Support victims of human trafficking in Serbia

by ASTRA - Anti trafficking action (ASTRA - Akcija protiv trgovine ljudima)
Support victims of human trafficking in Serbia
Support victims of human trafficking in Serbia
Support victims of human trafficking in Serbia
Support victims of human trafficking in Serbia
Support victims of human trafficking in Serbia
Support victims of human trafficking in Serbia
Support victims of human trafficking in Serbia
Support victims of human trafficking in Serbia
Support victims of human trafficking in Serbia
Support victims of human trafficking in Serbia
Support victims of human trafficking in Serbia
Support victims of human trafficking in Serbia
Support victims of human trafficking in Serbia
Support victims of human trafficking in Serbia
Support victims of human trafficking in Serbia
Support victims of human trafficking in Serbia
Support victims of human trafficking in Serbia
Support victims of human trafficking in Serbia
Support victims of human trafficking in Serbia
Support victims of human trafficking in Serbia
Materials for workshop
Materials for workshop

ASTRA runs a Day Center for children from Residential institutions, where we organize different workshops for them. A 14 year old girl came to one of the workshops that we organized, it was her first time here. When we spoke with children about the work we do and human trafficking issue and how to protect themselves, she rose a hand and in front of everyone said: “ I am a victim of human trafficking”.

Fearing how other children could react, we invited her to talk in private about her experience. She said she was in a residential institutions for several months now and that she does not have anyone to talk to, and that she feels that no one understands her, that everyone are rejecting her.

Then she told us her story; how she met a boy on Facebook, who was much older than she was, how he promised to help her, but then she was faced with a cruel reality.  All he ever wanted was to use her, he abused her, beat her, forced her to do hard work. She found out he was planning to sell her in Austria. Luckily, she managed to escape.

We spoke to her for a long time, and explained her that she was not alone, that we are there to help her. She started coming to Day Center regularly, participating in various workshops and after that we were helping her to improve her reading and writing skills, we helped her studying in order to improve her grades in school. Her education was something that has been neglected for a long time, since no one ever paid attention to that, nor did they tried to help her learn. We worked hard with her and our biggest motivation was in the fact that we saw the improvement very fast.

The biggest gift we could receive was a New Year’s card she gave us where she said how lucky she was for having us, and how grateful she was. Some sentences are still echoing in all of us, giving us motivation to persevere with our work: “You saved a girl’s life and you gave her a chance to realize her dreams. I often tell myself: “You are not alone, you have ASTRA”. I hope I will be able to repay you for all that you have done for me. Thank you endlessly!”

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Campaign "Open your eyes"
Campaign "Open your eyes"

ASTRA-Anti Human Trafficking Action is an organization that arose from the need to provide assistance and support to victims of various forms of exploitation, which at the time when the organization was established were not identified, nor by the system, nor by the society. Human trafficking, a phenomenon almost as old as society, but in Serbia legally recognized only in 2003. A few years before the introduction of the crime of human trafficking, it starts our struggle which is not slowing down for fifteen years. The only thing we never lacked during all these years is the desire and energy to help the victims, to enable them to recover into society after a traumatic experience and the return of faith in a better tomorrow. Like every social problem, and human trafficking, and addressing this problem requires a comprehensive coordinated work of all relevant actors in society, how to eliminate the consequences and to provide all necessary forms of assistance to victims, and prevention of problems and creating a social climate in which human trafficking is not happening.

Failures are parts of life and we eventually learn how to deal with the failures and most importantly, to learn from them and to stand up even stronger. We provided help and support for over 480 victims of human trafficking. Different life stories, different circumstances, diverse characters of individuals, but one thing is the same, the trauma that has survived. Each victim is our loss, the decline of society and the state that failed to provide them with the basic requirements for a decent life, but also our failure, because we are part of the society that we are trying to correct. We provide all kinds of assistance to victims of human trafficking including legal, psychological, medical, alternative accommodation, food, clothes and shoes, etc. Material things is not difficult to obtain, but the battle for finding continuous funding is more difficult, but it is important not to give up. However, trafficking is a betrayal of all that is good and decent in human relations. The trafficker deprive the victim of her humanity that is very hard to catch up after one of the caused damage. However, our biggest falls are seen in situations where clients from a variety of reasons return to her/his trafficker, which means that it is not fully empowered to move forward, to continue their lives in freedom.

Our biggest loss was when at the end of a strenuous struggle, which lasted 10 years, and the trafficker won. In fact, one night we had a call from a police officer from the nearby municipality. The girl was detained with big black eyes, who was shaking with pain and fear. She was detained because of the possession of narcotics, but they realize that there are elements of human trafficking. She was forced to sex work, and forced to drug use. They beat her every time she did not want to do what they asked for her clients. She tried to escape, but did not prosper. We gave her first direct assistance, but after that we tried to reintegrate her into society. That night, when she had nowhere to go, we put her in our office. She was terrified. We told her she was secured. She cried in the silence. As the night wore on, she began the story admitting that she was sold by her boyfriend and that she was abused by him and his friends, and other men. We tried to help her and to provide her accomodation and better life, but we did not succeed. She reurneed to his boyfriend who countinued to force her to sex work. Again her hell started. All the same, there is no change.

