European Prevention Trek: A Report
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This week we received a full report from Love146 European Operations Director Gaz Kishere and team member Steve Leach, chronicling their journey throughout Europe. For those who have been following their trip on the Love146 blog you are familiar with this exploration into the many faces of trafficking throughout Europe. In his own words, Gaz reports on their findings. See his report below:
Firstly I want to say how struck I was with projects warmth and openness to having us present, their hospitality and open door to their projects. I will try not to repeat story and information shared previously in our road trip blogs.
There has been a consistent sense that there are very few people working to deal with a massive issue. There may be only one befriending/victim identification project with 6 volunteers working in a city with hundreds of brothels and thousands of prostitutes and a population of 2 million. It would be wrong to look at a city in terms of the type of projects present and consider all bases covered. At a personnel level there is a lot of space out there and projects are more than likely not working effectively, not working well with others and if they are working with others, this may have a problem management outlook, not one of strategic change.
Shelters and safe houses are a strange one, in that they are thin on the ground, usually just a handful of places victims can go, but in reality this may be sufficient for the actual number of victims who are a) rescued locally or repatriated and b) those who make it to a shelter after an intervention with such strict criteria of acceptance (immigration).
Nuremburg – Germany – Stop Over.
Our first night on the trip was in Nuremburg Germany. We had been told that Germany legalised prostitution for the 2006 World Cup, if this was true it showed forethought as it was legalised 4 years earlier. The authorities recognise that it has not worked well as it is now full of trafficking victims.
It was the first time I had experienced girls in shop windows like in Amsterdam. It wasn’t very nice and was the closest I felt to the girls and their faces and their interractions with clients so far. Not much to say really other than a general sense that the answer to trafficking is not legalising prostitution. The same as elsewhere, almost the entire brothel work force come from other countries. Interestingly Greece tried a temporary ban on prostitution for its Olympics but was effectively opposed by a prostitutes Union.
Of the two projects visited it would be fair to say these covered the spectrum of operations, work ethnicity and victim type. It is worth noting that most of eastern Europe has a strong religious backdrop of either Orthodox or Catholic beliefs.
Secret Location - Bucharest Romania
This is a project which has been running for around 12 years run by a Mother and Son team with social worker support. The pair are Romanian but fled to Perth Australia during communist persecution. They are overtly Christian in faith.
The shelter operates on an extended family model in that those running the shelter live alongside the girls who number between 6 and 15. All the girls in this home are repatriated from other countries back to Romania. If they are sent home , It can indicate that they were not accepted as a trafficking victim in the host country and have been deported, though this may still involve ngo’s and networking. This was the context where we heard that police often rape the girls on repatriation before handing them over. This was a less sanitised environment than i have come to expect , it worked as an extended family context with those who run it living in on a permanent basis. It was not a carer only environment. I have no idea if this was a good or better model. It was an interesting experience walking straight into the shelter and meeting the girls and seemed to promote an air of normalisation.
The girls in my view ranged from 25 at one end and under 15 at the other with girls seeming younger than this, possibly 13 upwards. It is worth noting that these girls have already experienced 2 or 3 years of trafficking abroad, having been sold many times in this period. In general, our observation was one of girls who looked hollow, soul-less like a beaten dog, fearful of eye contact, girls you would pass in the street and some, especially the younger ones who would have been prized by traffickers for their beauty.
NB: As we had hoped to obtain some victim interviews on our travels, we felt early on that this was unlikely. In our view the adults who have been trafficked have been reduced to a child state and the ethos of working with children needed to be applied. Looking at Maslows hierarchy of needs which is a scale of what it means to become adult, to self actualise as a whole person. Many of the key stages of Physiological needs/ Safety needs /Love + Belonging/ Esteem/ Arrival with a sense of self in the world... have been stripped away. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maslow%27s_hierarchy_of_needs
As such, adult victims, in my view, start their recovery in much the same place that children do. Such is the nature of prolonged abuse, torture and identity eradication.
Our host had to leave, and our meeting ended. He had to pick up 2 young children for kindergarten. The children were those of a young victim who arrived heavily pregnant. Whilst in Hospital and having given birth, she was kidnapped by her pimp and never seen again, the Mother and Son adopted the children, who are part of this extended family journey.
Shelters for foreigners or indigenous girls both face issues around security and safety, either from pimps at one end of the road, or traffickers and people they know, perhaps even family members at the other end
This projects is setting up a hotel/business to create a sustainable context for the girls to work in as a means of their own financial support but also to help underwrite the safe home.
