Survivors’ Manifest

The “Survivors’ Manifest” is a good starting point representing and including the voice of the survivors. The Survivors Manifest is not only talking “about” the needs of the individuals harmed by the brutal trafficking crime – it is also a solid step for survivors to be acknowledged as the subjects, witnesses and experts to support each other, to lay out the necessary actions needed for healing and inclusion and to advice the society to prevent the harm to individuals caused by trafficking and for all citizens to protect the rights of survivors. In this Manifest, survivors highlight their overall recommendation to be ensured safety, justice, and long-term viable solutions and support including for their children.

Survivors’ Manifest: Recommendations

We, survivors of human trafficking in childhoods and professionals[1] in the Baltic Sea region[2], have during the last years developed the Survivors Manifest. We have summed up our main learning and experiences in the following way:

“There are four basic values and rights that no-one must take from another person. Those are freedom, dignity, safety, and hope[3]. Every human being is unique and must have the freedom to choose and to have control at a very basic level. When we talk about children, then it is the responsibility of adults to provide them with safety and basic human rights. Human trafficking is a violation at every point in the life of a human being and affects especially children’s rights. The long-lasting consequences of this crime are devastating and catastrophic. That is why we, who have lived through trafficking, are called survivors”.

In the Manifest we underline the basic right of survivors to long-term social inclusion and participation. Legislation and policies hampering social inclusion should urgently be revised to ensure our safety, well-being, and ability to build a constructive future. Opportunities to express ourselves and heal from the harm caused by trafficking are essential. Empowerment measures including educational and labour market opportunities need to be strengthened.

Furthermore, involving survivors on a voluntary basis in the design, implementation and evaluation of anti-trafficking interventions is important in preventing future trafficking. However, first and foremost, it is the responsibility of governments to prevent human trafficking, develop appropriate measures and harness good practices in collaboration with civil society and the private sector.

We encourage everyone to discuss and implement the below suggested recommendations.

Background of the project

The Survivors’ Manifest, a regional platform, a campaign and a virtual Festival taking place on the 11 June, 2020 are outcomes of the project: “If you speak up – I will join”. This project is a collaboration among organisations cooperating with survivors of human trafficking in childhoods in Norway, Latvia, Russia and Sweden. Survivors, policy makers and professionals from the other countries in the Baltic Sea region have over the last years also taken part in the project. The project is co-funded by the CBSS Project Support Facility.

Child trafficking is unfortunately still common. Worldwide, children make up 28 percent of all detected victims and many more are not identified. Female survivors may also give birth to children and both boys and girls worry about the safety of relatives. The lack of identification and acknowledgement of the problem happens in spite of national and international policies and legal frameworks. Professionals are not properly trained to identify potential victims and policy makers are hesitant to ensure resident permits to survivors. This situation is in dire contrast to the need of survivors to safety and long-lasting support. One aim of the project has therefore been to make the society aware of the challenges faced by survivors and their recommendations. By pointing to the weaknesses of the system, survivors hope for action leading to a strengthening of social inclusion measures and a process where survivors can regain control over their lives.  

The best interests of the survivor

The collaboration between survivors and professionals facilitates the journey of survivors to a new start in life and resilience and empowerment. The brutal criminal offence of human trafficking must stop and it is urgent to provide survivors with opportunities to move on. We, the collaborators, underline that it is high time survivors of human trafficking are given the opportunity to voice their concerns. Survivors need space and time to clarify their personal situation and find alternate pathways in life. Policy makers and professionals must therefore  involve survivors when suggesting practical solutions to their new life, including for their children.

Some survivors wish to take an active part in supporting authorities in framing the criminals, while others, due to many reasons prefer not to be involved in the legal prosecution of traffickers. After all, survivors are not the cause of trafficking and should be treated with respect and given rights to safety and long-lasting support according to international standards[4]. Thus, it is important that support to survivors is not made conditional upon their cooperation with the criminal justice system. Many survivors feel that they are forced to cooperate with the police in their investigation of the trafficking business to be able to obtain basic rights and assistance. Survivors may feel that the authorities view them as anonymous figures to testify in court and not as persons who have had their rights abused in the most destructive ways and who deserves respect and care.

