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Jelena Hrnjak: Human Trafficking Victims are the Bravest Women of All
(Budikarakter.rs, photo: Dragan Todorović)
Jelena Hrnjak: Human Trafficking Victims are the Bravest Women of All
Some of the bravest women and girls I have ever met were human trafficking victims. Those were the women who boldly stood in a courtroom and put traffickers in their place, resisting the system that crucified them with social attitudes and expectations. That boldness and bravery is what drives me, and should drive us all.
For KARAKTER, Jelena Hrnjak, Programme Manager of Citizens’ Association for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings and All Forms of Gender-Based Violence “Atina“
As a long-standing activist of civil society, I dream of a moment when the annual report on Serbia’s progress will lack the well-known sentence that the Government of Serbia does not fully meet minimum standards for eliminating trafficking in human beings, but is making significant efforts in that direction. That diplomatic byword has entered every segment of our lives and work, and emphasized powerlessness of the state to make a notable step and show the will to provide adequate support to its citizens who have experienced human trafficking. Citizens’ Association Atina is active due to this particular reason as well, given that relying solely on institutional solutions cannot be enough.
Human trafficking in its very basis implies there are persons who feel they are better than others, more valuable than others, who have more rights than others, and thus can be in charge of other people’s freedom.
At the same time, we mustn’t forget that nowadays in Serbia there are persons who live on the margins of our society, not with us, but next to us; those who have been fully and completely excluded not only by individuals, but also by the society. Persons who, in 2019, eat out of dumpsters, who are using public transportation to ride all the way to the last stop and back as that is the warmest place they will have that day. To put it simply, those persons whose lives lack basic human dignity.
The official number of victims in Serbia is irrelevant, as it does not show the extent of the issue or the true state of affairs
Those are also the women who end up as victims of labor exploitation abroad because of an 80 thousand dinars electricity bill debt; or girls you see on the street corner, and pass by them every day, turn a blind eye, and it doesn’t even cross your mind that they will perhaps be beaten when they return home if they failed to bring enough money, and whose parents are already making plans to sell them, although they are only 11 years old.
These are difficult stories, but it is our reality. Countless women in Serbia suffering violence that never stops. Wars begin and end, but violence against women seems endless. In Serbia today, violence of men against women only changes forms.
Women suffer domestic violence, and while running away from it become victims of another form of violence. It often happens that women who are human trafficking victims, even after escaping that situation, have violent partners. They come from such poverty that it is difficult for them to recognize violence when hunger is a real and daily threat.
Before I began working in Citizens’ Association Atina, I thought I knew what poverty was, but now I realize that I was nowhere near that knowledge. It is particularly difficult to deal with the condemnation against women who are suffering violence and who are crushed by existential pressure. Sometimes, that pressure ultimately forces women to sell their body, or parts of their body, to survive and secure their own and the existence of their families.
Regardless of the fact that we have been systemically paying attention to human trafficking only for the last two decades (after the adoption of Palermo Protocol), and that we recognize it in a criminal-legal sense and prescribe sanctions for perpetrators, human trafficking has existed since the first humans arose on the Earth. As we know, there were numerous slaveholding societies throughout history, and many wars were fought to separate citizenry principle from slaveholding system, and give it precedence.
In countries across the globe, there are different political and normative solutions attempting to suppress the issue of human trafficking. Normative changes in Serbia occurred in 2003, when provisions on trafficking in human beings were introduced to the Criminal Code for the very first time.
In the 16 years since then, many laws, political and strategic documents have been enacted as a response of the state system to human trafficking. However, it is important to note that the official number of victims in Serbia is irrelevant as it does not show the extent of the issue or the true state of affairs.
International Labor Organization’s estimate that there are 40 million people in human trafficking situation worldwide clearly shows that these figures are multiple times higher than the number of victims recognized by the states, which clearly points out a huge discrepancy between official identification systems and real life.
It seems to me that we are more than a bit blinded when it comes to comprehending the phenomenon of human trafficking, that we do not fully grasp how wide and deep the issue is; that we are often led by the theory that equals human trafficking to organized crime, and therefore shows and analyzes it solely as a security issue - as an issue that should be tackled by the law enforcement alone. Reality disproves us completely.