Shelter 2 – Thessaloniki – Greece
We didn’t get to visit this shelter as it operates on a very different model. The only people working at the shelter are staff and social workers. All of the girls in this shelter were rescued from Brothels or the Streets locally. There are only 6 or 7 girls here and the project has been developed over 2 years.
The main focus of the project is that it was set up by 2 local lawyers developing a game plan for victims rights and pimp/trafficker prosecutions. We were struck by how access to recovery is a very narrow path in Greece. To be allowed to stay in a safe home you have to first establish that you are a victim of trafficking. For this to happen you be willing to go to court and prosecute you pimp or trafficker. This is the law of the land and perhaps is the same in many other countries where campaigners are struggling to see trafficking victims dealt with differently to illegal migrants or illegal prostitutes. We found this to be ridiculous and immoral in light of the number of victims the people of Greece allow to be abused systematically on its soil. This is also one reason for that lack of police action. Police want to know that there is the likelihood of a prosecution before they get involved in a rescue. In this scenario, the traffickers are winning.
We spoke with the lady running the shelter. As with the previous safe home in Romania, girls stay for up to 1.5 years to go through recovery and re integration. When the girls arrive they go through a lengthy interview process, this will determine if they are likely to get ‘victim’ status and whether they will be able to stay. If they cannot, they are shipped off to their home country where they may or may not find themselves in an indigenous recovery setting. The reality is they are often re trafficked or as broken people, find themselves willingly back in prostitution.
The distinctions between trafficking victims and prostitutes blurred during our trip. The question of ‘how long does it take to see yourself as just a prostitute – always a prostitute when you are called a whore and worthless on a daily basis, as well as the beatings and ongoing abuse.
Street and Brothel Teams
Victim Identification – Athens
This project has been going for 12 years and has ‘open door’ access to many local brothels to go in and work in a care role with the girls. It also works on the streets in a basic befriending, victim support role. Its describes its work as victim identification which means if makes contact, develops relationship, finds story and personhood, keeps records of girls movements. It has also given training to local police in regard to trafficking. There seemed to be little this group did not know.
My perception of this group was that it was a thankless eroding task with very few positive stories to lift their spirits. They really do exist in the thick of it and in the worst parts of some of European trafficking as a destination and transit country/city. Interventions were few and far between.
There seemed as with all projects to be a lack of cohesive strategising with other agencies, most projects are strongly focused upon their own work and relationships formed with others are based on the need or aims of their particular project. All works visited are deeply subjective and perhaps lack the objectivity that outsiders could contribute. This group were amazing, committed and exhausted. External encouragement and finance were poor and the need for sporadic fundraising seemed such a demoralising distraction to already taxing work.
They have done some good training with the local police and organised crime prevention unit. Interestingly on the subject of Voo Doo in the lives of the Nigerian victims who have a Voo Doo initiation back in Nigeria. Basically that harm will come to their families if they try to escape or don’t earn their pimp good money. They tell the police ‘you don’t need to believe this – you just need to know the implications of the girls believing this’. The Nigerians are also mostly Christian in faith and are allowed to go to local Nigeria churches and expected to tithe their income!! We learned a lot about this group, their 60k starting debt, their paying it off 8 euros per client and the overwhelming shudder when you do the maths. All these girls come from the same region. Interesting that this faith based project is regularly asked by girls to pray for more clients and more money, escape isn’t a perceived option, only working their way out of the debt.
This project spoke very strongly about the need for prevention. Prevention in education of the next generation of predominantly east Europeans, and prevention in that there are people working to change laws, re-enforce laws and challenge cultural mindsets which perpetuate the problem. Especially here in Greece where prostitution is culturally engrained at one level yet where family is strong and indigenous children deeply protected. I felt that understanding the psyche of the culture and of family in Greece could give us some effective subversive strategies for media to be used.
There are no indigenous people being sexually exploited (apparently) though the closed family unit is breaking slightly and stories of domestic violence and sexual abuse are beginning to sneak out. Schools are mostly state schools and are closed entirely to addressing these issues, no teaching on trafficking, hiv and sexual health – nothing. This only takes place in the small number of private schools. So accessing society gets the creative juices flowing, a surmountable challenge I think.
