Norwegian police received record numbers of human trafficking reports last year, almost doubling from 48 in 2012 to 70 in 2013. For the first time, police registered a greater increase in the total number of exploitation reports within legal work and service industries, rather than within prostitution.
Despite the record high number of human trafficking reports, far more victims were “discovered” rather than actually coming forward to report exploitation. About 300 people from 47 different countries received help as possible victims of human trafficking last year, reported newspaper Aftenposten. Of those, 231 were women, 35 were men and 34 were under 18 years of age. Almost half came from Nigeria, while 25 were from Romania and 16 were from the Philippines.
One victim was 28-year-old Doreen, who moved to Oslo to work as an au pair for a single mother with three children. As soon as she moved in, the agreed contract to work five hours a day suddenly no longer applied, her passport and suitcase key disappeared, and the host mother became more and more threatening.
“I did everything around the house and worked at least 14 hours every day,” said Doreen. “She could not control her temper, and I risked my life by being there.” Without her papers, she could not leave. “Getting help and going to the police became the only thing to do, even though I never would have thought that should be necessary. She systematically took away all my rights.”
The Oslo Au Pair Center’s legal adviser, Marit Vik, said nannies were particularly vulnerable because their residence permits are tied to host families. “It is difficult to uncover coercion against au pairs because it happens behind the four walls of the home,” she said. “In almost all of the cases we know about, it is someone on the outside who speaks out.”
Vik helped Doreen leave the mother. Another au pair who had previously escaped from the same host family was found at a shelter. She too reported a verbal and psychological abuse of power. “Long working days do not necessarily equal trafficking,” Vik explained. “There must be an element of coercion, as there is in this case.”
Doreen was granted a temporary residence permit and protection while the exploitation case against the host mother was reviewed.
The 2013 trafficking report showed fewer people were connected to criminal activities than in previous years. The exploitation complaints came from industries including fisheries, agriculture and garden centres, transportation, cleaning, hospitality, housekeeping, building and construction and car maintenance.
“Human trafficking can happen by your own front door,” said Tove Eriksen, a senior Police Directorate adviser and leader of the Coordination Unit for Victims of Human Trafficking (Koordineringsenheten for Ofre for Menneskehandel, KOM). “It is closer than we think, it no longer just concerns exploitation into prostitution.”
Victims cannot or dare not seek help
KOM said 300 people received help as possible human trafficking victims, but fewer than before identified and accepted assistance and protection. At one assistance group, the ROSA project, between 60 and 70 percent of those offered help declined. “It is often the case that victims cannot or dare not cooperate with Norwegian authorities or organizations,” Eriksen said.
She encouraged the public to be aware of potentially exploitative situations. “Norwegian consumers must after all take responsibility for reducing demand for cheap goods and services,” said Eriksen. “If for example you get an offer for a very cheap car wash or craft service, you should be wary. Those who carry out the job may be exploited through human trafficking.”