Trafficking in the Balkans
June 4-5, 2004
Sponsored by the
American Friends Service Committee
Organized by Michael Simmons
European Quaker International Affairs Representative
American Friends Service Committee
Report prepared by John Feffer
The participants came from in and around former Yugoslavia to discuss the intersection of trafficking of human beings and the sex trade. This was an opportunity for activists at the local, regional, and international level to share stories, strategies, and visions for two days in Dubrovnik, a city on the southern coast of Croatia.
“People come to regional meetings often invited by larger NGOs,” organizer Michael Simmons said in his introductory remarks. “Rarely do local NGOs run the meetings. But this is a meeting by and for local NGOs.”
The goals of the meeting were threefold: enhancing cooperation among NGOs, identifying resources that the group could help create, and refining strategies for dealing with the media. Participants presented the work of their own groups, listened to detailed accounts of several representative organizations, and gathered in workshops to hammer out more specific recommendations for future work.
This report will arrange these discussions according to the following categories: sources of trafficking, counter-strategies, coordination, media work, challenges for activists, and concluding recommendations. To respect the confidentiality of the discussions, the speakers will remain nameless in this report.
While there were some disagreements about strategy and tactics at this meeting, the participants were united in their assessment of the seriousness of the trafficking problem. Many of the participants shared another experience. They had endured the wars that had convulsed the region in the 1990s. Trafficking has proven an equally difficult challenge and has led to consequences for victims that rival the horrors of war. As one participant explained, “Women who suffered during the wars have had a chance to meet victims of trafficking and they say that what they suffered is nothing compared to the violence suffered by women in trafficking.”
In Dubrovnik, participants frankly assessed the state of their movement and what needs to be done to advance their work.
One of the first challenges for activists is to define their issue – if not for themselves then at least for the non-experts with whom they work. So, for instance, trafficking is often confused with smuggling. But smuggling people across borders involves voluntary subjects who are often looking for jobs and are released upon arrival. Because trafficking often connects with the sex trade, the media often confuses trafficking with prostitution. But while many trafficking victims end up working as prostitutes, they are not doing so willingly and this is only one of the possible ways they are victimized. Many organizations in this field use the UN definition of trafficking as it appears in a 2000 protocol to the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime. According to this protocol, ““Trafficking in persons” shall mean the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.”
The three elements in the definition, then, are movement across borders, coercion or the threat of it, and exploitation. “Not all three have to be in place in order to determine i f a person has been trafficked,” reported the IOM representative. “In the confidential interview form we use, if any of these three activities are present, then the person is trafficked.”
While distinguishing trafficking from related issues has been an important job for groups in the region, particularly when dealing with the media, making the links can be equally important. As one participant put it, “In Croatia we are trying to show that trafficking is only one form of sexual violence. People see it as coming from outside. They don’t see that women in our society are in a similar situation.”
Push and Pull
Trafficking is not a new issue. The Japanese “comfort women,” hundreds of thousands of women from Korea, Taiwan, and elsewhere forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese army during World War II, is but one example in the 20th century. But with the intensification of the global economy and the breakdown of states for political and economic reasons, the business of trafficking has grown in the last 15 years.
One major reason for the intensification of trafficking in Eastern Europe has been the breakup of the Soviet bloc, which, according to one participant, has caused financial difficulties, a deterioration of healthcare and education, and an increase in crime rates. “Poverty and high unemployment have left the social welfare system in shreds,” she noted. War exacerbated this strain on the social welfare system in the Balkans as well as strengthened the criminal networks that have profited from smuggling weapons and narcotics.
The push factors from African countries are similar, though they are affected by different cultural factors. Poverty, a desire to find employment in the European Union and to escape civil conflict at home, and lack of opportunities all contribute to boosting the number of those who are trafficked.
The major pull factor, meanwhile, remains the demand for prostitutes and sex workers. This is largely a demand fueled by men. Participants acknowledged that this demand will continue to draw in more trafficked women unless and until both traffickers and “customers” realize that they cannot act with impunity. As one participant remarked, “In my six years experience on the trafficking issue, I have never seen a campaign by an international agency, like UNICEF, that approaches this issue as a need of men to exploit women and children. Nobody talks about why men need these services. It’s like a new need, like a new model of cell phone and now it’s happening to human beings.”
The pull factors are also directly connected to the status of women in the society. “It is not a coincidence that where the economic and social conditions of women are improving, there is a lower incidence of women in prostitution,” said one participant. “In countries with higher poverty, there is a higher incidence of women in prostitution.”