Greece also led me to believe that there could be worth in a global focus on a specific country, multiple campaigns at every level. If we can hit it in one country, it will be a story for the others, that things can change. I wondered with countries having to improve human rights abuses to enter the EU, if there was a criteria of losing this status that could be played upon. It would also impact the freedom of traffickers to take out a significant transit country.
It is worth noting, as we did, that people don’t really pay for time with a prostitute here, they pay for the sex act. The brothel environment is geared up for arousal so the guy is only with the girl for less than 5 minutes. This is normal. This is also where the logistics of 50-100 clients a day begin to get realised.
Prague - Czech Rep.
This was a project in its early stages and was beginning to develop strategy and partnwerships for the work. Based upon street work and victim identification. We felt quite vulnerable there as going onto the streets there was a sense that we were experiencing it together and anything could happen. It also highlighted how unsafe these environments are, this is where we got shouted down by multiple pimps trying to make a sale. City centre places like this often use sex ‘clubs’ as fronts for the brothels above or behind the premises. Interesting shift in language, people don’t go to dance in clubs, they go to have sex, disco’s are where people dance. In several cities we walked past higher end bars with a high number of single girls sat at tables waiting to pick up clients.
The woman who had joined the team to help set it up works in the border places between Czech and Germany which is often a much darker setting of prostitution. Several projects in east Europe talks about the Roma or Romany travelling community who often pimp their own community or family members. There seems to be little reference points of ‘normal’, no idea of marriage or one partner and so incest is prevalent in this large people group. Children are a means to an end and most relationships are based on function and need more that emotional ties. Children are strongly abused within the family, the community and in being sold to others. The border places are often where this can be found in full operation, often servicing the thousands of truckers crossing over from one place to the next. Border villages will have hand made signs pointing towards brothels and even family homes. In places where prostitution is now culturally accepted, many men will travel from the cities to these border regions for anonymity.
Vienne – Austria
A long established befriending project working in some brothels but mostly amongst the vast array street prostitutes. In most places we visited street prostitution is a tribal affair. Nationalities will have their own streets. In Athens – Nigerians/ Bulgarians/Czech/ Romanians. In Vienne – Moldovans/Ukrainians/ Slovaks/ Bulgarians/ Nigerians. We toured the red light districts with our host hidden in the back of the car. She would point out girls by name saying their nationality and how long they had been on the streets.
We met the girl, again aged physically far beyond her years. She had been rescued 2 years ago. There seemed to be interesting well thought through boundaries. Our hosts relationship with this girl was purely relational, it was not her job to ask question, simply to be a normal face in her re integration process. I was intrigued that most projects only had a questions process when establishing victim status, after this it was all reactive in that it was victim led, as and when it was right to disclose. This project had helped host the 2009 international anti trafficking conference in Vienne.
1,900 legal prostitutes, and as with all places visited, they say double this at least, just to include the illegal brothels and street girls in the immediate city.
This was really a sleep over for us with a tour thrown in.
Romania (Near Cluj - North)
The well respected organisation this project works within has left it well placed to mobilise national prevention initiatives.
It was very focused of Prevention with Youth Education so that a generation have better choices based on better awareness. It was interesting here to see that the focus of work was around trafficking of Romanians abroad or to other domestic cities and not on the local poor community driven to prostitution because of poverty of cultural discrimination. We had interesting conversations with them about sexual exploitation and the overlaps between those who had been beaten and brutalised into prostitution against their will and those who had had this eroded by culture, family and economic poverty over time.
The primary aim is to stop Romanians being trafficked, and as such is very focused in this regard. Stop the Traffic put us onto them as good group to discuss the magazine with and as such have put in place an active year long process to launch a prevention magazine in January 2011. This will be a national magazine distributed through schools. All schools in Romania are state run from a central communications Hub which NfS have access to. The aim is to spend the year involving the schools in a competition to provide the youth content for the eventual magazine. 20 candidates from all over will go on a journalism camp where they will be taught basic skills, This 20 will attend a conference in October for prize givings and some of their work will feed into the mag so schools kids will know the mag is coming a year in advance. The mag may only be once a year, but thoroughly distributed. The mag will not be central, but a serve as a signpost to an active prevention programme throughout the year.
The conference is for national communicators in their fields of justice/rights and human trafficking. The intention is to draw together the countries upper youth/student population or already of wannabe activists. It will be strong on dialogue and interaction and low on platform which will be very counter culture.