Regardless of the fact that human trafficking is being linked to organized crime, as recognized by many strategic documents, there hasn’t been a case in Serbia that would connect human trafficking to organized crime for years now. Experience states that, in 90 percent of cases, victims are women who end up in human trafficking chain and are forced into prostitution, hard labor, criminality, while some of them were forced into marriage as little girls.
The majority of traffickers do not understand the extent of the harm they cause to the victims
ABUSE OF POWER
Human trafficking is not only an issue per se, it has much greater implications. We cannot talk about empathy, solidarity, combating corruption in a society, if we do not eradicate human trafficking. We have to take a moment and think it over; human trafficking is a multifaceted issue, it is both social and political, as well as economical, gender, and intergenerational (reasons and purposes for child trafficking vastly differ from those for adult trafficking).
Human trafficking is actually the issue of an abuse of power. It is essentially an interpersonal and deeply ontological problem, as it entails the oppression of a person by another person.
To criminal offenders, there is no difference between trafficking human beings or robbing a bank, and based on the experience of Citizens’ Association Atina, the majority of traffickers do not understand the extent of the harm they cause to victims, because to them merchandise is merchandise. Therefore, it is necessary to free people, to remove even a thought of obtaining material gain by enslaving another person, denying them freedom, or exploiting them.
Experience states that, in 90 percent of cases, victims are women who end up in human trafficking chain and are forced into prostitution, hard labor, criminality, and some of them were forced into marriage as little girls.
SURVIVAL AND RESILIENCE
The reason why Citizens’ Association Atina exists and why it was established in 2003, is to support girls and women who have experienced some form of exploitation, to provide them with opportunity to recover. We wanted to provide women a safe and dignified space where they can feel like free women, and on the other hand to make human trafficking recognized to a greater extent, and perpetrators adequately sanctioned.
Today, after a longstanding experience of working with victims, it is clear that it is not enough to simply rescue someone from a disadvantageous situation; opportunities must be created for that person as well, so that they can feel like human beings worthy of life in the 21st century.
That is why, when we talk about the recovery of women who were exploited, we have to keep in mind that the basic issue in that process is the lack of trust, i.e. lost trust and consequential further exploitation of their difficult position by those who were trafficking them. That is the most difficult part of the recovery process: regaining trust in people, in a society that abandoned and ultimately humiliated us. Reestablishment of social connections, regained freedom for oneself and others – that is the essence of recovery.
To that end, we in Citizens’ Association Atina promote the concepts of survival and resilience. Those concepts are the core of our intervention, and they are inseparable and long-term processes, because a successful intervention is not a single food package with flour and oil. Many pieces must fall into place – through conversations, care for others, enabling medical examinations; this is a sequence of interventions that must take place in the crucial moment of a victim’s life.
THE END AND THE BEGINNING
Thus, we mustn’t think that the response of the official system is the end in resolving the issue of human trafficking; to the contrary, it is only the beginning. In previous years, different institutions, work groups, councils, boards, bodies, initiatives, offices, administrations, and teams have been established in Serbia to deal with this issue, but that should not deceive us as it is not enough; institutional response is necessary but not sufficient, as it cannot fully consider the oppressed, powerless position a person is in. That is the role for civil society organizations.
They are the connective tissue of society, they are the ones who give meaning to the processes, who breathe together with human trafficking victims, and empathize with them. The role of civil society is to understand the citizens’ interest, to advocate it, and protect it.
The most difficult part of the recovery process for victims is regaining trust in people, in a society that abandoned and ultimately humiliated them
JUSTIFICATION AND RESPONSIBILITY
This brings us back to the question of responsibility – whose responsibility is combating human trafficking, whose responsibility is providing support to victims, their recovery? I think the answer is more than clear – it is the responsibility of us all. It is our responsibility to put an end to justifying violence, because such justifications do not, and cannot, exist.
Some of the bravest women and girls I have ever met were human trafficking victims. Those were the women who boldly stood in a courtroom and put traffickers in their place, resisting the system and time that crucified them even more with social attitudes and expectations. That attitude of boldness and bravery is what drives me, and should drive us all.
(Budikarakter.rs, photo: Dragan Todorović)
The original text can be found via the following link: http://budikarakter.rs/podrska/post/jelena-hrnjak-%C5%BErtve-trgovine-lj...