For Sale has developed a holistic approach to addressing potential exploitation by first meeting the nutritional needs of individuals currently working behind the windows in prostitution through the HOME soup business, and secondly by partnering with those government entities that provide free healthcare to sex workers. The final step to creating new futures for survivors of exploitation through NFS Amsterdam is the development of a job skill-training program that will give women who were trafficked into the Netherlands the opportunity to learn skills in cooking and catering, and the creation of products that will be sold through HEMA, a department store in the Netherlands that has over 600 distribution points. Not For Sale’s targeted efforts to train survivors of exploitation in skilled job training is led by Not For Sale Netherlands Director, Toos Heemskerk. In 2010, Heemskerk conducted in-depth research on the situation of prostitutes in the red light district by interviewing women from Eastern Europe, particularly those from Hungary. Through her research she discovered that the majority of women coming from Hungary did so through the help of a third-party, and over 35 percent of the women interviewed revealed that they had been trafficked to Amsterdam by a boyfriend or a pimp. More than 90 percent of them felt that the reality of working in prostitution did not meet the expectations of what they had been promised when they left home.
Heemskerk knew for years that Eastern European women were being exploited in Amsterdam, and now she had the data to prove it. Pimps were profiting on the vulnerability of the Hungarian women. One convicted Hungarian pimp made over $120,000 in seven months by the exploitation of just three women. These women were trapped, working for him through debt-bondage.
Heemskerk now offers skills training to trafficked women as a way to better prepare them for their return to their home country. The meals being served in the red light district provide a platform for women rescued from human trafficking to gain work experience before they are repatriated to their country of origin. During the HOME soup launch in Amsterdam, over 90 women from 15 different nationalities taste-tested the soup. Toos Heemskerk said that during the testing she asked the women to give feedback on soup recipes from their home countries that they would like to try. Heemskerk commented, “Over the last 16 years I have been approaching the women, telling them that they can come to us if they need help. Over and over again, I have been offering my help. But now, when I go to the windows, I am asking the women to help us. The difference is remarkable! You can see their excitement as they get to share recipes of soups from their home countries.” The concept of HOME soups is that we are providing a taste of home for those girls who are alone and far away from their families; providing comfort in a cup of soup.
One of the first customers of HOME soup, a young Bulgarian girl, welcomed those delivering the soup. She told us that she was having a terrible day, had just been verbally abused by a john, and was so thankful to receive something good. She was more than happy to buy a pre-paid card, which guaranteed her four more soups for a low price. The next customer of HOME was an older woman who had already tried to exit prostitution once, but explained to Heemskerk that nobody would hire her. She expressed fear of what the future would hold for her. This basic service of selling soups gives room for people like Heemskerk to better understand the needs of women who wish to leave prostitution.
Toos Heemskerk found that many times when women tried to exit a situation of human trafficking, they were not only met with violent opposition from their trafficker but there was also very few services in their country of origin to assist with their reintegration. Heemskerk saw that after the women were free, they often lacked the opportunity and restoration to seek dignified employment. Research has shown that over 60 percent of human trafficking victims end up re-trafficked, due to a lack of reintegration programs and employment opportunities.
Vera is one such girl whose story shows how difficult it can be for a woman to exit exploitation and return to her home country. Vera was open and engaging with everyone she met. To Toos Heemskerk, she appeared to be “free” and working on her own. Vera spoke openly with the police officers and social workers, and was considered a legal, self-employed prostitute. In truth, Vera was working for a pimp who encouraged her to maintain this illusion of freedom.
When the pimp needed to return to Vera’s home country of Hungary, he allowed her to accompany him so that she could visit her child and family. The visit was supposed to be for several weeks but after only three days, the pimp suddenly cut it short and insisted they return to Amsterdam. He informed Vera that they had to leave, and when she resisted, he threatened her with violence.
Later that night, the pimp returned with a gang and attacked Vera. Her father and brother-in-law tried to defend her, but the gang overpowered them. They severely beat Vera and her family. Vera went to the police to take legal action against her pimp. The police tried to persuade her that this was a waste of time. Yet Vera courageously persisted, and finally the police brought her pimp to trial. Vera testified against the man in court and he was sentenced to prison. However, after only two months, he was released. Vera could no longer live with her family who feared the pimp would seek revenge. With no money, no job prospects, and no safe place to live – her future and the future of her young child looked extremely bleak. Hungary has little to offer victims of modern slavery. Desperate, Vera was forced to return to prostitution to provide for her child. She recounted her story to Heemskerk upon her return to Amsterdam, and shrugged off any hope of leaving prostitution. Her main concern now is for the safety of her child.
To prevent women from ending up in Vera’s situation, the movement against slavery must address the root cause of why people are trafficked. Poverty and lack of employment are two factors that drive at-risk people into the situation of extreme exploitation in the first place.