Albania and Nigeria
The representative of the Italian organization Iroko drew an interesting comparison between Albania and Nigeria. In Albania, she explained that the criminal gangs are organized in a more hierarchical, mafia-type organization. These gangs also exploit aspects of Albanian culture, particularly the issue of family honor. “The purity of girls is very important in marriage,” she explained. “Male exploiters often get the consent of Albanian families to marry their daughters, thinking that they are sending her to better conditions of life and opportunities. Then, when the victims get to Italy, they are told by their false fiancées that they have to help their men to earn a living by being “nice” to the traffickers’ friends. Since the victims by then have usually developed an emotional attachment to the men, they usually agree at the beginning. When they then realize what is really being asked of them, they begin to refuse to go with the other men proposed by their “fiancées”. When they refuse, then they are abused physically and this includes being raped, burned with cigarettes, put in ice water. And after that, it becomes easier to push them into prostitution.”
Once forced into prostitution, the Albanian women can not easily go home. Their exploiters have told their families that the women have engaged in dishonorable activities. This destroys their reputations and they are repudiated by their families and society. Those who return home run the risk of being killed for defaming the family’s honor. “The women find themselves in a strange country, with no contact with families back home,” the participant explained. “Those who may have had children at home have no contact with their children. In fact, the children become instruments of oppression when the traffickers threaten to kill them if the women don’t obey orders. The victims are sometimes cut off from their families for years…. Everything is taken from them. They don’t exit the system until they fall sick, die, or run away.”
In Nigeria, on the other hand, the system is much more horizontal and more in the hands of formerly trafficked women themselves who use juju or voodoo to manipulate their victims. “In Nigeria, victims are encouraged to quickly pay off their “debt” to their exploiters so that they too can earn money for themselves and begin to buy other women to earn money for them in prostitution,” the representative explained. “This is the way their exploiters encourage them to stay in the exploitative situation they are in. It is the possibility for them to rise in the hierarchy and become exploiters of other women. Little physical control is used. There is instead a much more powerful psychological control which involves the use of voodoo rites. This is much more difficult to deal with than physical violence. Before the victims leave, parts of their body are taken – nails, hair, etc – and they are forced to engage in voodoo rites. The victims promise on pain of death – or horrible consequences to themselves and to members of their families – to pay back the “debt” and not to reveal who trafficked them to Italy and how they were trafficked. They believe strongly in these rites and are often very much afraid to break the oath. They thus feel that they can’t report to the police. Even those who do report to the police, still feel that they have to pay back the money. The women are eventually told that they must pay between 60,000 and 120,000 euros. They earn about 200 euros daily. But they have to pay rent for the land they stand on. They have to buy presents for the “madams” (their exploiters), which are very expensive. Some run away and hope to find another way to pay back this sum.”
The victims believe they are escaping poverty for a new life in a European El Dorado where it’s easy to earn money. When they arrive, the participant continued, “they find out that the reality is very different. The money is not as easy as they thought. They discover that prostitution is violence, that it is very dangerous and that they face very high risks from sexually transmitted diseases and violence from the men who use them.”
Because of the psychological manipulation, it is difficult to convince the trafficking victims that they don’t need to pay off their “debt” to their exploiters. “We ask them, “If you knew that the amount of money you had to pay was so high, would you have signed? No? So, the contract is null and void,”” explained the participant. “Some victims would have already paid up to 30,000 Euros! We tell them that it cost at most 5000 Euros to bring them over. They’ve paid more than enough.”
Trafficking involves a complex set of issues. Confronting the problem, then, requires an equally complex set of strategies. Anti-trafficking organizations are often simultaneously working with current victims, trying to prevent future victims, leading efforts to change laws, and creating programs for economic self-sufficiency.
Working with victims
Victims of trafficking suffer from a range of problems. According to statistics compiled by the Women’s Safe House in Podgorica in Montenegro, 95 percent of the victims who passed through the shelter were victims of violence, 75 percent had been raped by their customers, 71 percent were forced to use drugs, 98 percent had intercourse without condoms, and 68 percent were afraid of returning to their country of origin.
To deal with this range of problems, most counter-trafficking organizations in the region have a crisis intervention component to their work. Several, for instance, run shelters for victims. In Kosovo, one participant pointed out, “Our shelter is like a house not like an institution. Everything is run by the beneficiaries themselves – they cook, clean, make schedules. We provide packages of food, clothing, and presents for relatives.” The number of beneficiaries is 400 and includes two underage males from Albania who were stealing and begging. A separate, customized shelter for men was created for them.
In Serbia, the shelter houses both domestic and foreign victims. The domestic victims are free to move around, the foreigners are not. “If foreigners have to go out, they need to be accompanied by a counselor or by police in civil uniform,” the participant pointed out. Because of security, the shelter has moved three times since it was established in 2001. A shelter in Sarajevo, meanwhile, was moved seven times in six months because traffickers continually discovered the locations.