This group were also very much engaged in restoring cultural identity to the locality following the communist years which sought to strip such things. It is felt that a strong sense of community identity will make the taking and trafficking of individuals more difficult.
Minors (under teens):
We were not expecting to hear too much about younger children. Our anticipation was that the rest of Europe will mirror the UK in that Paedophilia is still pretty much underground and hidden and is itself an aspect of organised, very organised crime. Most projects had their ‘children’ stories, about brothel raids which found young boys and stories of how those wanting children have to enter a circle of trust with stages of entry such as in Thessaloniki where if you want children, you have to ‘break’ a new girl in a breaking house. The girls in the safe houses are often the primary indicator of what is going on behind the scenes. In Greece the legal prostitutes are almost all previously trafficked girls which usually involves illegal paperwork somewhere in the process, so ages are changed. Street girls will always say ‘18’ when asked when that is clearly not the case. Then there is the regular flow of repatriated victims who are still young teens after several years since they were trafficked and sold.
There is much need for good investigative work, work which is objective and looking for a cross section of facts and statistics more that sensationalised glimpses to convey a predetermined idea. There was insufficient fact in this regard, but it was also far more than hearsay.
We used a statistic from one of the groups on our video blog – that 99% of victims are not rescued and we chose to inquire of most projects concerning this. Nobody liked the statistic, it seemed to be something purely to provoke and was difficult to prove but at the same time, 1 girl in 100 finding their way back home also seemed possible to groups when faced with the actual numbers of girls in recovery. One safe home said he thought it was probably not accurate, but concluded that if it included those sold for labour, begging and for organs, it was more that accurate.
Statistics became a little boring during our trip, as every project had one to convey a particular point to potential donors. Visible facts made a more significant impact upon us, streets and streets of brothels – legal and illegal, walking and driving down road after road with street girls working. Then trying to marry that to the tangibly low numbers in aftercare programmes – it was far from encouraging. We were overwhelmed by the lack of legal process and anything more than token policing. Also by people who have no real clue what the end of sexual exploitation looks like in their country and so by default a lack of those engaged in strategic discussions while working at their particular coal face.
There was a general sense of great people doing great stuff. There is room for significant improvement in inter group relationships where they need to shift from managing problems to strategising for change. They all seem to attend national or international euro conferences and make good connections valuing the relationships and the networking. It seemed to us though that this was not maximised upon once they were back at work. I felt there was a role for an external body to help facilitate this, and as I have mentioned the projects are, as my old regional manager used to say – head down arse up, highly focused on what is before them, possibly to the detriment of its desired outcomes.
A real issue was where projects have mediated space to work which has clipped their wings. For instance, projects working into brothels have to walk a very fine line in helping girls and not jeopardising the permission they have been given to work in certain places. I sensed there are probably quite a few projects which are bound to good behaviour. While I understand this the evidence would be that they sacrifice much to maintain this and as such have a low ceiling on their ability to effect change.
In general the trip raised my hopes that abolitionists can make a contribution at national levels to re sensitize cultures to the issues they tolerate and perpetuate. It also made me realise the limitations of the word abolitionists. I don’t think many projects can be called this as they are mopping up and managing issues, much like our health service in the UK. I heard someone say that we don’t actually have a health service – we have a sickness management service reacting to ‘already’ issues and not being proactive in preventing them which in turn put an insurmountable drain on resources, both financial and human.
I felt this had some relevance to what we perceive to be happening out there. What we saw was predominantly a sickness management service, or as we have been calling it, the ‘ambulance at the bottom of the cliff’. I am not convinced this is abolition. Abolition for me is the ‘fence at the top of the cliff’ breaking the cycle, upturning cultures and resulting in change – irreversibly offending the minds of ordinary Greek people. It was interesting for us on this trip to hear people engaged in after care and victim identification saying how important and how lacking prevention programmes are.
Europe could be a place where a coalition forced focused on some specific desired outcomes could make a significant impact on trafficking trade routes, enforcement of existing legislation and in the writing of new. I relish the thought of what a concentrated multi faceted global campaign could do when focused upon the issues in one key European country, such as Greece which seems to have such a critical role.
We would need to be brave, and put the need to adopt the hidden strategies and systems used by organised crime ahead of our desire to promote our individual group programme publically for fame or fund raising. I am not convinced groups can truly work in a sufficiently hidden way to accomplish better outcomes.
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Source: Gaz Kishere- Love146 European Operations Director and Steve Leach- CBI