This photo essay originally appeared on July 13, 2016 on Medium.
In Indonesia, human trafficking is a pressing problem. With over 32 million people living below the poverty line in this vast island nation, many thousands of Indonesians each year end up in working conditions indicative of trafficking. And once a trafficking victim returns home, the ordeal of being trapped in modern slavery is too often followed by a daunting personal struggle to put their life back together, according to new research by the NEXUS Institute, an independent human rights research and policy center based in Washington, D.C.
Based on extensive interviews with almost 100 trafficking victims and over 100 anti-trafficking professionals and service providers in Indonesia, Going Home — Challenges in the Reintegration of Trafficking Victims in Indonesia details the uncertain and precarious path toward recovery and reintegration faced by many victims of human trafficking in Indonesia. Going Home is the first in a series of longitudinal studies by the NEXUS Institute about human trafficking and victim reintegration in Indonesia.
“This research is the first longitudinal study on human trafficking conducted in Indonesia and one of only a few in the world. It offers a unique lens into the complex process of reintegration for victims after being trafficked, drawing on the firsthand accounts of a diverse group of trafficking victims,” said Stephen Warnath, President, CEO and Founder of NEXUS Institute. “These men and women shared their experiences with us and, in doing so, reveal stories of hope, determination, perseverance, courage, and resilience. Our report documents their experiences and introduces what support is available for reintegration of victims of human trafficking in Indonesia, and the constraints and obstacles victims face in accessing that support. The stories that emerge from our interviews are not unique. Listening to their voices and the lessons to be learned from them can benefit many countries around the world.”
A number of government initiatives exist to assist returning trafficking victims. Indonesia’s Anti-Trafficking Law (Law 21/2007), for example, provides a right to healthcare, psychological support and counseling, temporary shelter and legal aid.
“Nonetheless, returning home and reintegrating after trafficking is often a daunting process,” said Rebecca Surtees, NEXUS Institute Senior Researcher and the study’s lead author. “Many returning trafficking victims do not receive the assistance and support that they need to recover — despite existing legislation and support programs. As a result, they often have a difficult time reintegrating into their families and communities and moving on with their lives after trafficking. They often face on-going vulnerability.”
Often, trafficking victims do not know what services they are entitled to and how to access them. Those who do receive assistance from the government or civil society do not always receive help that is tailored to their individual needs or adequately supports their efforts to reintegrate, according to the study.
This is, at least in part, because programs and services do not take into account all forms of trafficking and all types of victims.
“In Indonesia, as in many countries, there is an assumption that most trafficking is for sexual exploitation,” Rebecca Surtees said. “Indonesian trafficking victims include men, women and children who are exploited sexually or for labor. Reintegration services and support need to be tailored to each individual victim’s unique and specific experience and assistance needs.”
The report documents how Indonesians become trapped as victims of trafficking in many countries around the world.
“Indonesians are trafficked within the country or exploited abroad, in neighboring Asian countries as well as further afield, including the Middle East, Africa and Latin America,” said Thaufiek Zulbahary, NEXUS Researcher and co-author of the report.
Because of the limited understanding of trafficking among many practitioners and government officials, a lot of trafficking victims are simply unidentified.
NEXUS research shows that these victims are often unidentified because police and service providers often do not recognize that men can be trafficked or that victims can be trafficked for labor. Victims themselves often do not understand that their experiences of exploitation while migrant workers are, in fact, the crimes of human trafficking and forced labor.
“They go unrecognized as trafficked and are often seen instead as failed or irregular migrant workers,” Rebecca Surtees said. “Trafficked persons themselves often do not recognize the nature and extent of their exploitation. As a consequence, they go unassisted and struggle to recover from trafficking and reintegrate into their families and communities.”
Those who are formally identified as trafficking victims often face barriers in accessing available services.
“There is often a lack of information about available reintegration assistance and trafficking victims do not know where to go or who to ask for support,” said Suarni Daeng Caya, NEXUS Researcher and co-author of the report. “Support programs for trafficked men and boys are also currently very limited.”
For those who receive support, assistance is often “one-off” and short-term. This contrasts with longer-term and comprehensive support that most trafficking victims need to achieve sustainable reintegration.
Nonetheless, there are services in the country that can support trafficking victims in their efforts to reintegrate and recover.
“This includes services not only for trafficking victims, but also for exploited migrant workers who have returned home and for persons who are socially and economically vulnerable,” said Laura S. Johnson, NEXUS Researcher and report co-author. “Some programs and services — like access to education — are available to all Indonesian citizens.”
Among the report’s recommendations is that trafficking victims need to be supported in making greater use of services and programs that already exist to assist a wide range of beneficiaries, rather than to limit support solely to programs dedicated to assist those who have survived being trafficked. Trafficking victims are often eligible for this larger array of programs, but currently they are rarely able to access and obtain these programs’ services and support.
Others key recommendations are that reintegration services — which need to be long-term, comprehensive and provided by qualified professionals — should be made available to all types of trafficking victims (men, women, girls and boys) as well as victims of all forms of human trafficking. Service providers should work with individual victims to assess their needs and to design a plan for their reintegration; they should work with victims over time to implement and monitor their reintegration process.
While these stories, and the report that they are based upon, focus on Indonesia, these findings are relevant for many countries around the world.
“The experiences recounted by Indonesian trafficking victims mirror the experiences of trafficking victims shared with NEXUS researchers in many other places,” Stephen Warnath notes. “In most countries there is much more that can be done to provide critically needed support for the men, women and children who have escaped or been rescued from human trafficking. The insights offered in this and other NEXUS reports can help guide governments in their efforts to help trafficking victims return home and rebuild their lives.”
Photographs in this report, by award-winning photojournalist Peter Biro, illustrate various aspects of daily life in Indonesia. Unless stated otherwise, individuals in these photographs are not trafficking victims. All rights are reserved by the NEXUS Institute.
The NEXUS study, Going Home, was made possible through the support of the United States Department of State Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons (J/TIP). The research was implemented in partnership with the Indonesian Ministry of Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection and the Indonesian Ministry of Social Affairs. Read the full report here. You can follow more of NEXUS Institute’s work atwww.NEXUSInstitute.net and @NEXUSInstitute.