Survivors are also asking for respect when they consent to tell their story of being exploited. As other people, survivors are humans with many qualities and skills and while the trafficking situation was a horrible invasion in their life, they would like to be recognised for their  qualities and abilities as humans and not forever be labelled as a victim of explotation and abuse.

Thus, survivors are much more than vicitims of a crime. Survivors have lived through inhuman treatment by criminals and by those exploiting them sexually, online, in forced marriages and as bonded and cheap labour. Survivors expose this hidden world of atrocities and their suggestions regarding strategies for change expressed in conversations with the police, social workers and legal enforcement agencies must be carefully listened to and recorded as valuable material and learning in the fight against human trafficking. It must also be the starting point for detailing the steps necessary for psychosocial intergration. In return, and as their duty, professionals and policy makers should actively support survivors demand for social inclusion, safety, justice and dignity.

Recommendations promoting social inclusion and justice

The countries in the Baltic Sea region are well suited to advance their achievements as national child welfare and protection systems have evolved significantly over the past decade. National Rapporteurs, coordination units, action plans, projects and campaigns have been in action throughout the region. Organisations and civil society are also advocating for reforms, offering services and support. However, in practice, this system only manages to identify a few victims and survivors. The rest remain excluded from the assistance and support they are entitled to.

Even if victims are identified they do not always get relevant assistance for various reasons in the different countries in the Baltic Sea region[5]. Some may get initial assistance, but not long-term help. They may even be returned to their country of origin after the court trial without properly assessing if this is in their best interest including the risk of victims being violated once again upon return home. There are many barriers along the way and only a handful of survivors will be integrated in the country of destination. Thus, identification must lead to proper referral and help!

A reorientation of approaches for the identification and referral of children at risk of exploitation and trafficking was suggested as an outcome of a multi-year consultation in the Baltic Sea region[6]. Listening to the child’s story and child-sensitive communication to identify acts of exploitation and trafficking, a “best interests” determination process to ensure a continuum of services for prevention, protection and empowerment and a process guided by a multi-disciplinary and interagency group were among the main recommendations.

For many victims of trafficking, the recruitment into trafficking represents the culmination of a history of violence, exploitation, and neglect. Thus, solutions reducing human trafficking require stronger efforts to prevent and respond early to violence, exploitation, and neglect of children in any context and in any form[7]. A trafficking situation must furthermore be assessed at the different stages by both countries of origin, transit, and destination.

Additional challenges may occur when the trafficking offence took place in another country, and it is not acknowledged as a sufficient reason to offer safety in the country of destination. Trafficked persons may also be returned to the country of first entry in Europe as per the Dublin agreement, where the criminal groups once again may force them into trafficking. Some will be returned to the country of origin where they risk ending up in the same harmful situation of violence by family members including honour- based violence, which made them vulnerable to trafficking in the first place. Having been sexually exploited and having given birth outside marriage are most places considered to be shameful and degrading for women and girls.

Other challenges arise when persons as per national law must leave the country and return to another country because of violence and abuse by a partner. Most countries have rules about the length of residency before an independent permit is granted, which can be abused by partners and others to keep the control of a person. Even if a country has made regulations to protect the victim in this situation, they must document the severity of the violence and many are not informed about this possibility and stay on suffering harm. The same can also be the situation for workers who are exploited by their employers. Reporting this situation will most probably lead to the person losing their work- and stay permit.

The UN Special Rapporteur on Trafficking of Persons, especially Women and Children, has in a report to the Human Rights Council, promoted a reorientation of approaches to ensure long-term viable solutions for survivors of human trafficking[8]. The recommendations below are based upon the report from the Special Rapporteur and have been significantly modified to represent the experiences and recommendations from the survivors in the Baltic Sea region and the professionals cooperating with survivors.

From short-term interventions to social inclusion

Protection and assistance for victims of trafficking has focused on short-term interventions, with little consideration to the rights and needs of victims and survivors in the long term. However, social inclusion of survivors of human trafficking is a State obligation that stems from the due diligence standard and the right to effective remedy.