In the case of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), shelter work was not planned. The organization was working in Bosnia with a return and repatriation program. But as the problem of trafficking grew, the IOM representative reported that “everyone was looking at us and saying, “you have this program, why don’t you have a shelter?”” So they held a meeting with international donors and local NGOs. “We explained the problem – the NGOs on one side, the donors on the other – and the Japanese ambassador suddenly said that this is a serious problem, he takes out checkbook and asks, “How much do you need. Let me know how much you need now on a temporary basis and then give us a project, I’m sure the Japanese government will fund it.” The local NGOs said they couldn’t do it, because of the security issue and their own capacity. That’s when IOM put together the shelter proposal. We didn’t know zip. I was sitting and waiting for women to appear but I had no clue about how to assist them. We didn’t have assistance from Geneva. We were all learning. It’s not that the initiative is not there or the need is not there. It’s about who can respond at the time.”
Another crisis intervention strategy is to organize an SOS hotline. In Bosnia-Herzogovina, for instance, the organization Lara has employed a Moldovan woman who speaks Romanian, Russian, Ukrainian, and Moldovan. She is thus able to talk not only with victims but also make connections with the countries of origin.
Trafficking victims often require a range of medical treatments. Since testing is voluntary in all cases except for minors, not all victims ask for treatment. Most organizations provide services of some kind. The IOM discovered, for instance, that lack of knowledge often prevented victims from taking advantage of its medical services. When asked about medical assistance, only 33 percent of women in the first IOM interview said they wanted it. “Afterwards, they discovered that they did in fact have these symptoms but hadn’t connected them to these sexually transmitted diseases,” the IOM representative reported. “We asked the women what they would like to have in an informational flyer. They told us. And now, after handing out this flyer, 100 percent of the victims ask for medical assistance.”
HIV and AIDs are a priority for many organizations. In Bosnia Herzogovina, retroviral therapy is donated by different agencies. At the state level, victims can apply to the Solidarity Fund to cover the costs of full treatment. “But the results show that the transition period from HIV status to AIDS status is very short,” a participant pointed out. “The mortality rate is very high. So this assistance has to be improved.”
A major component of medical services is psychological counseling. Most organizations employ psychologists, psychiatrists, and social workers. Iroko uses a technique called the “ethno-psychiatric method,” that looks to the culture of the source country to provide answers to problems of victims. A group that consists of therapists, psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, sometimes the victim’s friends or families, and a cultural guide participates in the therapeutic treatment of the victim.
Serbian shelters employ a mentor system. “Each girl has a mentor,” explained a participant. “The most important thing is to talk. But the girl sometimes tells different stories to different mentors. But eventually she will tell the true story, the exact story.”
Repatriation vs. integration
Ideally, victims of trafficking would have a choice once they break away from their exploiters. The victims would choose between returning home or staying in the country where they’d been forced to work or stay. With very few exceptions, however, victims can only choose to return home – the option of repatriation. The United States offers a few slots for trafficking victims to stay and become integrated into U.S. society.
But only Italy has passed comprehensive legislation that allows for victims of trafficking to stay if they so choose. “Those identified as victims and have their stories collaborated are never sent back,” the representative of Iroko reported. “A victim is rarely sent back.” At the same time, however, there has been a political shift in Italy and a more conservative government has taken over since passage of the original legislation on trafficking. “For the last three years,” she continued, “we have a government which has a different approach to these issues and is much more repressive. Sometimes, the police don’t give victims a chance to tell their stories. So a victim is picked up by the police, brought to a detention center and expelled as an illegal alien. So, instead of an interview and transfer to the proper agency, we don’t get immediate access to them any more.”
Other organizations are caught in a dilemma of cooperating with the authorities in the deportation of trafficking victims or watching victims leave the shelters and potentially return to the streets. “We can’t provide temporary resident visas,” the representative from Kosovo said. “Those who don’t want to go home, we give them our address and they can come back to us. There’s a gap here because there are no other jobs for them. We don’t know if they go back. The police responsibility is to send the victims back. But it is her right to decide to stay or go.”
Repatriation has its problems. The victims returning home often face hostility from their families and the challenge of finding work. “Most families don’t want to know anything about the victims and think that they’ll bring back problems.” One participant said. “They say, “if we’re going to have one more mouth to feed, we don’t want them.”” Anti-trafficking organizations are sometimes able to follow-up with the victims after they’ve returned home and sometimes not. The IOM claims an 83 percent success rate for reintegration in Ukraine. But a participant pointed out that there was only one example of the proper reintegration of a person in Albania. So the repatriation and reintegration model is uneven throughout the region.
There is a large difference from country to country in the legal guarantees protecting victims of trafficking. In Bosnia Herzegovina, one participant pointed out, “Many ex-victims who were working in nightclubs call and start suits against people who did violence to them. Still, it is difficult to organize such lawsuits. We must change something in the law.” In Serbia, meanwhile, the court process can take one or two years and the victims generally have already returned to their country. They will return for the trial but then must leave again when the trial is concluded.”
