Journey: day two

JOURNEY in Den Haag

We have fallen in love with Holland. It appears to be so civilized, relaxed and friendly. They have got café society perfectly sorted. Every brasserie and tea-house oozes with chilled out people gazing into newspapers, lapping up their laptops, and enjoying hanging out together. There is no pressure to consume. You are not renting space; you are a welcome guest. Everyone is pleased to see you. Cycling is in the DNA of course. The bikes are simply extensions of people’s bodies. I pedal therefore I am.

Judge Corrine E Dettmeijer-Vermeulen who invited JOURNEY to Den Haag. Corrine is the National Rapporteur on Trafficking

As the morning unravels, the hospitality company lays out wave after wave of surprises. We cannot believe they are being so nice to us, which re-emphasises the commitment this town has to JOURNEY. The first speaker at the opening ceremony is Judge Corrine E Dettmeijer-Vermeulen, who invited JOURNEY to Den Haag. Corrine is the National Rapporteur on Trafficking and in her articulate and forceful welcome she stresses how committed The Netherlands is to dealing with trafficking. They have been working closely with police forces to raise awareness and understanding, and enlightening the judiciary. It’s a succinct challenge to the people of Holland to accept that although trafficking is a borderless problem it is our duty to tackle it.

The vibrating bed

Next up is Emma Thompson, who is the Chair of the Trustees of the Helen Bamber Foundation. She tells a vivid and elliptical story of Elena’s grooming and befriending by a woman in her village who was procuring young girls, her abduction and torture at the hands of her traffickers, and her incomprehension that anyone would want to hurt her.

Emma tells a vivid and elliptical story

Emma hints at Elena’s feelings of shame and contamination from the conveyor belt of men who paid to fuck her, and the ignominy of being forced to buy her own tissues to mop up the mess. When JOURNEY opened in Trafalgar Square Elena (who inspired JOURNEY) felt brave enough to volunteer and ask visitors what they thought of the experience. One visitor asked Elena if the girl in the story was okay now. A man wept with the realisation that Elena could have been his sister or his daughter. JOURNEY brings trafficking home to people like that. Helen takes the stand and presents her argument that trafficking is torture and should be recognised as such; it’s kidnapping, imprisonment, battery, abuse, rape and long-term trauma. She talks about of one of her clients who was sold into trafficking as a child and is terrified of going to sleep – “…because that’s when the men come…” Helen tells us she uses therapy sessions to sleep. The Foundation is the only safe place she has.

Helen Bamber meets the Mayor of Den Haag

The day is packed with visitors who begin to dovetail with us. A lawyer with the Dutch immigration service has strongly identified with the Resurrection container. This final stage of the JOURNEY experience explores the faceless rhetoric governments and border agencies use to slag-off and dehumanise trafficked women. Many of the bureaucratic cultures that judge trafficked women are steeped in prejudice and prefer to think that women are playing at being prostitutes to get asylum. She is keen to bring judges, barristers and lawyers through JOURNEY and arrange a round table discussion. Almost every conversation we have promises to lead to other things.

The hospitality we have received re-emphasises the commitment this town has to JOURNEY

The special Representative for Combating Trafficking of the OSCE (Organisation for Security in Europe) is sympathetic to trafficking being identified as a form of torture, and will set up an international conference to lobby for change. We talk about how the definition of trafficking is always a problem. No one knows quite how to pitch it, and a legal classification will clear the air for everyone.

Last quote of the day goes to a visitor: “I work with victims of trafficking in South Asia. It keeps astounding me how similar the stories are. The last container with the official language after the horror containers was even worse. Not being believed, not finding support is like being tortured all over again.”


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