Today I was walking with P. from the hotel to the venue of our training on policy analysis for trafficking and sex worker rights. P. is 23 years old and is shy in speaking English. He asked if we could take a different route to the venue of our training then yesterday. Instead of walking through the main shopping street of Belgrade he preferred to go through parallel alleyways. At first I thought we were taking a short cut, but then he said: ’I feel scared.’ I asked him: ‘Why?’ And he shared he felt scared for running into his Albanian traffickers as they sometimes hang out in the main squares near the shopping street.
The day before we had a similar incident. We wanted to cross a street, our traffic light was red, but there was no traffic whatsoever as it was Sunday morning. He nodded to us to stop and said to my colleague and me: ‘Watch out police.’ They were standing about 40 meters from us on the other side of the road.
The reality of someone who is trafficked comes with a hint of paranoia, unfortunately for good reasons. The police in Serbia is not the most reliable partner to protect you. P. said he felt more secure in his home town, about 15 km from Belgrade. There the chief of police would send a patrol car when the traffickers threaten him, because they still do, but here in Belgrade he does not trust them. Unfortunately the justice system is also not a reliable partner and instead of being perceived as a victim, P. might actually face jail time.
His case is a complicated one. He was convicted for committing robbery. During this first case he had a state lawyer assigned to his defense, who unfortunately had no interest in doing his case well. During the case it was identified that P. had done the robbery under pressure of traffickers, which should be a good argument to let him go. However the judge ruled that although he was a trafficking victim, he still had a choice to commit the crime or not. There is an investigation going on now towards the traffickers, but in response to this his former traffickers are threatening P. as a witness against their case. His current lawyer fortunately is a much better one, and has appealed several times to delay the serving of his prison sentence for the robbery until the investigation on his traffickers is finished. She’s also asking for dismissal of the case against him as it was done so badly. And she has also brought the case to the European Court on Human Rights. The argument used against P. that he still had a choice to commit the robbery or not shows the exact violation of his rights as a victim of traffickers: you simply don’t have a choice. You are forced into servitude and slavery by traffickers and coerced into working for them.
On the 20th December P. has to face another appeal, and chances are the European Court will not have provided a ruling yet, nor will the investigation on the traffickers be finished to provide evidence for his role as victim. In case his appeal is denied and he has to go to jail, he runs an extra risk for being ‘attacked’ by his traffickers. Most likely through their ‘network’ in prison.
This rather gloomy prospect doesn’t deter P. from taking life as it is, or perhaps he values it much more. He had 1,5 years of psychotherapy to deal with his experience as a trafficking victim, but he carries on as he also shared with a big smile: ‘I’m getting married tomorrow, with my girl of 4 years.’ I asked him in surprise: ‘Don’t you need to be home and prepare, instead of being in the training?’ His answer was clear: ‘No, today I need to fight for my rights, and tomorrow I get married’. There won’t be a big wedding party yet, this will be done after he has hopefully finished his case. I’m keeping my fingers crossed he will be able to do this soon and will be able to celebrate the one thing I often forget: to really appreciate my right to freedom and the fact that all of my rights are respected in everyday life.