Here, again, Italy has set an example for the legal protections accorded victims. When its trafficking law was passed to provide visas and social protections to victims, the percentage of victims coming forward jumped from 10 to 80 percent. These protections extend to the source country as well. Iroko, for instance, has a collaborative agreement with the Ministry of Justice in Edo State in Nigeria. “In cases of harassment of victims’ families by traffickers,” the Iroko representative explained, “the family members can immediately report the case to the head of the prosecution departments who personally handles the case and sees that the traffickers are apprehended and tried. This has created more serenity for the victims in denouncing their exploiters in Turin. Once victims know that they have double-sided protection, they are more willing to come forward and provide information.”
Still, the Italian system is not perfect. In order to win damages, victims can in theory pursue a civil case after the criminal case has been concluded. But it costs money to hire a lawyer to pursue the civil suit and victims don’t have this money. Iroko has pushed for a law that would make funding for a civil lawyer automatic as soon as the trafficker receives a guilty verdict in the criminal case.
Since poverty is one of the push factors behind trafficking, many organizations have developed economic strategies to combat the problem. The Macedonia network, for instance, has created a business training center that includes different kinds of training on gender relations, preparing a business plan, boosting self- confidence, improving skills in communications, fundraising, and lobbying. “If women are economically independent; if they get out of poverty and migration, they will be far away from traffickers,” reported one participant.
Iroko, in Italy, offers specialized programs where previous degrees and life experience is given credit and participants can get a state-recognized degree within one or two years. The organization is also planning to open a rural tourist center that will employ twenty formerly trafficked women. “Most of them are so happy to get out of such a violent situation,” the Iroko representative said. “What’s important is that they’re earning just the same as the next woman. They want to lead a dignified life.” Iroko is also trying to address the economic roots of trafficking by offering small scholarships to girls in Nigeria that includes some money to mothers to set up assisted, supervised activities such as small-scale farming.
The IOM also includes several economic strategies in its work, including vocational training at the shelters and employment advice when victims return to their countries. For instance, of the 800 cases in Ukraine, 83 percent received employment through the efforts of IOM and partner NGOs. IOM also provides microcredit so that victims can start their own small businesses in their home countries. Perhaps the most far-reaching program involves educational support. IOM will finance an entire 4-year degree through a program funded by the Swedish International Development Agency. The IOM representative stressed how relatively inexpensive the program is. “Four years of university in Moldova costs $180. It cost IOM $200 to support a girl studying design for 2 years. In one recent case, the girl went back to Moldova, received a diploma for hairdressing there. Now she can get either microcredit to set up her own business or she will get a subsidy to join a hairdressing institute. IOM will provide her salary for a year, roughly $360.”
Working with potential victims
Most organizations in the region are uncomfortable with simply providing a bandaid approach. They want to stop trafficking at the source rather than simply deal with the consequences. One of the chief audiences for such targeted programs are young people. Zena, in Bosnia-Herzegovina, has done a training for secondary school students on the prevention of violence against children. In Kosovo, there is a program for youth between the ages of 12 and 18 to explain the problem of trafficking. Between 600 and 800 young people have participated.
The International Forum of Solidarity in Tuzla (Bosnia-Herzegovina) works in the homosexual community to prevent a growing trafficking problem there. This work involves voluntary counseling, testing for sexually transmitted diseases, and peer education. A formerly exploited boy is a leader of the Right-to-Know initiative that provides information on the rights of minors. “We have volunteers who work as “hunters” who arrange meetings in bus stations with minors,” the IFS representative explained. “At this first rendezvous, the “hunter” informs the boy about all the problems that could occur to him if he engages in this behavior. This is non-judgmental, just a package of information. If he feels exploited, he can come to us.”
For organizations with the capacity to do so, there is also work in the source countries. Representatives with the necessary language abilities and knowledge of the culture visit these countries and talk to people in communities that might be considered at-risk. As one participant said, “It’s not our aim to stop people from going abroad and working, but to inform them on how to protect themselves – what are the recruiting methods and so on.”
The anti-trafficking movement consists of an overlapping series of networks on a national, regional, and international level. Despite these linkages, however, participants believed that greater coordination was necessary.
Within the Balkans, for instance, the organization Petra covers all of Croatia except Istria and Rijeka. “As a network,” the Petra representative said, “we are trying to bring the capacity of NGOs to a similar level. We don’t want to duplicate activities.” In Macedonia, the coalition includes 17 women’s organizations, all of which maintain their independence.
