Humans for Humans – Digital series: Mental Health & Human Trafficking

Ernesto Gallardo León is a Doctor of Philosophy from the National Autonomous University of Mexico. Ernesto is a professor at UNAM, at Facultad de Filosofía y Letras (Faculty of Philosophy) where he teaches classes at Colegio de Filosofía y en el Colegio de Letras Modernas.

He is also a master’s degree professor at the Anahuac University. He is a member of the Asociación Filosófica de México and the Asociación de Hispanismo Filosófico.

Dr. Gallardo has worked as an advisor to Civil Organizations and in research projects. His areas of interest are: Philosophy of Religion, Medieval Philosophy, Political Philosophy, Ethics and Aesthetics.

Some of his publications are El problema de la representación en el Quijote, El Concepto de Dios en algunos textos del joven Hegel, El Santo y el Político, México: Poder y Violencia, El concepto de Hombre en Meister Eckhart, La Idea trascendental en Kant

You can find the link to the event here!

Mental Health & Human Trafficking

Digital series by Humans for Humans

We would like to invite you to our digital series designed for professionals working with
human trafficking survivors or fighting against this crime.
We invited several global professionals to provide a free class, webinar or lecture about
different topics related to mental health and human trafficking, to help understand the
struggles faced by the survivors and how to support them overcoming it.

Our next webinar will be held on Tuesday the 4th of May, at 1700 (GMT +1). We welcome Dr. Suraj Thapa, Head of the Division of Mental Health and Addiction at the University of Oslo. He will be sharing valuable information about psychological stress, trauma and ways in which to cope, using examples from forced migration and COVID-19. As always, it is completely free. Sign up here!

If you speak Spanish, we also have a webinar with Professor Enrique Caballero, on Thursday the 6th of May, at 18:00 (GMT+1) about Psychotherapy for victims of violence. You can register here.

HopeNow are joining the If You Speak Up, I Will Join family!

Photo by Chris Lawton on Unsplash

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.

Anti-Trafficking Hackathon

Use your digital skills to help survivors of human trafficking. Photo by Vishnu R Nair on Unsplash

The organization Humans for humans is organizing a Hackathon to develop the first software to help survivors of human trafficking. The tech competition takes place online from November 27-29. If you want to participate, you can visit this page to register:

We encourage you to tip all technical talents you know about the opportunity to participate. This is a competition with social impact!

International Survivors of Trafficking Advisory Council (ISTAC)

Call for Applications

Based on the Ministerial Council Decisions 6/18, 6/17 and 7/17 of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and in line with its mandate to assist participating States in the implementation of their human dimension commitments, the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) is launching the application process for the International Survivors of Trafficking Advisory Council (ISTAC).

The role of the ISTAC is to provide advice, guidance and recommendations to ODIHR, and
through ODIHR to the OSCE participating States, on matters pertaining to combating
trafficking in human beings. The ISTAC shall consist of 21 members. The selection of candidates will ensure gender and geographical balance among ISTAC members, as well as diversity of expertise. The members of ISTAC will be appointed for a term of two years and may be reappointed for up to two consecutive terms.


Checkbox - Check Mark, HD Png Download - 563x606(#198669) - PngFindSurvivor leadership
Candidates must be survivor leaders
and have experience in survivor
networks, or in anti-trafficking activism
nationally or internationally.
Language skills
Professional working
proficiency in English or
Russian. Applications in French,
German or Spanish may be
Place of residence
Candidates must have their place of
residence in an OSCE participating
Team work

Request for the application form can be made to

Submit the application form to OSCE/ODIHR by 24 August 2020

Mental Health & Human Trafficking

Digital series by Humans for Humans

We would like to invite you to our digital series designed for professionals working with
human trafficking survivors or fighting against this crime.
We invited several global professionals to provide a free class, webinar or lecture about
different topics related to mental health and human trafficking, to help understand the
struggles faced by the survivors and how to support them overcoming it.

Our first speaker is Silvia Gurrola Bonilla, who will show us how to become
acquainted with the benefits of expressive writing as a practical coping method to
deal with trauma caused by sexual abuse and sex.

This webinar is FREE of charge and online via Zoom.

Humans for Humans is a non-profit organization, based in Norway, which provides a free mental health support for humans trafficking survivors and professionals who work with them.

Are you really including me?

By Katarina Felicia Lundgren

I think long term support and rehabilitation and social inclusion are key components for survivors, and of course functioning legal systems and proper education for “helpers” (meaning all people who work with people). As a child, teenager and young woman trying to get out of a severely abusive environment, no one ever came up with asking if something had happened to me, still it was very easy to see that I struggled. All fault of how I behaved was placed on me. Growing older – I kept on getting diagnoses, being locked up in hospitals etc. Nowadays I think at least mental health care professionals are a bit more trauma informed, but they still lack knowledge and interest – I dare say – to educate themselves on the consequences of severe sexual exploitation and abuse. When I have been talking to mental health care professionals in recent years, in the region I live in, they think I am an anomaly. Statistics says something else, but I see it as yet another way to not take responsibility for providing long term sustainable help and support.

