What Do Trafficking Survivors Need to Rebuild Their Lives?

09/12/2013 15:45 GMT | Updated 08/02/2014 10:59 GMT


One of the biggest myths of human trafficking is that rescue marks the happy end to a story of abuse and suffering. For most survivors, it is just the start of a long, difficult road to clear the hurdles that stop them rebuilding their lives, a women's rights conference heard on Tuesday.

Too often trafficking is presented as a business or a crime and seen from the point of view of the perpetrators without enough attention being paid to the needs of the survivors, said Minh Dang, who spent years as the domestic and sexual slave of her parents.

"We need to think about long-term healing for survivors ... healing beyond just getting out," she told the Trust Women Conference in London.

Efforts to tackle trafficking must be driven more by survivors and their experiences, but the issue should not be sensationalised. People should understand that it "is not just something that happens far away, but next door to people they know and love", said Dang who was trafficked in her home town in the United States.

Beyond the immediate need for counselling, help could be basic and practical - such as providing identification papers to replace the passports and ID cards that are so often seized by traffickers, especially those moving their victims across borders, said another trafficking survivor, Karina de Vega.

De Vega, who now runs a charity to shelter orphans in her native Indonesia, said obtaining legal assistance, mentoring and healthcare were also crucial in allowing survivors to move on and create a new life that was not defined by being exploited.

"Nobody on this earth wants to experience the worst, most horrific thing - a human being without dignity or honour," de Vega said of her experience.

The discussion also heard how the process of being rescued can cause additional trauma for survivors. Martina Vandenberg, a high profile lawyer who has represented many women who have been trafficked, said some trafficking victims who are rescued are then placed in shelters - where they are locked up.

Another expert, Pardis Mahdavi, an academic with years of experience working in the Middle East, said: "For many survivors the experience of rescue can be terrifying. It can lead to deportation for individuals for whom going home is a death sentence."

She cited the example of a group of Iranian women who, after being rescued from trafficking, were sent home only to be exiled from their communities, separated from friends and family and jailed.