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.

The Story of Marta: “He controlled every step of my way”

At the age of 17, I had a newborn, and soon after that I developed a relationship with a man. Everything happened very quickly, we moved to a small village, rented an apartment with two rooms, everything seemed great. I was also relieved to leave my abusive parents, who had never said one kind word towards me.

One day he came home without the usual uniform on because he had lost his job, at that moment he put me in front of a fact – I will have to sell my body for us to survive. As before, he made money, now it’s my turn.

He created a profile on the intimate service portal. He threatened me the most with the possibility of taking the child away if I disobeyed his plan. He said he would “do his best to take my child away because I can’t take care of them.”

I obeyed his conditions, became his toy doll, fulfilling what he wanted. I sold myself with terrible disgust. Every time he took the money and went to the gaming halls, and all the money he received from strangers for my use, he gambled away.

Several times I wanted to take my child and belongings and walk away. One time he locked me in the apartment and turned off the electricity and left. I was still breastfeeding at the time. He controlled every step of my way, every conversation, I was under constant stress.

There were times when I wanted to jump from the 5th floor to end it all. Maybe the hell I was drawn into, and with me my child, would end. I started to hate myself with each passing moment.

There was a situation when a police representative came to me to make a “check purchase”, and of course I was fined 350 euros, because the law on prostitution was violated as there was a minor child in the apartment. The child was in the apartment because that way he could control me more easily, he knew I would obey his ultimatum because I was afraid for the safety of the children.

Unfortunately, the police could not see that I had been used as a victim of human trafficking.

I believe that there are still a lot of women in Latvia who are sexually exploited by their partners or pimps, and they do what they are told to do because they are afraid of the consequences if they cannot escape.

I was helped by the Orphans’ Court and the social service with the service of the crisis centre, and my children were not taken away, but no one saw that I was a victim of human trafficking, everyone was stereotyped and assumed that this was just a family conflict, domestic violence issue and my own choice to be sexually exploited. But only people who have been exposed to it are able to understand these traumatic experiences and the consequences they have for a person’s future life, both emotionally and physically.

I was very helped by the State-paid social rehabilitation service for victims of human trafficking, which lasts up to 180 days, but even within this set period there is no possibility to fully recover from the traumatic event and start an independent life if you have nothing.

I would like to appeal to anyone who is in a situation like my own, when they have to provide sexual services or other work against their will, so that they find a little strength to seek help.

*The name has been changed due to safety reasons.

The text is written by a Survivor, with the help from Centre MARTA in Latvia.

It’s time to join!

Those who have suffered through human trafficking in childhood should have access to help and support in the emergency immediately after escaping the exploitation. But they also need support when they have healed a bit and identify as survivors.

Short-term help is available more often than long-term support. Once victims get out of an exploitative situation, the help they get depends on where they managed to escape. We see that survivors still face many challenges. The need for long-term help is not as widely recognized as the short-term emergency help.

Legislation, emergency assistance and programmes for survivors should consider the experiences and suggestions from survivors. The support systems should be tailored to the survivors.

How can the voice of survivors be better heard?

With ECPAT Norway as lead partner, the If you speak up, I will join! project is run with Centre MARTA (Latvia), the Swedish Platform Civil Society Against Trafficking (Sweden) and the Charity Fund Galaxy (Russia).

In a virtual festival on the 11 th of June 2020 we are gathering survivors and professionals to lift up their voices and to give them the space to express their concerns. The event will present a Survivors’ Manifest that can later be used to advocate for the rights of survivors. By bringing together the voices of a broad network of survivors and partners in the Baltic Sea region, we aim to shape future policy and programmes, so that the support available for and with survivors is strengthened.

The If You Speak Up, I Will Join! project also involves several activities organised by various organisations at a national level to bring survivors together. This has been impacted by COVID-19, but we will share more information about the national projects and how you can get involved in virtual adaptations or once it is safe to meet again in person.

This online platform will remain available also after the festival on the 11 th of June as an online regional forum for survivors and professionals in the Baltic Sea region.

The virtual festival on the 11th of June will celebrate resilience and empowerment, and we hope the presentations and input can give survivors opportunities and hope for the future. We are reaching out to survivors to promote the right to be heard, because survivors are stronger and louder when they stand together.

The virtual festival of the If You Speak Up, I Will Join! project will involve presentations from survivors and professionals, art, conversations, and shaping of the Survivors’ Manifest. We hope that even though this festival is now a virtual festival, it will be a safe space for survivors to bond.

For safety reasons, participants need to sign up for the event. A link will be available on this page soon.

Questions? Comment below or email us at

Photo by Helena Lopes on Unsplash

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.


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.


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!


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.


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

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.

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

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.

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.