The Art of Control

Traffickers are known as master manipulators. Their aim is always to control their victim. They will employ different strategies but the goal is always the same; control. Their goal is to trap and keep the victim in the trafficking situation for as long as they can. They profit from exploiting the victim therefore the longer the situation lasts the better for them.

HAART has seen these different methods used by traffickers for control over the years with each case that we handle. The Libya case presented us with an opportunity to look at the different ways that traffickers control their victim when we examined each case. One of the cases that stood out were cases of an agency that used witchcraft to control their victims. This is something that we had only heard happening in West Africa.

The victims were taken through a witchcraft ritual before they travelled. They vowed to never speak of what happened and not to return to Kenya until they complete their contracts. Most of the contracts for domestic workers going to these countries is two years. This agency claimed that if the women did not complete their contract, there would be repercussions for them. The woman told us that their blood was drawn from them and a sacrifice made. They only spoke about this after they watched a video called ‘A Dangerous Journey’ (see below) that we showed them from Animage Ltd a British production company that showed traffickers using this tactic. In the video the victims go through the procedure and vow to stay silent. Our victims were also asked the same but on top of that, they had to vow to complete their contract or there would be repercussions.

A Dangerous Journey from Animage Films.

Traffickers understand what the silence of the victim means. Silence means that they will stay in a state of exploitation for a longer period. Silence also means that their stories are never heard so they can never seek help. In addition, it means that people will never know about trafficking. It is painful to watch how much this form of control affects its victims. Despite rescuing the women and bringing them back home most of them anticipate that something bad will happen soon. They are certain that the witchcraft has effects that we cannot see.

When it comes to rehabilitation, it is important to ensure that we try our best to reintegrate the victims. It is impossible for them to move on with their lives if they think that somebody else is in control of the things that happen to them. We have to find a way to break this control and traditional therapy might not be the answer. We are hoping that by engaging them in spiritual counselling they will be able to believe that the shackles that these traffickers have on them will break.

Witchcraft has the ability to paralyze its victims and the traffickers do not have to use a lot of effort. The rituals put invisible chains on the minds of its victims and breaking these chains is not easy. Traffickers that use this method know that their victims will stay obedient. They know that they have made slaves that will serve them until they are willing to let go of them. It is a mind game for them and the victims are just pawns. However, the victim is not aware of these games and even as we rehabilitate them we have to figure out what will work for them.

By Sophie Otiende


Pay attention also to pupils who fail exams

A shortened version of this story was published in Daily Nation on March 12 2015, read it here.

Every year we rightly celebrate the few students who did very well in the KCPE and KCSE. However, there is a tendency to forget the number of people who did not get the right grades to get into university or high school. Those students are reduced to a number and nobody wants to talk about it. We have decided that since they will not go on to high school and university and become doctor or engineers we should not concern ourselves with their stories, their hopes or their dreams. In our society that esteems formal education as the only path to success. They are still teenagers and should have their best years ahead of them, but they risk becoming a part of a forgotten generation of losers.

Our education system is deeply flawed where the skills you need are offered after high school. That means that most of the students at this point will remember pointless facts for their exams, but not have valuable skills they need in their lives. Skills like how to critically asses a situation, a contract or an offer to verify its validity has not yet been taught. Aside from having their hopes and dreams burst, they are increasingly at risk of being victims of human trafficking. Human trafficking is the trade of women, men and children for the purposes of exploitation.

Anyone can become victims of human trafficking as we have seen with the engineers who were trafficked to Angola, but it is more often the case that unemployed youths and single mothers are being targeted for trafficking scenarios such as forced labor and forced prostitution.

We need to diversify our definition of success in the society. Not everyone can become a doctor, pilot or engineer and realistically not everyone should. We also need people in many other fields. It is not the individual student who has failed; it is our system which has failed them. The life options for children without the motivation or capacity for academic studies should be highlighted and celebrated.

