Journey: day three

JOURNEY – condom curtain

What a miserable morning. Acres of impenetrable cloud. Sheets of rain lashing across the square. Why does JOURNEY always go travelling in the winter? We are not sure of the answer as we hug cappuccinos and shiver in the reception tent.

The toytown appearance of Den Haag is deceptive because it exerts enormous influence over human rights law around the world. Dr Michael Korzinski (chief clinician of the Helen Bamber Foundation) and me blag our way into an international conference on trafficking at The Dutch House of Representatives just around the corner from JOURNEY. 200 candidates sit in a grand stateroom that glows with self-importance, luminescent marble and deconstructivist chandeliers. The theme of the day – ‘Monitoring Mechanisms in the Fight Against Human Trafficking’ – feels miles away from the thuggish brutality of modern slavery but the logistics and strategy are an essential part of combating it. Visiting speaker Luis CdeBaca is an ambassador for monitoring trafficking in the Obama administration. He advocates analysing the movements of trafficked people because the accumulated intelligence helps us to understand the scale and genealogy of the problem and build much stronger cases against traffickers. Most prosecutions have to rely on victims’ statements, and barristers for the accused love to destroy vulnerable people in the dock. He tells us that although police authorities spend millions of hours investigating trafficking rings, out of an estimated 20 million people trafficked around the world in 2009 there were only 420 convictions. Luis says we should not be waiting for victims to come to us, but going out and finding them. Law enforcement and protection agencies need to act in a much more holistic way and change the balance of power between the victim and the trafficker.

Den Haag Bike

Luis is followed by Steve Harvey Head of Europol Operations, who emphasises the need to share information. With half a billion potential consumers and few border controls, the EU is a plum attraction for organised crime. And where you find trafficking you find arms dealing, corrupt police and judiciary, money laundering, labour exploitation and everything that comes with it. Steve says we have to follow the money. Instead of struggling to get fragmented information from a deeply damaged trafficking victim, find the brand new millionaire’s mansion in a Romanian village, track back from there, and reveal a paper trail of human abuse.

During the conference coffee break I bump into a care worker from a multi-disciplinary organisation tracing trafficked women and children. She is based in India and works with teams of people actively trying to find girls before they are sold. Local people in contact with authorities on a daily basis stand a much greater chance of finding out what is going on. They educate police and judiciary, explaining that girls who have been abducted and abused are terrified of saying what has actually happened to them and often make contradictory statements. It’s a tough, thankless, relentless calling but given the resources and staff, they can provide valuable support to victims. She quotes the case of a man recently prosecuted in the UK who paid for the education of a girl in India so that he could abuse her when he visited. Her organisation provided counselling for the girl and her family, but she says they desperately need therapists and psychologists to teach local people how to provide sustainable care. The young women are eager to return home but most families reject them. Those who do go back are not allowed to articulate their experience and carry a massive weight of shame and guilt. Trafficked people are nothing without family. They are marked for life. But with time and patience some parents can begin to come to terms with what has happened to their child.

Dr Michael’s performance

A group of 17/18 year olds arrive with their teacher. Queuing at the entrance of JOURNEY they are all bluster and bravado, but after they have experienced the seven containers they emerge subdued. They appear to be confused, as if needing to contextualise it in their lives. Dr Michael asks what they felt in JOURNEY. A few express disgust that people could be so cruel but feel at a loss to do anything about it. Michael loves giving impromptu street lectures and goes into overdrive. He hollers out a rap written by one of our clients at the Helen Bamber Foundation; a 25-year old Muslim man who was wrongly accused of terrorist offences and spent 2 years in a Category-A prison before being exonerated. In the first part of the verse he assumes the character of the trafficked woman. In the second he becomes the trafficker. It’s a riveting read and the teenagers are glued to Michael’s intoxicating performance. The group discussion moves onto ‘lover boys’ who prey on the most vulnerable girls, seduce them, break them, own them, betray them and traffic them. Michael invites this new generation to become a counterforce to the ‘lover boys’. Michael says: “Nothing scares a politician more than an articulate young turk with an exe to grind.”

It’s not all doom and gloom in the JOURNEY circus. After we shut up shop, we hire two mini-buses and drive to the Supper Club in Amsterdam. Spread over three stories, the floors are covered in mattresses and we lie around like sultans enjoying unmitigated decadence. It’s a wonderful opportunity for the Quiet Storm crew and the HBF bohos to shout our heads off, dance a bit, drink too much, and go deaf.

Tom

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