Incorporating A Victim and Survivor Centred Methodology into Practice – A perspective from ECPAT Norway 

ECPAT Norway is an organisation working to prevent the sexual exploitation and trafficking of children. We are part of the ECPAT international network which includes 122 partner organisations in 104 countries all working to prevent the exploitation of children. Children’s rights, voices and experiences, especially victims and survivors, are at the heart of our work at ECPAT Norway. Importantly, this has been enshrined in the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), the international human rights treaty which sets out the rights every child has – rights to protection from abuse to the provision of services and support to them and to participation in everything that affects them. We advocate a victim and survivor centric approach to ensure that we are effective in achieving the rights of children as set out in the UNCRC – which necessitates best interests of the child impact assessments of systems and legislation. This opinion piece clarifies what this approach means, why it is often not achieved in practice and how this methodology can guide the systems developed to work with victims and survivors of trafficking and exploitation, especially children.  

What Is A Victim/Survivor Centric approach? 

A victim/survivor-centred approach means placing the needs and priorities of victims/survivors of exploitation or trafficking at the forefront of any response.1 Rather than being positioned on the periphery or developed as an afterthought or a third party within any system, their rights and needs should hold a central position. Planning, design and delivery of coordinated responses should include a systemic focus on the interests of victims and survivors. They should maintain the agency of the individual within any procedures, so their aims and interests are not provided to them, objectively, by those in charge. In contrast the victim or survivor is considered a subject in the process, rights holders whose interests and wishes should be influential to decision makers.   

The renowned Norwegian criminologist, Nils Christie, has recognised the third party role of victims in the midst of criminal justice processes, considering the theft of conflicts which occurred through justice procedures, in which the entire process is taken or ‘stolen’ from the victim by other stakeholders.2 In this manner the victims hold no influence and their position, if they are allowed to participate at all, will be as witnesses often only called in by the prosecution of the defence to help their arguments.  In contrast a victim centric procedure provides victims within influence over the process, ensuring their wishes are carefully considered. It is not merely within criminal justice procedures that this lack of influence arises – this occurs within many forms of support programmes in which the wishes of the victims and survivors are not adequately listened to or they may be overlooked or not followed.  

Ensuring systems are victim-centric requires allowing victims the opportunity to be included at the initial setting up stages – involving victims in designing what the procedures should include and the nature of the support/services given. In relation to victims of trafficking, this should include managing expectations so victims are fully informed at the initial stage what nature of support is available and have a clear picture of their legal rights. 

The idea of achieving increased victim centric programmes and procedures has become an important buzz word term – witnessed at national, regional and international levels. Many domestic jurisdictions, especially in common law countries, have begun to update their practice to ensure victims hold greater influence over the procedures, witnessed for example through the use of victim impact statements.3 At regional levels the increased positioning of victims is witnessed through the current discussions at the European Union surrounding compensation for victims. The EU Strategy on Victims’ Rights (2020-2025) is based upon a two strand approach: ‘empowering victims of crime and working together for victims rights.’4  The Inter American Court of Human Rights has been celebrated as a victim centric court due to the nature of remedies in its judgements which carefully take into account the interests of victims.5 At the international level, with the establishment of the International Criminal Court, ensuring justice for victims has been described as the central mandate of the court.6 At the UN victim centrality has been recognised as a key principle in a wide range of areas including child protection and in programmes designed to support women and girls who have suffered from sexual abuse during armed conflict.7 Additionally, survivors voices at ECAPT International have been recognised as a key priority to be heard, to ensure they receive justice and also as an important tool to prevent further trafficking or exploitation.8 

Why is this not achieved in practice?  

Current victim centric or survivor centric approaches seek to overcome previous limitations with their problematic lack of consultations. Victims are recognised as rights holders, including the right to be heard. There will be greater consultations with victims to provide them with this opportunity to voice their opinions and they form part of the processes and procedures being developed to support them. Yet even with these improved measures, the needs and rights of victims and survivors are still not adequately being met.  

One of the key challenges in establishing is truly victim and survivor centric approach is that there is not one collective approach or voice under which everything can follow – no one size fits all. The experiences of victims and survivors will be different and the forms of support which they require needs to be flexible and be able to meet the victims and survivors ‘where they are’. As Nils Christie details, ‘being a victim is not a thing, an objective phenomenon. It will not be the same to all people in situations externally described as being the “same.” It has to do with the participants definition of the situation. Some will see victory (I dared to participate) where others see victims (I was cheated)’.9  

In the work of ECPAT Norway, to prevent child sexual exploitation and trafficking, we have detailed a number of specific measures in which the victim-centric approach is not living up to its mandate. Our recent report analysing Norwegian case law demonstrates that this occurs in a number of instances – from a lack of identification, removing the potential for support or justice, for victims in child sexual abuse material cases, to inadequate provision of support for victims of Norwegian offenders who are in jurisdictions outside Norway.10 In addition, the current Global Boys initiative by ECAPT international highlights the challenges in achieving recognition of their victimhood for older boys who have suffered exploitation.11 As such they will not receive the necessary support which an ‘Ideal’ victim would be provided with.12  

How to achieve a victim and survivor centric approach in the prevention of child trafficking and sexual exploitation of children?  