Experience teaches victims of human trafficking harsh lessons about the inherent cruelty of other human beings. "My wounds are inside, you have not seen," say the women who survived human trafficking chain. Us, as assistance providers, this definitely strengthens the desire to heal these wounds. Sometimes we succeed, but sometimes not. Failures are there, but we're not giving up in the fight for victims and in fight to bring the smile back on their face and the will to live. The hardest part in this constant struggle, is to reintegrate them into the system, without additional re-traumatization. The system only recognizes the problems that are visible. Our intention is to provide support to these people and to jointly fight to regain their rights, in order not to become victims again.

Many times we wonder why we do it, it is exhausting, difficult, and we hear terrible life stories that have to leave the consequences for ourselves-members of the organization. But there is only one because. Because we need them. They need a place where they feel safe, loved, protected and understood. We may be regarded as the black sheep of the degraded society, but we will continue to work on our mission. Dr. Michael Korzinski says that the victims are members of society whose problems represent memories of suffering, violence and pain in the world that society tends to forget. We do not want to forget, we want to make up for the suffering, and despite all the obstacles they are into, continue in their attempts to prevent this problem, and protect the victims who survived the experience of human trafficking.

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One night, while our client, young mother of a 5 year old child, was putting her daughter to sleep, someone throw a large stone on her window,  that flown right next to her child. She looked through the dark and saw faces of trafficker and his collaborator, from whom she escaped few days ago. They found her family house and decided to take revenge and scare her in order for her to return to work for him. They broke the door of her house, went straight in, yelling at her and threatening to kill her whole family. Luckily, they just wanted to scare her that time so they left threatening that they will return.

Terrified for their lives, she run to local police station, but police officer who spoke to her did not recognize seriousness of the situation, he made fun of her, telling that she has to find help somewhere else, because such thing as human trafficking does not happen in their town.

She tried to find help on the other place, so she looked on the Internet. Luckily, she found ASTRA Hotline number and called us saying: "Please do something! I have no one else except you".

ASTRA consultants contacted relevant institutions in order to protect and assist this young woman.

Soon after, they went all together to the police once again, but this time to the chief of the police to file a complaint. He reacted fast because he realized that the police made a mistake the first time. They started investigation and our client received necessary protection for her and her family.

After that, still under impression of everything that happened she told us:

 “I have to admit something... I was so desperate, in one point I was thinking to return to him or to kill myself just to save my innocent daughter. She doesn’t have to suffer... But you saved me! Thank you, thank you. You are not aware of what you have done for me. Now, I finally gained some strength to keep on going and to fight against trafficker. I couldn’t have done that without you. You saved me, I will never forget that”.

People, who are not familiar with the issue of human trafficking, are often prone to bias and stereotypes, which brings even more harm to trafficking victims. After victims leave the trafficking chain they are often discriminated by very same persons that are supposed to help them and protect them which expose them to secondary victimization and makes their recovery even harder. Because of that, it is important that they have someone who will be there for them and who will give them support when they need it the most, listening them with open mind, without judging them, but understanding the difficulty of the situation victims of human trafficking can be.

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In one field action my colleague was helping a 20 year old girl, victim of human trafficking, to accommodate in a temporary apartment that ASTRA rented for her as a part of the support plan for her recovery. When she returned, she told me about the dialog she had with the girl:

“We were talking about her plans for the future. Wanting to empower her, I told her:

-          You are not alone, we are here for you. We will help you get on your own feet…but you have to take care of yourself as well…this is your life  and you have to take control…and we know you can do that...you are capable…you are smart...

-          You really think I am smart?, she asked with a surprise. Her face was showing signs of disbelief. You really think that? You are not just saying that?

-          Yes, of course! We all think you are smart and capable. How you handled all that you have been through, how you managed to escape… of course you are smart!

-          She watched me all surprised, her face lit up as if she has just won the lottery. Thank you so much! I can’t believe you mean that...Who else thinks that?...My sister always tells me that I am good for nothing, that I’ll never manage to do anything…she said with tears in her eyes…

It was then when I realized that, being left by her parents, growing up as child in a children’s shelter, no one ever told her anything encouraging, anything supportive. She has been looked down upon all her life, and she has identified herself with all the bad things that people kept telling her.”

 

Even though anyone can fall victim to human trafficking, and the mistake of generalization should be avoided, there are some similarities among victims who are often members of marginalized groups (women, children and youth, Romas etc). Social surrounding of an individual is a significant factor in becoming a victim: abuse, neglect, deprivation, poverty, lack of employment opportunities, poor access to education, insensitive environment full of prejudices.

Social protection institutions usually provide one-time financial assistance and there are no specialized programs for assisting victims of this form of violence. Social workers lack knowledge, expertise and sensitivity either for recognizing human trafficking or for dealing with victims. For this reason, victims’ very basic needs are often not seen as a priority and the trauma the victims survived is denied or minimized.

 

Since 2002, ASTRA identified 479 victims of human trafficking who were provided with various forms of assistance. Besides receiving material and medical assistance, legal and psychological support, economic empowerment trainings, victims also need emotional support, someone who will be there for them so they can see their way through the difficulty. Having someone to rely on when the chips are down is one of the most important parts in supporting victims during the recovery, something that no matter how functional they may be institutions cannot provide.

That is why your support to our program is so important, because it gives victims an opportunity to have a new start and gain the agency to change their lives instead of being a slave of their own biography.  

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Project Leader:
Marija Andjelkovic
Belgrade, Serbia
$22,611 raised of $30,000 goal
 
351 donations
$7,389 to go
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