Friday, September 12, 2014

Organization Spotlight: CKM

Image courtesy of CKM

This past Monday, I had the privilege of visiting with Annemarie Heeringa, who works as a legal project manager for CKM. In English, the organization's name means "Center for Child Trafficking and Human Trafficking." This organization is a non-profit that was born out of a government-funded organization called Fier. Their parent organization, Fier, helps victims of all types of violence in dependency relationships, but CKM specifically assists minor and adult victims of sexual violence and exploitation. Fier has many shelters around the Netherlands, two of which house victims receiving services from CKM. This center has only been in operation for a few years, but Fier has been around for decades.


CKM not only provides direct care to victims, it also conducts research about the problem of trafficking and sexual violence in the Netherlands and beyond. They began a website called "Human Trafficking Web," which has resources mostly in Dutch for those wanting to learn more. If you happen to know Dutch or don't mind using Google Translate, you can find it here. They are working to upload more resources in other languages now. I hope to also look at the newest study conducted by CKM soon, and I look forward to sharing what I learn with you!

In our long conversation I learned a great deal, specifically about barriers to recovery for women in The Netherlands, as well as how legalized prostitution affects trafficking.

Barriers to Recovery

Annemarie has been working for CKM for over a year, and she has first hand experience working with victims of trafficking in her country. According to her experience, the biggest barrier to giving the women that CKM and Fier provide the proper aftercare is the difficulties involved in obtaining a residence permit. A large component of this struggle is the fact that it is very hard to prosecute traffickers for their crimes.

The majority of trafficking victims here are Dutch, but those from other countries are mostly Eastern European or African women. When they are rescued from the situation, they are given a three month "reflection period," where they are allowed to stay in the country and decide whether to press charges. If they decide not to press charges, they are sent back to their home country or must seek asylum. If they do press charges, they are given a temporary residence permit and a stipend for the duration of the trial. If the trafficker is convicted or the trial goes on longer than three years, the woman can keep her residence permit and stay in The Netherlands. If the trafficker is acquitted, then she must go back to her home country or must seek asylum for reasons outside of trafficking.

According to Annemarie, this makes life very difficult, as the women have no way to begin returning to a sense of normalcy after the trauma they have experienced. She says, "They can only start to rebuild their lives, they can only start to work on the traumas if they know they can stay in Holland." Many of the women desire to live in The Netherlands and came here willingly, but under the false pretenses that they would have a job in housekeeping or the like, not prostitution.

What's worse, most of the women are not granted a residence permit. Judges give the following reasons for their decisions:

  • The women do not have identification papers
  • There is not enough evidence of trafficking
  • All of the stories sound the same, so the women must be lying
  • These women are simply trying to live off of the government's charity

These reasons show a complete lack of understanding of what trafficking is and how it occurs. Even if a trafficker is convicted, the sentence is usually between 1 and 4 years. This type of sentence is more akin to theft than to something more serious like assault, and for the money a trafficker can make, this isn't much of a deterrance.

Image courtesy of CKM

For this reason, CKM also does a great deal of advocacy work within the political sphere in order to educate those making these important decisions. They are also trying to use other means to get around these barriers, such as helping the women apply for asylum in The Netherlands. Unfortunately, this does not always bring about justice for the traffickers, it merely allows the woman to receive a residence permit more quickly.

Legalized Prostitution and Trafficking

Annemarie was able to answer a few big questions for me about what trafficking looks like in a country where prostitution is legal. Many people claim that the legalization of prostitution leads to higher regulation, which decreases the amount of dangerous sexual exploitation. Annemarie is doubtful. CKM and Fier have helped victims who were rescued from attics, garages, and homes, where no one suspected anything. She believes that "for traffickers, this is the place to be."

A model like Sweden's, Annemarie suggests, might be a better fit. There, prostitution is illegal, but the customers and traffickers are convicted, not the women. Though she could not give me hard numbers on how the legalization of prostitution affects trafficking, Annemarie's experience and the experience of her colleagues is that is perhaps doing more harm than good. I will be interested to see if my other contacts agree with her conclusions.

This conversation was very helpful for me in understanding some of the barriers that women face in receiving care, as well as answering some of my questions about the relationship between legalized prostitution and trafficking. I hope you found it interesting as well! Please comment with any questions you have about this organization or trafficking in the Netherlands


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