Patsy Sorensen is founder and Director of the Antwerp-based NGO Payoke, one of three recognised organisations in Belgium with the mission of assisting and sheltering victims of human trafficking. Payoke was founded in 1987 and was one of the first NGOs in Europe to address this important issue. She is a pioneer in the fight against trafficking in human beings, with over 20 years experience in the field. She is also a member of the EU Expert Group on Trafficking in Human Beings.
2 September 2010, Brussels
Exploitation for all purposes
Largely due to the media, human trafficking has been portrayed as a crime where criminals prey on young women and girls, kidnap them, and force them to work in the commercial sex industry. But also men, children and even whole families, are trafficked for other purposes. Over the past couple of years, Payoke has assisted a large number of victims of economic exploitation. They come from different situations of exploitation. Victims can be found in horse stables, the construction industry, restaurants, and in domestic work. A large number of our victims are men.
- Each year we see different waves of victims coming into Payoke. In 2009, we had 63 new clients, of whom 18 were male. In this group, the largest number of victims of sexual exploitation came from Bulgaria, Thailand, and Nigeria. The victims of economic exploitation mainly came from Morocco, China, Senegal and Cameroon. Today there are also victims from Belgium.
Victims’ rights and identification
All victims of human trafficking are offered a 45-days “reflection period” during which they can decide if they want to participate in criminal proceedings against the traffickers. Under Belgian law, all victims of human trafficking - and presumable victims – are given a brief overview of the special procedure for victim protection. This includes information about the three specialised centres and its functions.
- The majority of our clients come to us through the police. We have developed a close relationship with the police over the years and work with them to provide victims assistance as quickly as possible. When presumed victims are referred to us by the police we immediately admit them to the shelter. Victims who come to us through the police have been identified and we normally don’t need to have a screening interview. In these cases, the victims are entitled to an immediate 3-months residence permit.
- We also get referrals from social services, asylum centres, or just concerned citizens. In some cases, victims themselves approach us although this is rare. People normally don’t see themselves as victims or are often afraid of coming forward.
Cooperation with all stakeholders
Payoke’s work requires collaboration with all sectors of society, including the EU institutions, government offices, the Federal Police, the Immigration Service and many specialised civil society organisations.
- It is important to say though, while Payoke is often sought out by international partners for its expertise in counter-trafficking approaches, our mission has never wavered: to provide support to victims, through cooperation and coordination with partners, at the local level.
Language barriers and cultural attitudes can be real challenges when working with people from different parts of the world. Some victims may also have negative experiences from the police in their home country.
- Victim ordeals are difficult enough – without trying to express how they feel in another language and within another culture. For this reason, many victims prefer to talk to someone from their own country.
We constantly need to train ourselves on different cultural behaviours in order to better assist the victims. We also have to look at each case individually. It is a continual learning process.
Having been in the anti-trafficking-field for over 20 years, Patsy Sorensen can also see some positive trends:
- Today, a lot of people are better informed about human trafficking and the risks of taking a job abroad. Nevertheless, the biggest change I have seen is that twenty years ago no one regarded this form of slavery as a crime. Today we have legislation – on national and international levels. Twenty years ago a victim ended up in jail as a criminal, today he or she ends up in a shelter. This is a positive trend where you can say that the human rights have been acknowledged.
- How to Enhance Assistance to Victims of Human Trafficking in the Baltic Sea Region Dates: 19/03/2014 - 19/03/2014
- Stop Traffick! Conference: Efficient Strategies to Reduce Demand for Services of Victims of Trafficking for Sexual Exploitation Dates: 27/03/2014 - 27/03/2014
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