Individual victims and survivors are rights holders, with individual voices and need to have agency in the midst of the process designed to support or work with them. Working with child victims, it is essential that the voice of each child is carefully listen to – in an age-appropriate manner and where the child feels safe. This is in keeping with Article 12 of the UNCRC. This requires that all professionals are trained to comprehend and respond to the wishes of the victim or survivor. Systems must be put into place that can be flexible, offering a variety to measures that will meet the different interests of the individuals.  

One crucial point in the victim and survivor centric approach is recognising that for children who have been sexually exploited and/or trafficked there are a variety of factors which can prevent them from being able to provide a clear picture of their wishes.  In situations in which children have been sexually exploited they may be reluctant to discuss what they have experienced. Unfortunately, often in these situations their witness statements provide a key piece of evidence in prosecuting offenders. Importantly therefore the first point of contact must understand how to communicate with the child as this will establish a trust relation with authorities, or if approached badly can damage the potential for a positive relationship with authorities. Additionally, recognising the trauma which child experience recounting the abuse, any structured interview, we recommend following the barnehus model, should be carried out once and by experts who ensure there is no risk of the child being asked leading questions so they can detail events once in a clear manner in a safe environment.13   

In relation to child victims of trafficking, the EU Strategy on Combatting Trafficking in Human Beings (2021-2025) has reinforced the need for early identification of victims – this is necessary to ensure victims receive assistance, support and protection, as well as increasing the potential for the successful investigation and prosecution of traffickers.14 The specific challenges and vulnerabilities of child victims of trafficking necessitate a comprehensive ability of those official involved with the child to be able to understand and respond to the needs and interests. whether in the midst of criminal proceeding or in the provision of appropriate, long term, victim centred therapeutic support. In this area ensuring the practice follows victim and survivor centric methodologies requires that the victims receive the support they require, whether or not they are part of a criminal prosecution. Authorities should approach victim with dignity and respect, ensuring all professionals are trained and understand the best practice in how to address the specific needs and circumstances experienced by victims and survivors of trafficking.  

The Justice Initiative – Restoring justice for victims of abuse in Europe

This is a blog piece written by ECPAT Norway’s senior advisor that visited Switzerland for the symposium.

ECPAT Norway travelled to Switzerland last weekend to support a European Initiative seeking truth and reparations for victims and survivors of child sexual abuse. What was the catalyst that brought together this large group of committed individuals into the wonders and majesty of the medieval city of Bern? In essence we came together to try to correct the limitations experienced by victims and survivors of child sexual abuse and their opportunities to seek redress for the harm suffered. The group included lawyers, child psychologists, academics, historians, pastors and businessmen. This wide range of skill sets, cultures and languages came together for a common cause – placing the rights of victims and survivors front and centre.

The participants in the Symposium. Copyright: Simone Padovani

It is in recognition of the many hurdles that victims and survivors face in seeking reparations that the need to collectively bring many European countries together was imperative. National movements – even those which have provided some form of support of recognition for the considerable harm suffered by many children – have failed to provide effective redress. Many speakers highlighted how current procedures have resulted in victims and survivors being forced into difficult and often retraumatising processes to seek redress. Additionally, many individuals accused of these terrible crimes are able to maintain a situation of impunity – often shielded by authorities.   

We had the great privilege of listening to Professor Helen Keller, former Judge of the European Court of Human Rights, explain the potential for a European Initiative from a legal perspective. She examined various options we could use to influence changes to legislation and the process of redress for victims throughout Europe. As a researcher in international law it was a special privilege to be able to share in the reasoning and considerations of this legal expert. In addition, it is reassuring to know that all the options have been carefully analysed and we have chosen the best course of action available to us. Our hope now is that the choice of submitting a motion to the Council of Europe will begin a process of change. For too long even if victims and survivors of abuse have been offered any limited form of justice it falls far short of what they seek. This motion is a step towards designing victim and survivor centric reparations for child sexual abuse. This requires that effective redress must be provided for all. Simply offering money, if that is even offered at all, is not enough. Our motion calls for 4 things: truth, recognition, reparation and prevention. We will continue to work together throughout Europe to ensure that this can be achieved, and we will support all our colleagues who are working to achieve this globally.

It is an honour and a privilege to be involved and I am very thankful to the incredible Guido Fluri foundation, especially Guido and his team in Switzerland for inviting me to be part of this movement.

Guido Fluri with all the signatures on the Justice Initiative. Copyright: Simone Padovani

We would like to use this opportunity to reinforce that we stand in solidarity with the other dedicated partners and NGOs throughout Europe and call for action to ensure all victims and survivors receive prompt and effective reparations. We fully support the motion that will be submitted to the Council of Europe and ask that all the 47 governments in the council enact legislation to support victims and survivors in their quest for reparations.

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: https://humansfor.org/hackathon/

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 (closed)

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.

Requirements:

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
considered.
Place of residence
Candidates must have their place of
residence in an OSCE participating
State
Integrity
Team work

Request for the application form can be made to istac@odihr.pl

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