The use of the term “social inclusion” instead of “reintegration” and “rehabilitation” underscore that social inclusion is not limited to reintegration after return or repatriation. The term “social inclusion” is the opposite of social exclusion, the latter being one of the main root causes of trafficking. Furthermore, it refers to the objective of survivors’ full participation in society. At the same time, it conveys the idea of a process, requiring innovative and transformative projects and activities such as skills acquisition, labour market opportunities and job creation.

Social inclusion should be the main goal of the anti-trafficking action when designing and implementing protection measures. Long-term viable solutions for survivors of trafficking must be the standard.

Regaining self-esteem and independence

Regaining physical and psychological integrity, basic trust, self-esteem, and independence for people who have been subjected to serious human rights violations is a long road. This is even more true for survivors of trafficking, who have often faced physical and psychological violence, long-term social isolation, emotional distress, and deprivation of liberty and self-determination. In addition, many will also be caring for children in this situation. However, existing protection measures in most countries are not consistent with the objective of promoting trafficked persons’ social inclusion. Identified victims usually only receive short-term assistance which is often conditional upon victims’ cooperation with the criminal justice system.

From a human rights standpoint, and to promote social inclusion, services and residence status should be non-conditional and disconnected from the criminal proceedings. Trafficked persons are entitled to effective remedies and justice according to international norms and standards regardless of whether perpetrators have been prosecuted or punished.

Adopt and implement legislation to ensure survivors right to remedy, including compensation that is not dependent upon cooperation in criminal proceedings.

There needs to be special training of teachers, school health personnel and social workers on how to meet and assist survivors and children who have been trafficked in appropriates ways.

A consistent human rights approach

Structural challenges, such as restrictive and xenophobic migration policies, discriminatory laws and policies, poorly financed social protection services and inadequate resources hamper sustainable social inclusion measures. Lack of identification of trafficked persons at an early stage, including in transit countries and in places of first arrival of mixed migration flows, are among the major challenges.

States have an obligation to eradicate discrimination and xenophobia, and to reduce social stigma linked with sexual exploitation and other forms of human trafficking and migration.

Survivors should not be detained, charged, or prosecuted for irregular entry or stay in countries of transit and destination, or for their involvement in unlawful activities when it is a consequence of their situation as survivors. Detention of children must always be banned.

States must provide survivors with residence status potentially leading to their regularization in the country, also considering the humanitarian issues involved.

Stronger safeguards must be provided in national laws and policies to protect children from all forms of abuse and exploitation to prevent human trafficking.

Ensure that service staff, including asylum authorities are trained to identify indications of trafficking and to take them into due account as grounds for asylum or subsidiary protection. Ensure the referral of identified persons to anti-trafficking support services, with the consent of the person concerned.

Gender sensitive, child-rights based and individually designed interventions

Long-term measures aimed at empowering survivors and enabling them to live independently in a safe environment are essential in preventing further victimization and serve to prevent trafficking and re-trafficking. Frequently, victims of human trafficking and especially children and women, have been victims of violence from early childhood and these factors need to be considered when planning long-term solutions.

Adopt a gender-sensitive and human rights/child rights-based approach in all phases of the social inclusion process, with consideration for the child’s right to be heard; and design social inclusion programs for children, including unaccompanied and separated children, who are on the brink of adulthood.

Solutions need to be individually designed and be based on survivors’ needs and aspirations. Solutions must be supported by government funding and monitored by appropriate government institutions. Active and informed participation as part of the empowerment of survivors is all-important, and a main method for the re-establishment of self-confidence and hope.

Revise legislation or policies hampering social inclusion, including policies tying workers to a single employer, or preventing equal access to long-term empowerment measures, especially in respect of trafficked women and girls and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons.

Adopt appropriate policies and legislation to ensure safe residence, education, and social welfare for children of survivors of human trafficking.

Policies must include guidelines on how to identify and address the trauma that children and adults have endured and the risks for continued violence and threats from traffickers. The guidelines must include detailed actions to support the process of psycho-social adjustment and recovery, which for many will be life-long, and heavily dependent on a supportive environment. 

