We are pleased to announce that HopeNow, a Danish NGO working with victims and survivors of human trafficking, have become partners within the If You Speak Up, I Will Join project. HopeNow was established in 2007 to support the empowerment and human rights of trafficked people.
The mission of HopeNow is to seek, find, identify, and work supportively and motivationally with men, women, and children who are marginalised, stigmatised, and often criminalised because of human trafficking. The organisation seeks to empower and support each person within their specific circumstance to achieve a direct improvement of their situation. The relationship with the survivors is built over time and they are continuously followed up to establish durable solutions. From a legal perspective human trafficking is where criminal law, immigration law and human rights law intersect. Therefore, an important part of the efforts to advance long-term positive change lies in advocacy and legal interventions. HopeNow has created precedents in law by reversing criminalisation of trafficked persons that protect people’s human rights.
As we enter a new phase of our project, we are welcoming new partners each with a survivor centric focus. We will continue to add information on all our new partners.
In 2016 I arrived in Copenhagen and was forced out onto the streets to have sex with men for money. The very first night at 2 am shaking with nerves, I met an outreach worker from HopeNow. The woman pushing her bike seemed kind and tried to give me her mobile phone number. My madame was standing next to me by the curb touting for customers and in our Benin language warned me not to speak with her “This woman is wicked” she hissed at me like a snake, “tell her you don’t know me and lie about your name, she gets big money from government to arrest and deport girls like you back to Nigeria.”
During the following months in the early hours of the morning me and the other trafficked girls sought shelter in a small drop in place in the red-light area, run by Hope Now. During this time there were many raids on the street and girls arrested. I always kept to myself and after months of this terrible life, my spirit was in darkness and I wanted to kill myself. Then one of the street girls told me about a dating site, she said it was a good way to get a boyfriend.
What happened next was like a sloppy, romance soap. I met an extraordinary and wonderful man. I told him my story on the first night we met and after three days I ran away from my Madame and I stayed in hiding in his home. But I did not forget the HopeNow social worker and after 5 months a person who knew my boyfriend told us we could trust HopeNow and it was important we got legal advice and counseling. I rang to the same woman I met on the first night in Copenhagen and immediately she asked us to come for counseling.
During a period of more than one year we got counseling and we talked about everything and I shared my traumas. I was very suspicious and so scared, but the lady was so patient with us. Gradually, my fear, anger, shame and grief grew less. The therapist helped me to create what she called safe spaces and gradually the parts of my mind and body that had survived and were strong but had been wounded became bigger and stronger. My kind boyfriend also kept encouraging me saying “This is the way forward; you can go through this.”
Six months pregnant and still too scared to come forward, like a chicken hiding from a fox. I woke up and there was blood in the bed. We rang to HopeNow and the woman rushed over on a bike, called for emergency medical help and traveled with me in the ambulance, sirens blazing. The medical staff stopped the bleeding, and all went well.
Finally, when I was nine months pregnant, I trusted HopeNow enough to give permission for them to submit my trafficking story to the Danish center against human trafficking so I could receive a so-called reflection period. I agreed to go to the police, which is required under the Danish procedure to be officially identified. I waddled into the police interview room, my belly was bulging ready to burst and the policeman looked at me with a funny expression, big eyes, mouth open. He asked me when I was due, and I said tomorrow. The social worker glanced over at me with a touch of mischief in her eyes. She told me afterwards with a big grin, that he hurried through the interview and sent documents to the immigration department who hold all the power.
Three days later I gave birth to a beautiful baby and my lovely man and I got married in a church.
Next we paid a lawyer to submit the legal papers for a family reunion. My husband borrowed 100.000 kroner to put into a special account which is what the Danish government demands a Danish person must do if they want to marry a person, who is not an EU citizen. So even in Denmark money can buy, what you should get for free, as a human right.