I do agree with Malaika and what she said on the online seminar, telling your story is not enough. It only makes you feel more alone – as it will make people turn away. Once you have started to tell it – you see how they start to divert their eye contact. They can’t bear to look at you. It is very easy to take such behaviors personal. It strengthens the feeling of being bad, not good enough, dirty etc. So if you want to belong, you cannot tell about your past, but neither about your daily struggles. Then the idea of asking for help – seems far away. I have asked for help, repeatedly, and been turned away. Recently I have been told at a university hospital in Sweden that there is no evidence-based treatment or support to give to me (and I did ask for very little…). It would have been easier to speak up with someone having my back.

So the pattern of not “fitting in” gets strengthened and confirmed. The feeling of getting rejected gets strengthened and confirmed – you are on your own. Which makes many bells ring in you…

I have looked for trauma therapists, peer support groups, advocacy platforms, organizations, places where I can be included – but not found any. I have also offered to help out – to help with education, advocacy, support to other survivors of sexual exploitation – but nobody wants my help. Which for sure has strengthened my view on myself as “broken”.

Still – I am highly functional in society. I am well-adapted… but I lack the feeling of inclusion and of long-term support – I have always envied – which seems strange – the soldiers with their comradery and peer-based support groups, in US – and in other countries – they have strong organizations behind them, which supports research, help organize veterans helping veterans etc. – these organizations have money, and a voice. But survivors of sexual exploitation, especially children – they do not have these organizations that has their backs (to some extent at least – I know that many veterans struggle to get the right help as well and suicide rates are high among soldiers with PTSD too). Victims of sexual exploitation are made invisible – and since much of what we have gone through – at least if I speak for myself – has made me fear being seen – so how do you break your own invisibility? How do you find the courage to use your voice? To speak up? – if you keep on getting rejected when you try to do that?

It made me happy to listen to today’s seminar [on the 11th of June]. I think joint efforts between survivors and other professionals are vital to raise awareness, to reach new levels of the government taking responsibility, to help survivors get access to good treatment and support – and make their voices heard – if they want to do that.

I am a strong believer in collaborations, sharing knowledge and information, in supporting each other’s goals and in walking together. There is great strength in “togetherness”.

I am old enough now to be able to speak up, most of my abusers are dead or very old by now – the residual fear I live with does belong to the past. I want to speak up, I want to take part in educating people meeting possible victims of sexual exploitation, I do want to be part in – and offer peer support. I am already taking part in educating and informing about how people can be helped by the help of nature and horses (animals) – and I do educate about the consequences early and prolonged abuse can have on people, I do educate in how to be trauma informed and work trauma sensitive. I want to do more. And I still seek my own peer support. To this day – I have never met another person, in real life, talked to that person, who has similar experiences as I have. I have been told such groups exists e.g. in Germany. I have contacted organizations in Sweden, e.g. Ecpat, Save the Children, the Red Cross, and a couple of smaller organizations – so far – no one has been able to tell me if such groups exist in Sweden, if they can help organize it… So just before I signed up at this website and got contacted by Ninna – I had decided to set up such a support “organization” myself… I did set up one in the 90s – met with a police officer, Monica Dahlström-Lannes. I educated teachers on signs of sexual abuse in children, I organized a travel to a Save the Children even on CSA I Stockholm, but I was still the only one with my experiences in that group, and I had no one to mentor me, or support me, so I closed it down, a contributing factor to do so was also the extremely hard environment created by the “false memory syndrome” discussion that went on during the 90s – it felt safer to be quiet.

It is very tiresome to have to constantly invent what you yourself need – at the same time as your driving force to participate in society – is to contribute with sustainable change for others.

Following what happens globally in trafficking of children, of the amount of child abuse material on the internet etc – sometimes drives me nuts. And then to not be let in or included anywhere – to be able to contribute with sustainable change – that is SUPER HARD. I hope this initiative with find its wing – and that I can be part of it.

Katarina – whom after the seminar today experience new feelings of gratitude, hope, and an eagerness to help, and explore ways forward.

Katarina is the Chair of Boards in MiMer and the Director of MiMer Centre. She is heading the development of the organization and functions as a support person to all the other members, at the board and in MiMer’s extended network. Together with Emily Kieson, she is responsible for all the educational content as well for creating and developing it.

Jewel’s Story: The Only Way Out Is Through

From the theatre performance: Woman in village before being trafficked. Photo: Guadalupen Basagoitia

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.

Theatre performance: Life as a trafficked woman in Copenhagen. Photo: Guadalupen Basagoitia

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.”

Theatre performance: Finding love and getting married. Photo: Guadalupen Basagoitia

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.

Wedding Day: Putting on her wedding dress, helped by a social worker from HopeNow. Photo: Guadalupen Basagoitia

Three days later I gave birth to a beautiful baby and my lovely man and I got married in a church.

Wedding: a celebration of love. Photo: Guadalupen Basagoitia

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.

The poster Jewel painted for her theatre performance, called The Only Way Out Is Through.

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 

Pat’s Story: “I am strong and have power”

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.

Jennifer’s Story: “Helping women like me is not easy”

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.

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.