Running back to life – a story of modern slavery in the Netherlands

Published on 14 December 2017

Modern slavery is a global problem that occurs in rich and poor countries, among all genders and ages. The Global Slavery Index 2016 estimates that 45.8m people around the world are in some form of modern slavery, such as trafficking, forced labour or forced marriage. The highest number of people in slavery are estimated to be in India, China and Pakistan, but countries across Europe are also affected. The Netherlands for example, is a source, transit and destination country for human trafficking. The International Organisation for Migration definition of trafficking states that it often occurs across borders but can also take place within a single country.

In the Netherlands, men from a variety of countries are trafficked into forced commercial sexual exploitation, and forced labour in hospitality, agriculture or cleaning for example. However, most trafficked women in the Netherlands come from the Netherlands. In 2017 the estimated number of minor aged girls who are victims of sexual exploitation in the Netherlands was 1,320.

The girls are trafficked into forced prostitution by so called “lover boys”. These are men who seduce young women and girls – often from a difficult home life – and force them into prostitution. Victims remain trapped in it because of systematic physical and emotional violence and the abuse and technology the perpetrators use to keep victims under control.

Obviously the state can do more to help victims of trafficking. But the most powerful step is the first step that victims themselves take to get out. Recent IDS research with people in Nepal affected by the form of modern slavery known as bonded labour, said it was community members, neighbours and relatives that had supported people most to escape from bonded labour – more than the government or the police. While victims often do not have the strength to escape alone it is vital to recognize victims own abilities. Recognizing that victims learn and grow can ultimately not only help them to move on but inspire others in similar situations.

Sameena, a health care professional and long-distance runner in the Netherlands shares her experience of trafficking.

Sameena’s story

There is one reason behind how I made the journey from being a victum of human trafficking to discovering the biggest love of my life: running.

Sameena in the Netherlands at the end of a running race, with a medal round her neck and flowers.
‘Sameena after winning a race’. © Sameena

I started running after I escaped two years of forced prostitution with a lot of abuse and violence.

It all started when I was 18 years old. After a difficult home life with divorce and domestic violence, I left home. For a year and a half I was homeless, moving from couch to couch. I left school and got a job in the catering industry.

At work I met Jim (not his real name). We started dating and at first all seemed innocent and just like a normal realationship, but after a few months he always wanted to know where I was and who I was with. If he didn’t like what I was doing he became violent – apologising afterwards.

He was the only one I trusted

He told me he had a lot of debts that needed to be paid and that in our relationship we had to help each other.  At that time he was the only one in my life that I trusted. So I gave him all my money. But it was never enough and he became more and more violent and continued to apologise afterwards. And I still believed him.

Then came one evening when things changed. Jim invited me to his apartment and said it would be a cozy evening with friends but when I got there I noticed that there were only boys, and no girls. My bad feeling about that turned out to be correct. That evening Jim and his friends raped me for the first time, and filmed it. I felt really, really bad. I was raised Christian and people always told me to stay a virgin till marriage. So I was.

I felt like a hunted animal

I had to work daily as an prostitute. In cars, hotels and apartments – everywhere you can imagine. When I cried or struggled against those people, Jim and his friends became more violent and used torture.  Every day I felt hunted like an animal.

After two years someone found out what was going on and called the police, but I couldn’t talk to them because Jim and his friends always knew where I was. One day my social worker told me I had to go to an organisation for help because otherwise I would be killed or kill myself. But I was a little bit stubborn and didn’t listen to her. Instead I found a room in another city on the other side of the Netherlands in a student house. Later this turned out to be the best decision I could ever make.

I moved with nothing. I had only a backpack with a few clothes and one pair of shoes.

The only wish I had was to die and I tried to killed myself. Luckily it failed.

I started to run to lose my anger

I then realised that the choice was to either kill myself, or to fight for life. I choose the second one. I threw away my cellphone and closed my email account. Inspired by my roommates I began to study. And started running. I had to lose my emotion, sadness and anger.

In the beginning I hated every step of running. My body was weak from the violence, bad food, drugs and being raped. People laughed at me because I didn’t have running shoes or running clothes. I literally started with nothing. But I ran. Every morning at the same time. This gave my life structure. It became normal, like brushing your teeth.

This year, five years after I first started running, I won a marathon and last October I ran a 100 kilometer race to raise awareness about human trafficking. I created my own route and ran along places where I had been abused and traded and along the places where I started living again.

We’ve raised about 1,673 Euros for CoMensha, a major Dutch organization specialized in  supporting victims of human trafficking and a lot of media attention.

My motto is: Never ever let anyone tell you that you can’t do something. Stay disciplined and hunt your goals. I would like to say to you, open your eyes. Care for each other. Become the change you want to see in the world.

Photo credit: Sameena


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