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What it means to be a survivor

Survivors of human trafficking with sexual exploitation have so many shadows. I could write a lot about anxiety seizures when the only thing I can think of is fear that pushes on from everywhere and nowhere. But this time there is something else I would like to tell you about.

Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

There was this boy. He is such a strong soul. Such a fighter. He ran from home when he was nine and he has taken care of himself since. I have heard stories about parties, drinking, drugs, hunger, cold. About betrayal and how he learned that he could trust no-one. About how strong each person has to be to take responsibility for their own choices. We talked a lot about this.

HE IS CONVINCED THAT EVERYTHING IN HIS LIFE IS HIS OWN CHOICE. HIS FREE-WILLED CHOICE.

And maybe it has been exactly this that has helped him through all challenges on his way.

I remember this one sunny day that we spent together many, many years ago. We were miners at this time, and we worked under the control of traffickers. On this specific day we were allowed to go to a shop and by some treats for ourselves. So there we were – two kids walking down the road, with bags full of sweets and eating ice cream. I remember that it was a very sunny and warm day, and we walked for a long time very quietly. Both of us were being buried by our own dark, heavy thoughts. We were so quiet and serious.

UNTIL HE SUDDENLY BROKE OUT IN A LOUD ANGER OUTBREAK!

I just didn’t understand what was happening, I stopped and stared at him like I really didn’t know if I should be afraid of him or what.

“I just don’t understand how they want us to put this fucking condom on with a mouth!” he screamed. He didn’t care if anyone would hear us, or what they would think about us. We were already outsiders, and nothing could make it worse. He was so angry at this moment, like I have never seen him before. He was angry at customers who bought us for one or two rounds, and who demanded some weird stuff. I could understand him so well!

FOR SOME MOMENTS WE LOOKED AT EACH OTHER IN SILENCE, AND THEN WE STARTED TO LAUGH. WE LAUGHED LIKE WE HAD NEVER LAUGHED TOGETHER BEFORE. I REMEMBER THIS LIKE IT WAS YESTERDAY: WE STOOD THERE ON THIS ROAD, WITH ICE-CREAMS IN OUR HANDS, AND WE LAUGHED UNTIL WE CRIED.

I remember this moment because it was the only time we laughed so well in this period of time in our lives. Many years later I found this boy again. Now a man. And he is doing well. We came out of this as winners, we didn’t give up and we never will. And in one conversation he told me:

“Even though things were as bad as they were at this time, Regina, we still found something to laugh about and be happy. And this is what means to be a survivor.”

Written by survivor of human trafficking in childhood,

Regina Lee Jones.

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ECPAT

ECPAT is the world’s leading network of organizations working together to eliminate human trafficking and sexual exploitation of children in all its forms. In 2016, ECPAT International organized the first global forum for survivors of childhood human trafficking and sexual exploitation.

Global Survivors Forum, which was led and run by survivors, provided a platform and a stronger voice to survivors from around the world. You can read more about this work
here: http://www.ecpat.org/survivor-voices/

The stories of survivors illustrated how important such initiatives can be for the individual’s rehabilitation and reintegration. If you speak up, I will join! aims to strengthen the voices and support for survivors.

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From a survivor

Photo by Sydney Sims on Unsplash

I was 15 years old when I objected to injustice. In a rebellion, I ran away from home – straight into a ”nest” that human traffickers had prepared for me.

I call it a ”nest” because they had control over my life. They managed to convince me that they cared about me. But the only thing they probably cared about was the profit. They told me that the right thing was wrong and the wrong was right. And with that, they forced me to sell my body. 

I don’t quite know whether the human traffickers, or the customers who buy children and young people are the worst. But you know, like me, how many people that think these things are ok. And how good they are at hiding it. 

That is why I want you, who have also experienced human trafficking as a child or youth, regardless of whether it was for sexual services, forced labor or begging, to contact me. Together we can gather the voices of everyone who has experienced similar and give power to those voices. 

No one else can make as much difference as us survivors who have our own experiences.

Hug from Regina
Coordinator, Invisible Children Forum

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Invisible Children Forum

Photo by Piron Guillaume on Unsplash

The Invisible Children Forum and ECPAT Norway promote the voices of survivors. Most survivors of human trafficking never report these crimes. While some want to forget everything, to be able to process it, many feel ashamed, or are afraid of being stigmatized. Others live in constant fear of retaliation from criminal networks, or to be detained or deported. For identified victims, common challenges include lack of inclusion in work life and society at large, depression, loneliness, and the feeling of being powerless.

If you speak up, I will join! is funded by the Council of the Baltic Sea States. The project aims to identify and empower survivors of childhood human trafficking. Through regional cooperation in 11 countries, and local projects in Russia, Latvia, Sweden and Norway, the project will start during the fall 2019 and end with a festival in Oslo in the summer 2020.

Join!
If you want to get together with persons who have been in similar situations you should join the survivors forum. The time has come to be heard.