Other groups are affiliates of international organizations. La Strada, for instance, is based in The Netherlands but has membership organizations in eight other countries: Poland, Moldova, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Byelorussia, Macedonia, Bosnia Herzegovina, and the Czech Republic. All of the affiliates have the same structure and follow the same methodology. They all work on the three levels of lobbying and media, prevention, and intervention.
The largest international actor on the issue remains the International Organization for Migration (IOM). The IOM works in a variety of service areas including movements, assisted returns, counter-trafficking, migration health, technical cooperation, and mass information. The IOM representative in Bosnia-Herzegovina reported that “we began in 1992 with medical evacuations. We also assisted in the movement of 200,000 people in the country. We’re involved not only in humanitarian intervention. We’re moving toward a development agenda.” Toward that end, IOM assists the government in capacity building and community assistance stabilization. Since August 1999, it has assisted 747 women. There are 17 women now in its shelter in Sarajevo.
Organizations in the Balkans reflected on their different experiences working with IOM. One organization reported that its contract was reduced from one-year to only a couple months at a time and that this amounted to blackmail – the potential withholding of funds if the organization didn’t pursue IOM-friendly activities. Another organization complained that the IOM mission did everything to prevent it from running the shelter. A third described the negotiating that preceded cooperation. When this organization received an unacceptable first proposal from IOM, it turned around with a completely different proposal of its own, which was eventually accepted with some modifications. “So I’m not here to tell you that our relationship is 100 percent perfect,” the participant concluded, “but only that we’re improving things through partnership.”
The range of IOM activities reported at the conference surprised many participants. As one participant suggested, “We can use the IOM statements here and say to our own IOM representative, “Sorry, but your representative said this and this, so do it or you will receive complaints.””
Participants discussed an upcoming meeting in Zagreb of NGOs working on the trafficking issue in the Stability Pact countries (a grouping of Southeast European countries initiated by the European Union in 1999). While some participants were disappointed that they hadn’t heard about or been invited to the meeting, others were enthusiastic about the potential for devising a set of rules and standards that could apply to all groups working on the issue. “I’m new to the NGO sector,” said one participant. “Sometimes I don’t know what an NGO can do or not. It would be good if there were precise standards and rules that were valid for all NGOs. I’d like to have all this information.” Another participant stressed that the initiative for such meetings rightly should come from the local NGOs themselves and that these NGOs should be prepared to provide something concrete to any new organization that might emerge from the Zagreb meeting.
Coordination is also important between source and destination countries. This communication is hampered by language and cultural barriers as well as the expense of maintaining contact across borders. The Bosnian organization Lara came up with a successful strategy by hiring a Moldovan-speaker and sending her to Moldova to advertise their anti-trafficking services on television and radio. “At the radio station she was told that trafficking is a big problem, so they would advertise her service for free,” reported the participant. “The TV station put her on a half hour show to explain the problem in more detail. During the show, people were calling all the time and asking about their daughters who went to Bosnia and haven’t been heard about since.” In Serbia, as in many other countries, the victims are repatriated but the anti-trafficking organizations lose track of what has happened to the women.
Iroko has worked hard to boost cooperation between Italy and Nigeria. “The Italian ministry has sent people down to Nigeria to investigate the situation. Also members of the Nigerian police force and immigration force came to Italy to see what was going on. Now, on the Nigerian side, they no longer view victims as women setting out to spoil the image of Nigeria abroad.” Iroko is also working hard on both the European and UN levels. Regionally, the representative said, “We would like to bring European standards up to the Italian level.” At the UN level, in the working group on contemporary forms of slavery, Iroko has been able to bring victims to testify. It has also been able to speak directly to Italian government agencies. “Ordinarily these agencies wouldn’t listen to us in the country. In an international context, however, they are much more likely to listen.”
Participants discussed the possibility of creating a regional database or directory that would be available on the Web, with access controlled on an organization-by- organization basis. A London-based organization has put together a directory of NGOs working on this issue all over the world that can be downloaded from the Web. IOM has created its own regional database, which is just now being installed in IOM missions. At the moment, missions in countries assisting in the case have access to the full records while other missions have read-only access and then only their section. Eventually this database will be available to all agencies and local NGOs, with some restrictions to preserve confidentiality.
Many participants acknowledged that the key to addressing the trafficking issue was to change the culture that directly or indirectly encouraged the problem. In Albania and Bosnia, for instance, it is common that women get paid less if they’re over 30 years old or they can’t get any job at all. The classified ads in the newspapers specify that applicants must be between 18 and 25 and not married. In such a climate, in which young women are valuable commodities trafficking flourishes.