This is why Not For Sale has chosen to address the trafficking of vulnerable individuals from economically depressed communities. Alongside job skill training in Western Europe and creating opportunites to stop the flow of women from Romania and other Eastern European countries, NFS recently began a farm expansion in Romania that will provide jobs to fifty survivors of human trafficking. On this farm, NFS plans to grow a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. These products will be distributed in Western Europe through the Netherlands operations.
It can be hard for those living in western countries to grasp the depth of abuse and exploitation occurring in the hidden world of human trafficking. But for individuals working in the anti-trafficking movement on the ground in Eastern Europe, stories of slavery are all too common. In Romania, NFS’ regularly repatriates victims of human trafficking from all over the world; the men, women, and children who cross their doorstep on a regular basis report harrowing stories of slavery in both sexual exploitation and forced labour.
One story was that of Marie, a young girl who was first sold into prostitution at the age of nine. For six years, Marie experienced traumatizing abuse and exploitation at the hands of her traffickers and was moved to multiple countries throughout Europe. At the age of 15, Marie was rescued from forced prostitution by authorities and repatriated through NFS Romania. There she received counseling, the healing power of acceptance, and the experience of a new family. After several years, Marie finished her high school education and went on to be accepted into university. NFS Romania says that each case of human trafficking is different. “We work with real people who have thoughts, needs, fears, and hopes.” Through their re-integration program, NFS Romania looks to provide individual care to each survivor they encounter.
But there are still many women in desperate economic situations that may choose to leave home with traffickers, hoping that a life in the West will provide their families with a better future. Presently Romania is the largest source country for migrant sex workers on the European continent. While Not For Sale Romania works tirelessly with survivors of slavery to provide support and education to better assist with survivors reintegration process, after-care and repatriation are not the only answers to address the global crime of human trafficking. Preventing exploitation and disrupting the flow of vulnerable women from Eastern European countries to cities like Amsterdam are keys to creating long-term change in the anti-trafficking movement.
While Not For Sale expands their work in Romania, they are also developing relationships with agricultural co-ops in other Eastern European countries to broaden the economic opportunities in at-risk areas. In this way, NFS holistically addresses the injustice of human trafficking across multiple sectors. From the rescue and repatriation of survivors; to the provision of legal services, health-care, and job skill training, to the creation of employment opportunities and betterment of economic situations, Not For Sale is creating a unique and innovative system to end the modern day slave trade.
Today, I was having breakfast with a friend of mine, Sofia, who is from Ukraine. I recounted to her the story of Elena, the Ukrainian girl who had been trafficked for ten years and ended up in South Africa. Sofia was shocked that this had happened to a girl from her country. The realization hit us both, had my friend been born in another city, to another family, she may have ended up in a situation much like Elena. Instead of eating pancakes for breakfast in her cozy flat in Amsterdam, she may have been servicing men in a brothel with no hope of escape. Sofia looked at me and offered to share some Ukrainian soup recipes for the HOME soup business. Sofia’s act of sharing soup recipes may not be the typical way to get involved in ending modern slavery, but it could have a wonderful impact on a young girl behind the window. Talking with Sofia reminded me that we all have a role we can play in taking action against modern slavery. Each act, no matter how small, should not be discounted. As the movement grows, so do the creative ways that people can take what they know, or the skills they have, and channel them to seek justice for those who are enslaved.
If you are wondering what you can do to become a part of the movement to end slavery, please know that whoever you are, and no matter where you are in the world, there is something that can be done. Tools like EMPOWER, give people individualized opportunities to take action and re-abolish slavery. Not For Sale provides academies to train individuals to become smart activists, and hosts a yearly Global Forum on Human Trafficking, where leaders from around the world share solutions and incubate incredible ideas for long-term change. While there are many terrible things about the issue of human trafficking, there is also great hope, not only for girls like Marie from Romania who is embracing a new future, but also for the next generation of men, women, and children, who will avoid the trap of exploitation through the betterment of their situation by the tireless efforts of organizations like Not For Sale.
Saskia works for Not For Sale and began combating the issue of human trafficking in 2008 while living in S.Africa; assisted in the founding of Not For Sale South Africa, at which time she ran the “Red Card Campaign” focusing on raising awareness about sex trafficking and the 2010 World Cup; organized a countrywide Stop Paying for Slavery tour and using the skill she learned through NFS training; her team went on to identify or assist with the cases of 52 victims of Human Trafficking. 2011 Saskia moved to the Netherlands and is currently working in Amsterdam on an innovative social enterprise that seeks to empower vulnerable women through skills-training that focuses on creating dignified employment for survivors of exploitation.http://www.notforsalecampaign.org