open your eyes


portraits of victims of human trafficking

Thirty pairs of eyes! Thirty pairs of piercing eyes, reflecting the dark world of human trafficking, for you to look into. An astonishing world of inconceivable hurt, often featuring extreme violence. A world of deceit and exploitation, of abusing the vulnerable, and of forcing people to act in ways they don’t want. Yes, it occurs in the Netherlands as well.

Thirty stories! Thirty harrowing stories of women, men, boys and girls. True stories of real, modern-day victims. Many of them are currently still living in safe and protected shelters. They want you to know! They want you to know human trafficking takes place in the Netherlands and they want you to know about the hurt and suffering it causes. What if you were the one forced to work in prostitution, getting raped several times a day, and falling pregnant with a client’s baby? How would that affect you?

What would having to work in a hot restaurant kitchen for twenty hours a day, seven days a week, without pay, without a home or a place to sleep, do to you? How would you handle being a lesbian woman fleeing your own country, thinking you’d be safe in the Netherlands, only to find yourself subjected to severe beatings and forced into sex with men for years on end? How would you feel if your family didn’t want you back because they thought you were a criminal, when in fact you were forced into dealing drugs under the threat of death?

And let’s not forget the victims’ children: imagine if you were a child having to stay home alone in the dark at night, because your mother is made to work every night; what would seeing her return home covered in bruises do to you?

These are true stories of things that are happening in the Netherlands. They are happening right under your eyes, without you noticing. All thirty of them are compelling, courageous individuals, here to tell you their stories. People like you and me, women, men, boys and girls. People who held rather different expectations for the future when they got trapped in human trafficking. People with dreams. They’ve had the courage to tell their stories. For you to know!

The number of portraits – thirty – was chosen to mark CoMensha’s 30th anniversary. In 2015 we recorded 1321 (possible) victims. But there are many more. There will be victims who are as yet invisible. The stories never cease to move me deeply. We need to prevent this injustice! My drive is to stand up for victims of human trafficking, to put a face to them, and to give them a voice.