Human trafficking may be hidden, but it is closer than what we think. Victims go unnoticed, and survivors feel invisible. The trauma caused by this crime marks people forever; its effects lasting a lifetime.
Jane Lasonder knows this better than anyone. She was trafficked at a very young age in the United Kingdom – but only became aware of it much later.
“As a child and teenager, I was abused and sold to a gang of men. I will never forget the sound the camera made when they recorded,” Jane recounted. “I also watched them beating and strangling my mother.”
Physical and psychological abuse landed Jane in hospitals more than once for treatment, but health professionals failed to notice the signs of abuse and exploitation.
“When I was 13 years old, I was very small, underweight and very malnourished, so it was easy for me to get hurt. I was not aware of what was happening to me,” she said.
“I went to the hospital several times because my arm was broken, my skull was fractured, and I had had a forced abortion. But the medical staff didn’t seem to care. They just took care of my physical injuries, never asking what happened.”
I felt invisible and didn't understand what was happening. This was a missed opportunity to rescue me.”
At school, teachers not only turned a blind eye to her exploitation, but pushed her down even further, making her feel worthless.
“My teachers never asked what was wrong with me, even if they saw me bruised or hungry. Thoughts that I was worthless settled deep in my mind. I would tell myself: you don’t matter, no one cares,” she recalled.
Jane remembers coming very close to committing suicide because she couldn't run away from this crime.
“Standing in front of the rail tracks, feeling so desperate, scared and alone, I wanted to scream so that people would hear and see me,” she said.
“I didn't jump as something inside stopped me, but I saw the train go by and the passengers on it and wanted to call for help. But I had already learned that no one would come to my rescue.”
Jane’s continued loss and abuse led her to turn to alcohol and drugs. One day, she overdosed and was found in a coma. When she opened her eyes, she finally felt cared for by a volunteer and her life began to change.
And for the first time, she learned that she was a victim of human trafficking.
Unfortunately, Jane’s situation is far from unique among human trafficking victims. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC)’s Global Report on Trafficking in Persons 2022, many victims of human trafficking around the world have had to resort to self-rescue as anti-trafficking responses fall short.
To reverse this trend, national law enforcement authorities – as well as medical authorities – need to be equipped with adequate knowledge and resources to identify victims. Capacities of criminal justice systems need to be increased so they can, inter alia, provide a victim-centred approach. Members of the public can help by rejecting services sometimes provided by potential human trafficking victims, such as nail salons, fishing boats, domestic servitude, etc.
Jane began to overcome her fear and gain the courage to move forward from her trauma, deciding to dedicate her life to making victims visible and giving other survivors a voice.
She became a volunteer with a civil society organization in Amsterdam, helping women on the street, and founded a task force to assist human trafficking victims. “If your instinct tells you that something is wrong, trust it and help others,” she said.
She uses her voice to advocate for anti-trafficking policies and for authorities to take care of survivors by helping them to not only survive but thrive. Remembering her many visits to the hospital, Jane trains medical students on indicators of human trafficking in their patients.
Jane also became a professional photographer, inspired a book, and became an author, writing “Red Alert”, a book raising awareness about forced prostitution and human trafficking.
Jane is now writing another book on guidelines for healthcare professionals on how to identify a victim of human trafficking and what to do when found.
Human trafficking and migrant smuggling are global and widespread crimes that use men, women and children for profit. The organized networks or individuals behind these lucrative crimes take advantage of people who are vulnerable, desperate or simply seeking a better life. UNODC strives for the eradication of these crimes through the dismantling of the criminal enterprises that trade in people and the conviction of the main perpetrators. Ultimately, our work safeguards people from the abuse, neglect, exploitation or even death that is associated with these crimes. For more information, click here.