Human trafficking and forced prostitution – it’s only too easy to get trapped in this web of violence, dependence and exploitation, but how - if ever - do you get out again? In his recent book The Fatal Trap Dutch police officer Henk Werson shares his experiences of the world of human trafficking and how it can be combated.
Henk Werson accidentally got involved in a human trafficking case in 1995. While investigating a possible liquidation, he stumbled upon a prostitution network in which women were forced to sell their body under threat of extreme violence. The victims are caught in a web of dependence and exploitation – a fatal trap.
Andrej: “Honey, you listen to me, you’ve paid off your debts, but my income is dropping. I won’t put up with that. Your tits are your source of income and if you don’t earn more money, I will nail them down. Then we can tether you with chains through your nipples. Understood?!"
[Quote from Henk Werson's book: The Fatal Trap]
Prostitutes seriously traumatised
When Mr Werson found out later via a telephone tap that this threat had actually been carried out, he and his colleagues intervened. The women were arrested and questioned. Mr Werson imagined they would be happy to have been rescued and willing to disclose everything. But the women refused and said they worked in prostitution of their own free will.
Now Mr Werson knows better. Victims are seriously traumatised as their personality has been taken away from them bit by bit. They live in a world without humanity. On top of that, the women who work illegally in the Netherlands don’t trust the police. At home the police are often corrupt.
So to give the women the opportunity to tell their story, Mr Werson and his colleagues now use different methods. Trust is paramount.
“What we try to do with victims of human trafficking is: we explain the laws and the options they have. We set them thinking.”
Combatting human trafficking
Still it’s difficult, says Mr Werson, even when the victims are willing to assist in the criminal investigation against the perpetrator. As the women are seriously traumatised, their story isn’t always consistent. Especially when the women have to tell their story many times during the proceedings.
The defence and the court use this to suggest the victim is unreliable, which makes the women even more vulnerable, according to Mr Werson. Therefore he thinks the victims should receive a standard psychological examination. This way it’s easier to assess the value of a testimony.
When it comes to the evidence, Mr Werson adds that you can only really make any headway if all the authorities involved – from local councils to health services – are prepared to go to the police when they come across any signs of human trafficking.
Helping the victims
Since a ban on brothels was introduced in the Netherlands in 2000, it has become easier to control legal and illegal prostitution. Constant surveillance by police and aid workers means human trafficking can be brought to light quicker, making it possible to take action sooner.
The investigation of human trafficking mainly focuses on finding evidence against the perpetrator. The victims – who are mostly working in the Netherlands illegally – are given support.
Temporary or permanent residence
Some of the victims can make use of a special regulation, entitling them to three months' residence in the Netherlands. If the victims co-operate in the course of the criminal proceedings, the period can be extended. If the perpetrator is convicted, the victim receives permanent residence.
Victims who are not entitled to temporary or permanent residence are sent back to their own country. The Netherlands has agreements with an increasing number of countries about giving the women the support they need after their return to their country of origin.
Victims of human trafficking in the Netherlands come from various countries in Eastern Europe, Africa, Asia and South America.