Services and innovations in cooperation with civil society and private sector

Governments are to facilitate access to a wide range of services such as counselling, psychosocial assistance, medical services, safe and affordable accommodation, formal education, professional and vocational training, and job opportunities. Economic empowerment in innovative and transformative ways should be promoted.

Civil society organisations have been given important roles to support and offer services to survivors. However, ad- hoc funding hinders their capacity to give enough support to the survivors. Local services are also important at different levels, but their services are often limited and focused on specific services.

The business sector has a pivotal role in preventing human trafficking in their operations and supply chains. They provide services and access to remedies and alternative employment opportunities. Public-private partnerships in emerging sectors can offer employment opportunities to survivors, such as through computer literacy, microcredit, financial management, foreign language learning, agriculture and food processing, and community services. International donors can add value by effectively partnering up with local civil society organizations and can commit more to support innovative and non-traditional models of social inclusion.

However, the cooperation with civil society and private sector needs to be based upon the survivors right to safety and respecting their privacy. Secondary victimization and revictimization of survivors must be avoided.

Ensure appropriate and long-lasting funding to public services and civil society organisations that are carrying out necessary assistance with staff who are trained to support survivors and their children.

Ensure that monitoring mechanisms are in place after survivors have accessed services, with a view to assessing to what extent their social inclusion process has been successful. The monitoring process must be assessed according to indicators of a successful inclusion process.

Authorities, civil society, private sector, academia, and the media should encourage change of attitudes among the public. The change in attitude towards survivors must be based upon a more complete understanding of the journey out of trafficking and the competence gained by the survivors to benefit others being exploited in the society. The focus should be shifted towards the fact that human trafficking is still happening and that much more should happen to stop and limit this criminal activity.

Survivors’ Empowerment

Resources needs to be allocated to empower survivors of human trafficking to become agents of change within their families and communities. Survivors must be included on a voluntary basis in the design, implementation and evaluation of all anti-trafficking interventions aimed at social inclusion.

A transformative perspective must guide services for survivors of trafficking, with a view of survivors achieving full independence and empowerment.

The support survivors can give directly by interacting, comforting, and supporting each other step by step in the long process from victim to survivor and a life free from exploitation must be acknowledged. In the exchanges between survivors in smaller groups they see and acknowledge each other and become the individuals they are. They can speak freely and interact with the empathy which comes from knowledge and understanding.

Survivors’ Manifest[9]: Wisdom and learning from survivors[10]

Survivors of human trafficking in childhoods in the Baltic Sea region have commented upon important areas related to their survival process. The survivors focus on how they have managed and not in particular on the details of their past experiences. Survivors want to encourage others in the same situation about the possibility to change the life course with the assistance of governments, civil society, private sector and ordinary people.

Secondly, survivors focus on issues of importance for social inclusion and well being. Governmental services and support from organisations, private sector and individuals are seen as neccessary life threads. Thirdly, survivors underline the importance of setting positive intentions for themselves. In the words of one survivor: “fear should not control our lives, we need to transform our fear and bad feelings and set positive intentions”.

Who is the survivor?

“In real life we are fighters, and we are dreamers with the intention of a regular and holistic life. Firstly, I am a parent, and I am an employee and a student as well. When I meet people in my everyday life no-one can see what I have survived, so for them this is what I am. A parent at school meetings, employee at my work and student in my school class. The difference is that I know the life behind the scene, I know that many people can have many bad secrets hidden from everyone else. I know how people hide their secrets and that all this is happening now right in front of us and beside us, in our social circles.”

Another survivor emphasized the vital role of others wanting to support the best interest of the survivor. The survivor’s caution: “When we hear stories of human trafficking, we are told the stories of survivors. We never hear the details about those who didn’t make it or who gave up.” A third example underline the life and death aspect of trafficking: “I am happy that I survived the torture. I did succeed and survived. I am still alive”.

Children recruited into trafficking often explain about events happening outside the family and how adults or older children actively groom them into a situation where there is no return. However, trafficking may also include the active involvement of family members. Many survivors reveal their history of violence, exploitation, and neglect in early childhood as being part of and leading to being exploited in trafficking.

