Leaving the Past Behind: Why Some Trafficking Victims Decline Assistance
Implementing Agencies: NEXUS Institute and Fafo
Geographic Scope: Albania, Serbia and Moldova
Project Summary: Well-designed reintegration and assistance programs may assist women who have been trafficked with the challenging task of recovery after trafficking. Such programs may help some victims by reducing their vulnerability and widening the life choices available to them. Nonetheless, some victims of trafficking decline assistance. This research projects explores the pattern of victims of trafficking who decline assistance to better understand the reasons behind these decisions and what happened after and as a result of declining assistance. Understanding the reasons, experiences and perceptions of persons who do not participate in assistance program can play an important role in developing and tailoring anti-trafficking services to meet the needs and desires of as many trafficking victims as possible. The main questions for research were: (1) What are the reasons behind trafficking victims’ decisions to decline assistance? (2) What happens in the lives of trafficked persons as a result of declining assistance (positive and negative)? (3) Are there reasons for declining that can be addressed so that more victims, and perhaps other groups of victims, will also benefit from assistance?
This study, conducted in Albania, Serbia and Moldova from 2006 to 2008, explores the differences in experiences, needs and decision-making between victims of trafficking who receive assistance and those who, for various reasons, are not offered assistance or decline to receive it. The aim of the research was to describe the challenges both service providers and trafficked women and girls face in their post-trafficking lives, including the interplay between them. The report also provides recommendations for how services can increasingly meet the needs of the diverse population who fall within the category of trafficking victim, to ensure that all trafficked persons who want and/or need support are able to receive it.
This research project was carried out in cooperation between NEXUS Institute (Vienna/Washington) and Fafo Institute for Applied International Studies (Oslo) and was generously financed by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Project Publications and Studies: Results of the research project included a full length research study as well as a summary report for practitioners and policy makers, each of which is described below. The full length version is available in English. The summary report is available in English, Albanian, Romanian, Russian and Serbian.
A number victims of trafficking are offered assistance and they decline. With no systematized knowledge on the subject, it has been difficult to understand the reasons behind these decisions to decline assistance, what happened to these women after and as a result of declining assistance, and what paths their lives took after dropping out of contact with the assistance system. Understanding the reasons, experiences and perceptions of person who do not participate in assistance program can play an important role in developing and tailoring anti-trafficking services to meet the needs and desires of as many trafficking victims as possible. This original research determined that reasons for declining assistance center around three main categories: 1) an individual’s personal circumstances at the time of decision-making, 2) factors associated with the specifics of the assistance system itself and 3) the social context.
This abridged report summarizes the main findings and conclusions of the 2007 report Leaving the past behind? When victims of trafficking decline assistance. It explores why some trafficking victims decline assistance and under which circumstances. While many victims are never offered assistance, some trafficked persons who are offered assistance choose to forego the help available to them. Based on this, the main questions for our research were the following: (1) What are the reasons behind these decisions to decline assistance? (2) What happens for victims as a result of declining assistance? (3) Are there reasons for declining that can be addressed so that more victims will also benefit from assistance? The aim of the report is to describe the challenges both service providers and trafficked victims face in their post-trafficking lives, including the interplay between them. It is intended to contribute to a discussion of how assistance for trafficking victims is organized and provide some ideas for what could be done to better meet the needs of the diverse population who fall within the category of trafficking victim.
In addition, research findings were revised and tailored to service providers in SE Asia and published as part of the UN Interagency Project on Trafficking’s SIREN series. This SIREN report is available in each of the six national languages of the Mekong region: Burmese, Chinese, Khmer, Thai, Vietnamese and Laotian.
While many victims of trafficking are never offered assistance, many of those who are offered assistance choose to forgo the help available to them. Why? The starting point for this study was that if women and girls declined assistance because they did not need it, then this was fine. However, if they declined assistance for other reasons but would benefit from some form of help, then the issue needs to be urgently addressed. The research for this report, conducted in three South-Eastern European countries from April to November 2006, aims to contribute to a discussion of how victim protection is organized and what could potentially be done to better meet the needs of the diverse population who fall within the category of ‘trafficking victim’.
Trafficking in women has become a high profile issue during recent years. However, there is still relatively little attention being paid to assistance systems for the victims, more particularly to how assistance is conceptualized and implemented. In this article, the authors argue that there are attitudes and values inherent in many of these systems that are not necessarily conducive to the recovery of trafficking victims. Through an analysis of interviews with institutional representatives in Southeast Europe and victims of trafficking, the authors argue that there is a tendency to pathologize women’s choices to migrate and to enter prostitution as a means of explaining this “deviant” behavior. This, in turn, opens up the use of restrictions for victims of trafficking in the form of limitations in and supervision of communication with people outside the assistance system and also closed shelter facilities. Restrictions may infantilize program beneficiaries and impact their agency and ability to dissent and negotiate within the program framework. Further, they reflect a focus on how these women and their behaviors seemingly need to be corrected to conform to a preconceived idea of a victim of trafficking and a “rehabilitated victim”. To some extent, these beliefs are also adopted by trafficked women and girls who receive assistance.
Declining Assistance. Understanding Trafficked Persons’ Decisions, Choices and Resiliency. In Human Trafficking: A Reference Handbook (2017)
Reintegration assistance is often critical for trafficked persons as they recover and move on from trafficking. Well-designed reintegration and assistance programs can provide vital, even life-saving services to trafficked persons and their families facing the challenging task of rebuilding their lives. Such programs also address the pre-existing vulnerabilities that often contributed to individuals being trafficked and widen the life choices available to them. Nonetheless, some trafficking victims decline assistance and support after trafficking, choosing instead to try to cope on their own. Knowing why some victims do and do not decline assistance tells us a great deal about the condition of people’s lives after trafficking, what challenges they face and what opportunities are available to them. Based on fieldwork in the Balkans in 2006, this chapter discusses three broad reasons for trafficking victims to decline assistance: 1) linked to personal circumstances; 2) difficulties in the assistance system; and 3) issues of trust and victim identity.