If you are like me, when you begin to learn about victims of human trafficking, you imagine young girls. Your mind wanders to Thailand or the Philippines where you hear of girls younger than 12 being auctioned off to the highest bidder. Alternatively, you may think of the teenagers from Eastern Europe who are often deceived into leaving their homes and end up living a life of misery.
The truth is, however, that human trafficking has no age limit. You may be surprised to hear the majority of participants in Bijlmer Bridge2Hope are over the age of 40. Some as old as 56-57 years of age! And yes, all of them have recently been freed from their captors.
In reality, there is no age or specific type that is more vulnerable to being trafficked for sexual purposes. You simply cannot look at an individual and make any judgement as to their situation. One participant in our program was promised a job in Europe, shortly after her husband had died. She left her small children with the hope of making a better life for them and ended up living years in despair as a slave. Another participant was taken when she was already over the age of 40.
An additional circumstance that needs to be addressed is pregnancy. One would assume that if a victim of human trafficking were to become pregnant, they would be forced to have an abortion. This is simply not so, some women are forced to work even when they are pregnant. Why you may ask? The answer may sound crude, but because there is a market for all types of tastes and people will pay to sleep with them. Even if there is no work on any given evening for the pregnant women, her captors will blame her, not the fact that she is pregnant. They simply do not care about the women they have taken. Listen to the words of a survivor here in Amsterdam:
“My captors raped me. I became pregnant at just 15 years old…I was then sent to Germany to walk the streets. They told me that the white men would like me more because I was pregnant. They said they would pay me more money… If I returned after a long night without any money to give them, they would beat me. I have scars from the beatings. I gave birth to my son at home, alone… I had to leave him in Berlin.”
There are so many heartbreaking stories such as this one, so many women whose lives have been irrevocably changed. It is easy to lose hope when you think of the sheer magnitude of individuals who have similar narratives, and the lives of people, all ages and genders, that have been left desolate.
So while the global reaches of human trafficking are overwhelming in thought and practice, there is hope as people are able to break free from their captors and be helped through programs such as ours. Bijlmer Bridge2Hope provides weekly post-traumatic stress counseling for the ladies in the program, conducted by professional psychologists. The women are also gaining confidence and optimism through the various modules being taught, and their continued Dutch language learning. Just as there is no age or type to be trafficked, there is no age or type that cannot be helped, revivified, and guided to change.
“Never believe that a few caring people can’t change the world. For, indeed that’s all who ever have.” Margaret Mead