Living with the past

“My everyday thought is about if I am good enough. At anything. Am I good enough as a parent, as a partner and at work? I just have this feeling hanging over me all the time that I must prove myself. But then I stop, breath and ask myself; is it real, or is it my past that tries to control me? My thoughts are responsible for the quality of my life, and that’s why I try to have better control over them.”

“In my everyday life I am an ordinary person and I don’t talk about my past as no-one can understand what it means to survive human trafficking. I have become a professional hider. On the inside I have one big worry and that is if my children get to know about my past. This is because people’s attitudes usually change when they hear about human trafficking, and especially when it includes sexual exploitation. Once they hear about it, their attitude is changed forever and there is no way back from this. I have decided that I will never talk to my children about my past. I have left all this behind, and I don’t want to go over this topic repeatedly.”

Learning and resilience

“I have learned that I am stronger than I thought. Much stronger! I am surprised of how much one person can take on, and from what we can recover. I have learned as well that I am worthy as a human being. But I also learned how cruel some people can be. There are no limits for human cruelty, also against children.”  

“Life taught me not to be too naive. I have met different kinds of people and I have learned to read them well and mostly my readings are correct. I am pretty good to know about people and I think it is a good skill to have.”  “I can hear, and I can see, and I know things, but I have not learned how to keep away from people who hurt me. I always hope that the new person will understand.”

 “The country of destination gave me tools to recover and stand up for my rights. Almost everyone here know their rights and you can find people or organizations that will help you. It is scary to start with, but it is worth it. If I would meet my exploiters today, I would be much stronger and wiser, and they could not control me again.”

“People here is in some ways a little naive because the country gives a lot of help for free. At the same time, it has helped people to not be too ashamed to receive help. I have learned that if you want and know how to get something, then there are many possibilities and those who can help you. For example, we got language course for free and there was someone who helped us to translate documents.”

“I met people who motivated me to be more independent and I adapted fast to situations. This was something that came in handy for me in the future.”

Experiencing legislation and the social field

“My experiences have been pretty positive. I did get help when I started talking to social workers and the police. However, there were problems in the law that made it difficult. At this time, I got advice from my lawyer to apply for asylum as it would give me more possibility to get the help. My traffickers were in another country, so the country of destination could not help me much. I refused to apply for asylum, and I did not report to the police in my home country. So, I just found work, got married and started a new life on my own in this country”.

“I have never contacted anyone to get help with my trafficking situation. I have never talked about this to the social workers or police in country of destination.”

Support needed to talk about trafficking

«For me it was important to see that people who said that they wanted to help did everything they could to do so. I saw that they really tried, and even if things did not go as wanted, I still knew that they tried their best. This kind of contact helped me to open up and do everything I could to help myself and follow-up on the advices I got.”

«I never trusted anyone so much that I would talk about the trafficking situation. I did not have a person I could talk to about this. We shared some stories with others with the same experiences, but not more. I had for instance this bad experience in the destination country when I lost my passport. I went to the police and asked for help, and I saw that no-one there cared about someone like me. When I saw this, I was very happy that I never trusted them with any other problems I had.”

“If I had the possibility, I would without problem talk about my situation. I have always been a very open person. If anyone had asked me, I would tell about my life and situation. But nobody asked me”.

How to prevent trafficking of children

“Firstly, people need to know better about human trafficking of children and youth. There are too many who react with blaming when they see children who are out of control. They do not see the problem behind the theatre that youth are putting up. Secondly, many of those who work with helping children and youth do not care to investigate what can be behind the story. They do not have enough knowledge, experiences, time or wish to do more. It is easier to push it over to someone else, the next organisation, the next supervisor. Thirdly, the police need to work better and give harder punishment for such crimes. If it is worth the risk for the criminals to exploit children and youth, they will do it.”

“Those who work directly with children and youth could get better education in how to recognize human trafficking and what to do when they see it.”