Most of the organizations had a media and awareness strategy. Iroko produced a 15-minute documentary a video in 2001 – which features the true story of a girl who is raped on her way to Europe and experiences an abortion without anesthetic – to dissuade people in Nigeria from pushing children into traffickers’ hands. The Montenegro Women’s Lobby worked with IOM to distribute sugar packets to cafes and bars with information about trafficking. Serbian organizations ran a campaign with three video clips that appeared for a month on one television station (TV Pink) and a year on another (B-92): one for the general public, the second for young women, and the third directing attention to the trafficker.
Lara in Bosnia puts out a women’s magazine and has also prepared a campaign targeting clients of trafficked women. It did a research campaign first with a survey of 20 questions that it distributed to journalists, NGO staff, police, and lawyers. “When we organized a roundtable discussion during the campaign, we even had a trafficker at the discussion,” the Lara representative reported. “He was trying to confuse us. But we did the research. When he said, “I don’t have victims, only paid prostitutes,” I said, “No, you aren’t right, you have victims.” Later he gave an interview afterwards and said he couldn’t run his business because of me.”
IOM has done a good deal of media work. “We held a one-day media seminar in which NGOs, international organizations, and lawyers explained to journalists how to distinguish among prostitution, smuggling, and trafficking,” the IOM representative said. “After this, they started to use “trafficking” instead of “white slavery,” which is a term that most Bosnia-Herzegovina nationals understood. We did pre and post research and discovered that as a result of our campaign, there was an increase from 47 to 70 percent in terms of awareness of the issue.” The IOM has also been careful to use the same colors and designs in their brochures. “So if a woman sees a brochure in Romania and then sees an SOS advertising board in another country, she’ll make the connection even if she can’t read the words of the advertisement.”
While some participants had cultivated positive relationships with some journalists, others have been frustrated with how the media covers trafficking issues. “Journalists don’t really care,” reported one participant. “The media needs sensation. The topic is not covered by investigative journalists.”
Bronwyn Jones, a media consultant with considerable experience in the region, gave a presentation and a workshop on how to shape a media strategy. Having worked as a journalist, she was able to give the media’s side of the story. “Journalists say, “NGOs are uncooperative. They don’t provide information. They don’t provide victims as witnesses.” They’re not looking for sensation, they’re looking for stories and they’re getting stonewalled. That’s their impression.”
She followed up on one of these points. “Sometimes a journalist will ask one of your organizations for a victim – say, age 13-16, from Moldova or Ukraine. They say they need to talk with her, and they need a photo. If you don’t provide this, they won’t talk with you and will approach another organization.”
Participants nodded their heads. “Journalists always ask and we say no,” replied one participant.
“There was an article on sex slaves in the New York Times Magazine,” Jones continued. “The journalist approached the Coalition Against Slavery and Sex Trafficking and said, “if you don’t give me a victim I won’t put you in the story. They didn’t. So he didn’t quote them. He found other victims from a less reputable organization. He wrote a sensational story. The statistics were not real. One of the interviewees may have lied and this discredited the whole story. Now there is someone writing a story for a magazine saying that sex trafficking doesn’t exist.”
Another participant said that his organization agreed to provide a victim but dictated an unusual requirement: prior approval of all the journalist’s questions. Jones noted that most journalists wouldn’t submit to such a condition. “If you are rough with the media, it’s easier for them to understand,” the participant responded. “As a result of the interview, we also raised $15,000 for the victims’ fund.”
Jones identified some common mistakes that organizations make when approaching the media. The messages are not sufficiently focused. The target audience is not specified. Some of the wrong messages are reinforced. She pointed to a media campaign designed by IOM that depicted a woman with a bar code on her back. “This is a striking image,” she conceded, referring to the use of the campaign in Macedonia. “But they don’t have bar codes outside the capital of Skopje – people didn’t know why she had this thing on her back. In some places, traffickers tore the posters down. We need to think about what images work locally without being exploitative.”
Jones said that she’ll be working with a Stability Pact task force for journalists covering this issue. The group will hold a decision-makers conference in Belgrade with editors and publishers. They hope to build a large-scale journalism training program in the region.
Participants have had to confront a number of difficult choices in the work that they do. In part, these are the inevitable trade-offs that all activists face. But there are also the specific challenges involved in working against trafficking.
The first challenge is at the level of definitions. One group in Bosnia, for instance, has insisted on defining trafficking as an issue of human rights even though the government has put the matter under the Ministry of Justice as a security problem. This insistence has many practical consequences. “Our definition of protocols is that human rights are not negotiable,” one participant said. “There must be a place in Bosnia-Herzegovina even for people without papers. The victims need time and space and this cannot be negotiated. This girl can stay as long as she wants in the country. The NGO should not facilitate her testimony to the state, especially if the state will not provide victim protection.”