As we celebrate the six or ten 6-10 individuals who have excelled in their final exams, we also have to remember the ones got lower grades, the people whose stories are never told. We also need to remember that traffickers mark this number and look for the vulnerable. We have heard from our partners that recruiters will go through the test score lists and target the ones with the lowest grades with questionable job offers, which may in fact be human trafficking in disguise.

By Sophie Otiende

This Ugly Giant

I want to write about why I hate human trafficking. Dear friends, I don’t profess to be the best person to share definitions and statistics, actually this last month has taught me that much of what I understood about trafficking was biased or incomplete, but as ever on this blog, I’m happy to speak up until somebody more eligible does.

For me, the trade of humans and the sexual exploitation industry went hand in hand. Whenever I referred to my specific passions for justice, I would refer to these two things simultaneously. A result was that my own awareness of trafficking began to get quite specific, my ears only perking when issues regarding prostitution were discussed. I’ve been happy to see that I am no alone in a growing uneasiness with modern day slavery (a term given to human trafficking, although disputed by a few) and notice momentum amongst other people around me too regarding the desire to see justice. Whilst women and young girls are targeted for this accelerating industry, so are men and young boys. The trafficking of humans has many outlets, the sex industry being just one of them. Another, potentially the most common demand in Kenya, is trafficking for labour. This includes domestic work, farming, fishing and construction. Classic characteristics are inhumane working hours, little to no pay and a lack of safety in the workplace. Another form of trafficking is for the gaining of organs. Often, the victims don’t survive the procedures involved. Some organs stolen are corruptly siphoned into hospitals and to specific people in need. There too are myths that albino body parts bring an assortment of healing, including the healing of AIDS, thus making albinos vulnerable to being targeted for organ trafficking. Every part of their body is valuable to a witch doctor. Whilst these are the three main groups of trafficking, there’s a collection we’ll call ‘miscellaneous.’ This includes child marriage, recruitment for carrying drugs or arms, recruitment for forced crime, recruitment for gangs, and child soldiers. Whilst I am volunteering for HAART ( I have been given the opportunity to contribute an art piece that explains a certain aspect of trafficking. Liberated to be passionate about more than just freedom for women in prostitution, I have chosen to focus on men that are trafficked.

So, why to hate human trafficking? There are many factors that permit and encourage the continuation of the trade of humans, and the trafficking industry feeds and thrives from an array of components: lack of awareness, poverty and desperation. What angers me is that you don’t need all these three factors to be vulnerable to trafficking. In fact, you can have awareness of the risks of trafficking; the risks of accepting a promising international job opportunity (although trafficking is not always across borders; it can be just across the street), but if you are hungry and have no means to survive day to day, declining any offer of work is a luxury. It was brought to my attention that, for some, trafficking might actually be an improvement to their state of life. If there is a child working all day their family and have no food, a trafficking job might just provide food alongside the gruelling labour it demands. The phrase between a rock and a hard place hauntingly comes to mind. Whilst trafficking can be as black and white as somebody being kidnapped, more often there is relationship that involves a complete abuse of trust. I’ve been surprised to hear of people who were trafficked by their grandparent and by their childhood friend. Which leads me to share something new that I’ve learned: anybody can be trafficked. I naively picture this niche group, subconsciously demeaning those trafficked to surely be foolish or impulsive.  In working with HAART I’ve met recovering/freed victims of trafficking and have felt surprised at the diversity of the people recruited. Some men, some women, some well educated, some fluent in English, some with degrees.

Finally, the lack of risk for traffickers (corruption, manipulation and threat all contribute to very few traffickers being reported and charged) compared to the financial gain is a pretty unbalanced scale. Trafficking can involve a network of people (although not exclusively) that each take care of small details, building relationships, the forgery of identification documents, driving transit vehicles, corrupt border officials. My fear is that in and of themselves these jobs don’t provoke a feeling of great responsibility or guilt and thus there are many people facilitating the fluid functioning of trafficking with little exposure to its devastating consequences.

By Bethan Uitterdijk, who was an intern at HAART during the month of February. Follow her blog on

Pictures from a workshop