I was getting really empowered, I felt for the first time in my life free, my creativity was bubberingly like a good, spicy, Nigerian soup and I decided together with HopeNow and a dance director Kasper from MUTE THEATER to create a theater piece which I called THE ONLY WAY OUT IS THROUGH. I painted the poster for the performance, sang, danced and narrated my life and the lives of three other women for an audience of 50 people. I described my childhood, teenager years, how I was recruited by my madame, what happened on the streets of Copenhagen and the restrictive, measures enforced by the Danish authorities which often result in the criminalization of victims.
When the COVID-19 crisis is over I want to again perform my solo narrative theater piece which describes not only my story of recovery, but also the courage and the suffering of so many other women who are crying for their freedom. BLACK LIVES DO MATTER.
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.
Photos: Guadalupen Basagoitia
HopeNow organized and directed the theatre performance: Director and choreographer Michelle Mildwater and Kasper Ravenhoj from Mute Theater
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.
I was born in a village outside Benin city in Nigeria into a poor family with eight children. My father died when I was seven and I was trafficked aged eight into domestic slavery. I ran away back to my mum when I was 17 after many years of abuse to my body and mind. I started to work in the fields with my mother and I had a baby girl.
Aged 19 a woman came to our village with her friends in a big shiny car. She charmed me and said I could start a new life working in Europe and provide for my daughter and mother. I was so happy. She carried me from Nigeria to Europe, I was so silly to believe her lies.
In Paris I was forced into prostitution and after two years I had paid back 20.000 euro of the 45.000 euro debt she said I must pay her or she would hurt my family. I was scared for my mother and siblings’ lives in Nigeria, so I obeyed her.
In 2019 my madam’s boys sent me to Denmark where I met on the streets a “sister” from Africa who worked for HopeNow. I got counseling from her and a therapist. For the first time I shared my story, abused by the family I lived with as a child, but too scared to tell my mum that they were so wicked. I often talk with HopeNow about how it is to be a woman having sex with many men, when my heart is not open to them. Many times since I came to Europe I start to float outside my body. The therapist always makes sure I come back into feeling safe, warm and strong again in myself.
Talking helps, but at the end of the day, doing things together, cooking and walking in nature is so good and brings me closer to my God. It makes me strong to be with people who want nothing from me, and just listen and are kind. They say, “You are the master of your own life,” so we talk very seriously about tough things, but we also have fun and dance and eat and go to the beach and even ride on a bike.
They show me also how to comfort myself, putting my hands on my chest and breathing, listening to quiet music before I sleep. Praying also helps me a lot because I am Christian. I am learning guilt and shame I cannot use no more. I was very young and my trafficker was greedy and wicked.
I joined a class with other women learning to do make up, not for sex work, but just for me to look pretty. I have for a long-time pain in my body, headaches, but the last 6 months I am starting to come back into my body and my mind is a little more relaxed. HopeNow sent money to my mother who lives with my daughter, so she could move her address, but last month my madame sent people to my other sisters and started to threaten them. In the compound someone made a video of these wicked people.
Helping women like me is not easy, one problem comes and then a new one. But I have started to believe there is a future, some hope for me and that I am a sharp bright woman. I have survived and will get stronger. I do not want to be identified officially as trafficked and then taken with what they call a voluntary return to Nigeria. HopeNow wants me to start to get help from an NGO in Benin to protect my family. HopeNow have told me about a special group of police called NAPTIP. But white people must understand.
Corruption is so big in Nigeria that even after the King of Benin has said NO to trafficking I know there are so many cults and gangs working with the traffickers, and they have so much power. If Robbers or traffickers give DASH—MONEY to the police, the victim who complains will face the music. A good KARITAS or NGO must go slow with us girls, we sacrifice so much to get to Europe. Nigeria is a bad place for poor people. I want to get married to an old man I met and have a baby, but the social worker says I must be careful not to fall into a new trap. I would like to just work in any work and not run around like a thieve in the night. I am 23 years old and all my life people have used me. I am so tired. But now I get some advice from HopeNow and can come somewhere safe, so I have a little hope.