New Futures – Give the Gift of Freedom

If you could do anything, what would you do?

“I don’t know. I think I would like to do something with people. I could help old people or maybe other girls like me since I know what they have been through.” – 26 year old survivor of Human Trafficking in Amsterdam

A few months ago, I stood with Toos Heemskerk in the red light district in Amsterdam. She told me that there were 11 organisations working in the district who visit girls behind the window. She said they don’t need another organisation going behind the window to visit the girls.

I asked her, if there are 11 organisations in the red light district, but there is still human trafficking, then what are we missing? After sixteen years experience reaching out to women in prostitution and identifying human trafficking, she would know clearer than anyone else what is most needed. Where are the gaps, and how do we address them?

These were Toos’s answers on what the women need:

– Nutrition – most girls are working a minimum of 8 hours a day. For those who are controlled by a pimp or are new to the Netherlands, they don’t have access to proper meals, their traffickers often just pick up junk food from the corner store.

– Health Care – the government provides healthcare to approximately 120 sex workers a month, but again those girls who are most vulnerable, who have been trafficked, or do not speak Dutch or English have no way to access the government services.

– Community – Toos’s experience has taught her that most of the control that exercise over trafficking victims is psychological. That means that once a woman has the chance to make community and overcome language barriers she can begin to reclaim her freedom and break the psychological control that her pimp has over her.

Toos also asked trafficking victims in the shelter in Amsterdam what they would like to do. Some would like to help other people, some are not sure because they haven’t started dreaming yet, but many said they would like to learn to cook.

As Toos and I stood out on the street, the red lights dancing in the reflection of the canal, we dreamed of what could be created. A place of community, where survivors of human trafficking can make meals to be delivered to eastern European women trapped in sex work, showing those who want out, that there is another way. Using relationships built to get services to the women as well as needed research on where most of the girls are coming from, that way prevention programs can be created and targeted at the cities in Eastern Europe with the most vulnerable populations. It was a lot of big dreams.

Now I have to say, Not For Sale is the kind of organisation that lets you dream. We told founder, David Batstone, about our dream for the red light district a few days later.

Last week  Dave and Toos announced our Christmas wish from Amsterdam, to make what was just a dream spoken into the night on a narrow street in the red light district to a reality of new futures for survivors of human trafficking. We are launching a our newest social venture, a catering business that will serve soup made by the women for the women and connect those who are in vulnerable situations to much needed services.

Watch the video message from Toos and Dave here: 

As I was walking to work on Wednesday morning after the announcement was made, I was overwhelmed by the fact that what we had dreamed about is now becoming a reality. I spoke to Toos on the phone, and she said something powerful.

“For sixteen years I have walked the streets offering the women my help, but now as we plan this new business, I can go to the women and ask them to help us, to give us recipes from their homes in Eastern Europe for the new kitchen. When we ask for them to help us I see their eyes light up with excitement.”

Watch this rap from NomiS and consider giving the gift of freedom this December, a gift that doesn’t need to be wrapped:

9 Responses to “New Futures – Give the Gift of Freedom”
  1. Jan Carver says:

    every person no matter their situation or circumstance – deep within them – they want or need to feel needed & valued & contributing – to see a their eyes light up means they are still feeling/alive to the fact of giving still in a decent & good way. i have had an epiphany as i was reading your piece – what if one day soon or near future – all the girls left the Red Light District – just walked off the job so to speak & came home with Toos – are you ready??? what a lovely but astounding vision/dream to have & experience but not impossible 4 sure because “suddenly…”

    what things are impossible with man/woman are possible with GOD… ♥

  2. Jan Carver says:

    This story is an account of the power of hesed, a power that restores not only what is present but also what was long ago deemed unforgivable. This story demonstrates that what is past is not finished. Restoration can still occur for those things that we never thought could change. Hesed is trans-generational in both directions. Perhaps your demonstration of hesed can heal wounds from long ago. Perhaps it is never too late. Hesed is teleological, that is, its meaning is derived from the end it produces, not simply from the acts in the chain of events.

    • BH says:

      I think that Toos’s angle is a very helpful when it comes to dealing with the women (are there men?) who are working. Having been a victim of trafficking, I can tell you that most of these women will have PTSD. Part of the paradigm will be something called a “foreshortened future”. When it comes to dreaming and thinking about something in the longterm future, these women will not have the capacity to do that. First and foremost, establish safety–nutrition, health care, and getting out from under the psychological control of the pimp (which is extremely powerful, I can tell you). Studies have shown that psychological torture and abuse has a much more lasting psychological and neurological effect than physical torture/abuse. Another PTSD symptom–the belief that the perp (pimp in this case) is all-powerful. Most of these women probably want out, but they are terrified–having been the terrified person, it’s a belief that’s very difficult to shake. Something as abstract as a dream won’t even come into play or motivate a person to break away when the limbic system is ruling the body. Establishing safety in the now and the immediate future is goal number one. That’s what will motivate a sex worker to get out and start thinking that a future might be possible. Make any sense?

      • justsaskia says:

        Hi! Thanks for sharing all your thoughts. Lots of great points here.
        Just regarding your question (are there men?) – Mostly we are focussed on women, because that is the main population behind the window, but I think it is key to recognise that there are also trans-gender people behind the windows, and of course, males who are escorts, etc.

        I agree with you that first an individual must be stabilised before the next step of addressing their future even comes in to play, which is why we are partnering with the government shelter to give skills training to those who have already been identified as human trafficking victims and are having their basic needs met. This way we can focus on the development of a new future because they are already receiving care.

        I think your breakdown of the psychological situation will really help others understand why an exploited woman doesn’t ‘just leave’.

        Thanks again for commenting!

      • BH says:

        That’s very, very good to know. Thank you again, and please do pass on a thank you from me to all your colleagues. For what it’s worth, I’m extraordinarily grateful for what you’re doing for those women. I escaped, but I recognize that I could have been one of them–even now. *Thank you*

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