Disagreement over the definition of trafficking extends to other institutions. One participant reported that the International Police Task Force in Bosnia, when presented with a victim who had been rescued from a bar and who had then lived with her rescuer for two years before reporting the violation to the police, responded that the woman had not been trafficked. On another occasion, when a woman arrived in Bosnia voluntarily as a prostitute and was only then abducted, the IPTF dismissed the woman as a prostitute rather than a victim of trafficking. Sometimes the police will simply view the trafficking victim as someone suffering from domestic violence or, in the case of a sister being trafficked by a brother to pay off a debt, as “an issue between you and your brother.”
“If we’re referred a woman from any partner and the partner believes that she’s been trafficked, we accept them,” the IOM representative said. “Also we can accept women that others don’t think have been trafficked. I’d rather assist them than say that she doesn’t fit our categories and then she gets trafficked as soon as she leaves the door.”
A final definitional problem applies to how organizations view themselves. Are they implementing programs that have been developed elsewhere – the UN, the IOM – or are they working in partnership with larger organizations that are supplying funds or expertise. As one participant put it, “We are not an implementing agency, we are a partner in developing program.” Another participant asked rhetorically, “Do we want implementation from the Stability Pact or the U.S. State Department? No, we should solve the problems ourselves.”
Another challenge lies in how activist organizations work with official institutions such as the police or the media. Iroko reported good cooperation with the police among Italian service providers. “The police want to make sure that the people are not just going through the program to obtain papers. If there are problems in the social insertion programme and the police gets to know about it, usually from regular meetings with the agency in charge of the victim’s case, the police contacts the victim. If the victim’s response is considered inadequate or if she cannot give adequate explanation of her conduct that is considered unsuitable – for instance, if she is found back on the streets, in prostitution – she’ll no longer be considered a victim, but rather someone taking advantage of situation. However, most of the cases turn out positively.”
Another organization had a very different experience with the authorities. “Our approach is to not to cooperate with the state because there is no clear witness protection program,” the participant said. “We provide girls with proper information. As we give them information about the reality, zero percent are ready to testify.” In the statistics compiled by the Women’s Safe House in Montenegro, 78 percent of the victims declared that the police were involved with the traffickers.
The IOM representative said that her organization was cooperating with the Bosnian government but not satisfied with its response. Initially promising to have a strong position on trafficking, the government suddenly discovered that it didn’t have the funding to take over the responsibility of the shelters. In this case, cooperation with the government was part of an exit strategy by which IOM would leave Bosnia and local actors would take over the work. She also reported dissatisfaction with the local police response. “If a rape took place during the night, local and international police would interview the victim,” she said. “But if I was raped and then I was brought to the police station and I recognized my clients, there would be no way I would talk.” This situation prompted the IOM to create a series of temporary safe houses in Mostar, Banja Luka, Doboj, and Bjeljelina. “If a bar is raided and all the women are brought to the shelter for a couple days, the shelter manager would calm them down, explain the police process and what their rights are, give them a hot shower and food.”
A third challenge is to weigh the strategies of addressing the collective problem of trafficking and the specific problems of individuals. For instance, should an organization publicize the case of a particular victim in order to give greater prominence to the issue even if gives negative exposure to that particular individual? One participant talked about a case that became very public. “Through this case, we wanted to show in public what it is like to be a victim of sex trafficking. We were criticized that we were too exposed in public. But there is simply no other way to do it.”
Most participants agreed that the focus should be on the victim. “We have to come up with solutions geared to victims and survivors,” as one participant put it.
The last challenge discussed by the group was one of method. Should groups follow a principle of social work by starting where people are or should they continually try to raise the bar in terms of perceptions? This issue came up most prominently in a discussion of an IOM campaign that employed the term “white slavery.” One side argued that the term was offensive and shouldn’t be reinforced. The other side maintained that this was the term that most people in Bosnia Herzegovina recognized. “We used it because it fit the context,” the IOM representative responded. “We did focus groups. We held many discussions. We didn’t necessarily all agree. But it was a successful campaign. It was successful particularly in rural areas.”
When looking at the future, most participants agreed that it was necessary to keep one step ahead of traffickers. As a result of successful anti-trafficking work, the criminal networks were changing their routes and their strategies. The number of victims in the shelters was declining, though this did not necessarily mean that the overall number of victims was declining. “How can we go further with this project without dealing with this problem of empty shelters?” asked one participant. “There are only nine girls in the shelters. The pimps are wiser. So even though the number of trafficked women might be rising, it has become more difficult for them to reach our services.”
Another important task for the future was for organizations to achieve greater economic sustainability. Bosnia’s International Forum of Solidarity runs various food production programs to achieve economic independence. “This gives us authority with international partners and donors,” reported the IFS representative. Staff from AFSC’s Garden Project talked about the importance of economic sustainability for participants in the project. AFSC staff promised to provide information about how other projects in AFSC’s global network addressed this issue.