“For me it was an experience that I liked to try, and I had this wish to travel around. Later, when I found out what this all was about, I wanted to get away as fast as possible. If someone would have tried to stop me from getting into the trafficking situation before I ended up there, I do not think they could have stopped me. But I did not have anyone around me, and I did hide it from everyone. Each person must be strong and learn what is best for her or him. And they should be more open and talk to someone about this. The more open you are the faster you will get away from this situation.”

Our worries about the criminal organisations

«The fear was always the biggest worry. The fear that traffickers would not give us money for food, the fear that they will find us doing something we were not supposed to do. We never knew what it could be. Sometimes it could be such a little thing that I stopped on the street because someone said Hi and asked how it is going. The only thing we were thinking about was not to make traffickers angry because we had heard the stories about children who were killed for this. It is just that at some point you just stop to care about if you live or die, and then you go for the run.”

«The biggest problem was what would happen if I tried to escape and traffickers would find me. We had it bad as it was. I did not want to risk having it even worse if I would get caught and they would punish me. And they always found us.”

 “I take them very cold-blooded after all the difficult experiences I have had with the criminals. I am not afraid of them now; I just feel sorry for them.”

Coping strategies during and after gaining freedom from traffickers

“I remember my plans to run away, but all my tries ended bad. After a while it was not only traffickers who was the problem, but also drugs. One time I got away, but I went back myself because of addiction. I do not think I had any coping strategy other than getting high, have a warm place to sleep and sometimes some food. I just waited to die, to be honest. In the first months after gaining freedom, I worked hard to keep away from drugs. I was pregnant and I tried my best to have good routines for my baby. I basically did everything after the book – how much I needed to sleep, what I had to eat. I read books to get my thoughts on to something else. And I had a very good friend who could listen to me for hours – this helped a lot.”

“I think that I have learned to stop up and ask myself if my feelings and thoughts are real, or if they are a result of my fear. I have learned to know well the feeling of traumatic stress and then I know that I need some time for myself to think and feel it through. I have learned that it takes a day or two days to do so. And I know now that I always find out of things for myself – that deep inside I always know the right answers.”

“To not come into trouble, save some money and to get out of this somehow was all I could think about. With help of money and friends and people I knew I could start all over in some other place. Money gave me freedom to arrange things myself. You are not so depended on others when you have your own money.”

“To find new routines and adapt to the new situation took all time and energy. It helps to put bad things behind when you have new things to think about.”

“I almost never think or talk about the past. This is all in the past now and I have so many other things to think about nowadays.”

“I liked to go in front of the big mirror and dance. I had the music on very loud and then I did not think about what was happening in my life.”

“I met a person who helped me to understand that I could live different life. It was like a gift from heaven.”

“I for sure have my stresses. Things that calm me down is music and water. When I listen to the music or go and sit beside the water, I will calm down.”

Hopes for the future

“I hope to stand on my own feet so strong that I don’t need to be afraid that I could be fooled again. And I hope that I can protect my family. Safety is very important for me and I think this is what I need to be happy. Economic safety is one big part of it as poverty can make people desperate and desperate people can make wrong choices. Also, mental health and education is something I work on daily. I think that this is what I need so I can have a future where my family and me are happy.”

 “Secure job assures a place to live and a stable life for me and my family. I hope to raise my children to be good people and this requires input. And for myself I hope that one day I can travel more than I do today. It would be very interesting to see the world, learn new thing and meet new people.”

“For the moment I have everything that I and my family need. I am very satisfied with my life in every way.”

“I see myself as a strong person who dare to risk, take up the fight and stand up for what I believe in. Yes, I can be ruined too. Of course. Especially when I was a child and I did not know how to stand up for myself. But at the end of the day, I will always stand up again and I will not give up. It is important to give yourself credit for the good things you have done, even if things go wrong sometimes. And every time I feel like I want to give up, that I do not have the energy to go on, I remind myself that all bad things will pass in the end. This bad feeling will not stay forever, so sometimes it’s all about surviving to the next morning.”

“The first rule I learned is that if you don’t stand up for yourself, no-one will. The second lesson is that those persons I have experienced human trafficking together with, those who went through the same things as me, are the same persons that will always have my trust and we will always have a special connection. As time pass by you understand that no-one else care so much as them. Those persons with whom I have gone through water and fire, those I will trust today as well. But the very same experiences have taught me that I should be careful to not let someone use me too easily.”

