In 2016 I met HopeNow’s social worker for the first time introduced by a trafficked woman who had been helped by them. At this point I thought everything was my own stupid fault and I felt like my legs and arms were stuck in glue and sometimes I got this scary feeling of not being in my body.
I had been trafficked first into Germany in 2014 as part of a so-called cultural group. On arrival in Berlin I was forced to work in sex houses throughout Germany and Holland. Two years later they drove me to Denmark. Over the last years my traffickers who specialize in escort work exploited me also in Sweden and Norway. My traffickers had a big network of operators and were clever at moving us around from country to country and making sure the clients paid up. Many clients ordered special sessions with larger groups of young girls and more experienced women. Fear was their weapon and they were sly, using the carrot and the stick, forcing us to keep silent, so they were able to keep their business under the radar from police. By the time I met HopeNow I had paid off nearly all the 45.000-euro debt and now was either going to join the network and continue in the business or change my life.
I did not see myself as trafficked, I thought the Nigerian girls on the street were trafficked, but that I had just got involved in a bad, business deal and was foolish enough to be tricked, because I was told that I could make a better living in Europe. I now know I was just kidding myself; the truth was too painful. I knew the social worker had been trafficked herself, survived and managed to make a new life for herself, this gave me a feeling of trust and a spark of hope.
During our first meeting she did not ask me a lot of questions, she knew what I had suffered and understood the fear I had for my family back home and the feelings of deep shame and confusion I had after so many years FxxxxxG so many different men. On our second meeting she asked if I would like to meet another social worker. We went into the kitchen which smelt of mint, music was playing from my country and we started to make food together. We sang and even laughed a little. I talked about how I missed my child and they shared with me that they thought I had so much courage. Their words gave me a strange feeling. No one had ever told me that before and I was uncomfortable because I did not think I was deserving of respect.
They asked me to think about what I wanted to do with my life, ask any questions about HopeNow and the work they did, which included therapeutic counselling, legal advice and having fun. During a period of 18 months I went for counselling and therapy, group activities, walking in the park, music and movement and yoga with breathing. Breathing and movement brought out feelings in my body, memories and thoughts, which I shared during what is called trauma therapy. The therapist talked about making a self-container and then allowing my body to sense again, move flow, run and feel my own life force. They referred me to health care with two of HopeNow’s partners, the center against human trafficking and Reden International for blood tests and medical examinations.
When I first came to HopeNow I used to cry all the time and my body used to shake, but slowly the big rivers of tears, the nightmares and the feelings of pain in my body with headaches and pain in the lower part of my body got less. My mind cleared and the social worker who had been trafficked said in our language after a counseling and a trauma therapy session: “I can see how much you have changed.” I stood up and said “Yes I am strong and have power, I can also say yes or I can say no.” I then said these words aloud in my own language and we danced and laughed.
I agreed that HopeNow could contact the authorities and I gave them permission to submit my story. HopeNow accompanied me to the police and I was interviewed and officially recognized as trafficked and moved to a government shelter. I also got coaching with New Lives to prepare me better to set up a business. I had together with HopeNow already decided to accept a voluntary return to my country of origin. I was able to set up my own little business, as part of what is called a voluntary return. I am back home now and so proud to say that I am happy to be with my family. I have survived and I have my dignity back.
The story was submitted by Michelle Mildwater from HopeNow, a Danish NGO. The survivor has agreed to the publishing of this story. Their name has been changed.