Participants noted that there should be more work done on addressing men as well as involving men in giving presentations to men. “Sometimes we women are ashamed to talk about sex with men,” one participant said, “so it’s a good idea to have men in the group. “
Another participant noted that debate is now focused on the victim but should be shifted to the perpetrator. “We need to start a campaign that raises the price for men,” he said. “I don’t care why men do it, but men do it with impunity. We have to make the practice socially unacceptable. Put the picture of traffickers and johns in the paper or maybe just lock men up over night. Many men, particularly internationals, don’t want their picture in the paper, don’t want their wives, girlfriend, or mothers to know about their visits to prostitutes.”
A third participant mentioned a Swedish government campaign that featured only men on the posters. “The campaign targets the consumers and attempts to penalize the consumers,” the participant said. “If we don’t have demand, then we don’t have a market.” This prompted someone else to mention a campaign designed for young boys by a Southeast Asian group in a country where boys are brought to brothels for the first time at 18 years of age. “This group showed a clip of a boy coming into the room and facing his mother or his sister, a human being in other words. This brings men face to face with the women and forces them to change their view.”
In terms of concrete follow-up, participants suggested:
Bronwyn Jones provided the essentials of a media plan whereby NGOs could use media rather than allow media to use them.
1) determine a message – the what, why, and how. Come up with something simple. One participant
described a media campaign they’re considering that would consist of two men talking about going out
to bars. One man says, “hey let’s go to the nightclub to have some fun. The girls there are nice looking.”
The other man, who knows something about the situation, says, “No, I’m not going because –“ and the
“because” is the message they want to convey.
2) target your audience – determine the best way to reach the group you want to reach, such as consumers of prostitution Do some research into what your target audience listens to and watches. Determine what kind of messages works best with them. Figure out the demographic and how to reach them.
3) spokesperson – someone who is articulate, comfortable with cameras. It could be someone doing another job within the organization. Make sure that the press has this person’s mobile phone. Identifying one spokesperson is helpful for keeping the message simple, avoiding conflicting messages, and controlling what the organization says. One participant emphasized how important it is for this spokesperson to develop friendly relationships with the press in order to educate editors and writers. The media has to fill space and it needs stories. An article in the press on the NGO’s activities is free advertising.
4) press kit – always have these prepared. It should have information on the organization, a list of projects, the latest press releases (not last year’s releases), name and contact info, photos, maybe a CD-ROM. But keep the kit focused.
5) press releases – most news organizations throw releases on the floor so save the press release for important news such as the release of a special report or to critique particular media coverage. The press release should be only one page.
6) press conference – NGOs need to show the press something specific. More than two press conferences a year is too many. Do your own photos and videos.
The group provided several key recommendations:
1) This Dubrovnik conference supports the Zagreb initiative. We would all like to form a
regional association of NGOs to be able to consolidate capacities, to elevate capacities to
a higher level, and to present the NGO scene at the regional level.
2) International agencies of any kind (except the non-governmental and non-profit type) should be avoided in the forming of such a regional NGO in terms of organizing and coordinating such a body. The initiative should be from local NGOs only. Everything that is decided should come from local NGOs. International agencies can participate in subsequent stages.
3) These other non-profit organizations should be approached for assistance in organizational or financial assistance in partnership to improve the self-sustainability of the local NGOs.
4) As a crucial actor in counter-trafficking in Europe, the IOM needs to hold a regional meeting on such issues as shelter, reintegration, reproductive health, and awareness training. Participants should not only be suggested by IOM focal points but also by NGOs suggesting their counterparts in the region (because NGOs are concerned that they might not be suggested by their own IOM representatives)
5) Information between NGOs is not communicated properly. NGOs should communicate information in a proper way so that all of them are informed if something happens that is relevant to their work. This should be done by email.
6) Research is needed to understand why shelters are almost empty and women are not being referred. Is this because trafficking is declining? Or are traffickers simply resorting to more sophisticated means?
The aim is to provide a feeling of safety.
1) From the point of the identification of the victim, there should be the provision
of psychosocial assistance – the presence of a social worker or a psychologist or an NGO
representative who is trained in such issue – in the situation when the victim is giving the
statement to the police. For minors, there must also be the presence of a legal guardian.
2) There should be transfer to the safe house.
3) In the next 7 days, there should be a diagnostic that includes psychological screening and that provides some basic adaptation to a new situation
4) Independent of their needs, clients will be part of individual or group work, depending on the case. The goal is to learn new skills (social or educational); to support self-confidence and trust; and to receive the possibility of training for certain occupations.
5) Work therapy should be offered, such as sewing, needlework, hairdressing, beautician, yoga and aerobics, painting, jewelry work, and/or foreign languages
6) The final goal should be repatriation or reintegration into everyday life – resocialization
7) Each victim should have a mentor that a makes final report for further progress.
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