“You have to be strong, and you have to learn how to stand up for yourself. You should not wait to do so. If I would have not learned this, I would still be in the trafficking situation.  You yourself have to be motivated and have the endurance to stand up for yourself.”

Speaking up and being experts

“Every human being should have the freedom to speak up for themselves and be heard. This is what makes one person an individual. People who have survived human trafficking in childhood knows better than anyone how it feels, how it happened, who were the people who exploited them and how they survived the horror. To hear what they have to say does not mean only to listen, but it means also to act and include these voices in work against human trafficking”. 

“I believe strongly that survivors of human trafficking in childhood should be included in work against human trafficking. Some can work as experienced consultants and work directly with other survivors. Others could work in multidisciplinary teams. To be a survivor of trafficking should give status of being an expert in this field and it should give the privilege to be taught on how to use this expertise in work against human trafficking without having a diploma from a University.” 

“Most people from outside don’t know what human trafficking really is. Those survivors who share their stories will always let something out of their storytelling for different reasons and that is why they know more than anyone could learn from books. The other thing that make us experts is that survivors see human trafficking in a very different perspective than other experts. Experts from different fields, for example lawyers, police, or politicians, see the human trafficking problem with the focus on their expertise – the law, security, or elections. But survivors have special expertise to see the human trafficking situation from the inside and to understand the core of the matter.”

 “I would share all the information I have with those who would like to use this knowledge in work against human trafficking. I would do it for free, so the information would be more easily available. Help people to get free information.”

[1] Professionals who are directly cooperating with survivors.

[2] Baltic Sea region: Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Poland, Russia and Sweden.

[3] The right to believe in a future and have dreams is particularly significant for children and young people. Trafficking destroys their childhood and adolescence and that is why many survivors have such a long process to find out who they are, what they think and like and how to reclaim their dreams.

[4] UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989), The Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (2005), The Council of Europe Convention on the Protection of children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse (2007), the EU Anti-Trafficking Directive (2011) )end the Sustainable Development Goals 8.7, 5.2 and 16.2 (2015-2030).


[6] CBSS: Oslo Conclusions on Identifying Children at Risk of Exploitation and Trafficking: Strengthening child-sensitive communication and best interests determinations. Hearing the Child’s Story, 2018

[7] CBSS: Oslo Conclusions on Identifying Children at Risk of Exploitation and Trafficking. 2018.

[8] 2019.

[9] The wisdom and Learning document will be ongoing updated with more survivors documenting their reflections.

[10] Regina Lee Jones, herself a survivor, has written about her own experiences and collected views from other survivors.


We welcome survivors who would like to contribute to the Survivors’ Manifest to use the comment section below to add your wisdom to this manifest.

3 thoughts on “Survivors’ Manifest

  1. “Human trafficing is not always so obvious. For me, I had difficulties as a child in my family,my mother was involved in prostitution, and we had nk money most of the time. At the age of 16 I started this myself as this was the only way I saw at that moment. Then, I also got involved with other people who actually exploited me, but I never realised it. I had a lot of shame about this, and I took all the blame for myself. I am lucky, because even though I got in many dangerous situations, I got away from that after the age of 19. But only around the age of 26 I realised that I was a victim of human trafficing and exploitation and got psychological and social help at a local organisation. Its difficult to change the view at this, and I still feel ashamed about my experience. And mostly the shame comes from the views of society at this, noone told me that I am not yhe one to blame in this situation. And I still feel some shame, and it affected my future life, as I don’t have real sense of boundaries and this influenced my relstionships.. But I am learning it, but it is a long process. At the moment I have good long-term relationships, got education, have a decent work and most of the time I don’t think about my past. But I still need a lot of psychotherapy to really get over it, to stop my past from affecting me, my self esteem, my behaviors and moods.”

  2. 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” = all people who work with people). As I child (teenager, 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/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 isn’t 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 are 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 having someone having my back.

    So the pattern of not “fitting in” get strengthened and confirmed. The feeling of getting rejected get 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 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. I think joint efforts between survivors and other professionals are vital to move raise awareness, to reach new levels of governmental responsibility taking, 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 90-ties – 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.
    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 pornographic 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 – with new feelings of gratitude, hope, and an eagerness to help, and explore ways forward.

  3. The content in this comment was submitted by the organisation Centre Marta in Latvia, sent to us by email:

    Who is the survivor?

    A person who has no hope for the future, and experienced all the possible negative feelings.

    Living with the past

    By focusing on the present and the future, you can let go the past. If you take your past as a fact — no one can hook you up and throw you back in the hole from which you came out.

    Learning and resilience

    It’s probably a difficult question, the difficulty is that you alone can’t resist what happened to you because sooner or later it will bring you back, it even sounds scary. So to confront your past, circumstances and perpetrators – you should surround yourself with the people who accept you and love you for what you are without a share of condemnation, hatred and non-acceptance – after all, do we need much to have again a real smile on your face? To laugh from the bottom of our heart? To regain hope? Not much, just to feel really needed, accepted and loved. That’s what each of us needs. After all, where there is complete acceptance, there all wounds heal – both physical or mental.

    Experiencing legislation and the social field

    Sometimes it is so difficult to trust, but in order to be helped – have to talk about what you don’t want to remember, because then it catches you up with the feeling of insecurity, fear, shame and self-loathing. Every time we tell our story, we say goodbye to a small piece that has happened to us, it becomes easier because we do not have to carry it in ourselves and deal with it alone. The more you share the suffering with someone who understands and hears, the sooner everything will become easier. Sometimes it’s stressful, but if you have good social help specialist and a trust person, you can feel safe knowing that you will be helped and protected.

    Support needed to talk about trafficking

    To start talking I had to understand that there is nothing wrong with telling my story, but the feelings that we can experience when remembering, disturb to speak.

    Dear friend, if you ever experienced something like sexual exploitation, don’t be silent, you have to understand that you don’t deserve that attitude to yourself, it’s not what should have happen in your life. Believe me, if you have real loved ones, they will accept even the fact that it happened to you, because when we do not tell about it – the wounds that inside of us are covered with a crust and bleed. But they need special care, so that you don’t live all your life with these wounds inside. It is worth sharing with the closest people whom you trust ot contacting specialists who are familiar with such cases.

    How to prevent trafficking of children

    It’s a difficult question, but I hope someone will one day answer this question and be able to implement it and then it can end forever.

    Our worries about criminal organisations

    Not a gram of regret and conscience, I have a feeling that those people have long lost their soul and their humanity.

    Where violence is the norm, and when they see your fear and suffering, it is the highest form of pleasure for them.

    What worries me, is that they may never understand how awful is what they’re doing – it’s a crime and not our fault.

    Coping strategies during and after gaining freedom from traffickers

    While I was sexually exploited, the only thing that saved me – alcohol, cigarettes and some drugs, is was my guarantee that I will be less sensitive to what is happening to me and what I am in. But every time you need more and more because even the dose that I used before was not enough. All the time I felt hopelessness and fear. When it was too much hard, I took the blade and cut my hands.

    Some time after I got out of that, I felt bad only when the memories came back – some smell, song, word, people, weather, clothes could all of a sudden remind me of what has been done to me. Then again I could not control myself – I sometimes again used the blade, continued to smoke. Then came the moment when I turned to a specialist and step by step began to get out from my personal cocoon of negative feelings.

    Hopes for the future

    Even after all, I have hope and a chance to live happily and better than I could have ended.

    Even with my scars, I know that this page of my book is closed and it’s part of my story and I have new pages ahead of me that I can write as I want, because these are my pages and my ink.

    Speaking up and being experts

    Answering all the questions, you can understand that getting out has not been easy, but I was able to do it. Previously, I wrote that the main thing is to find people who can understand, accept and love you. I found and realized it even with my past. With my wounds, I can be loved and needed by someone and I know that you, my dear friend, can also be happy, because you deserve it. I think it would be important for you to know this, you’re good and you’ve got everything ahead of you.

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