A safe way out of an exploitative life – HOPE FOR THE FUTURE

Survivors of human trafficking, who are looking for a safe way out, need hope and viable livelihood skills that are suitable for entering the job market. In 2015, Andrea Staudenherz founded the association HOPE FOR THE FUTURE in Vienna as an anchor of hope for victims of sex trafficking, who are seeking help to escape such exploitative situations. Based on the outreach social work programme of HERZWERK, an affiliated association that also supports people affected by human trafficking, Andrea developed a project for economic rehabilitation in cooperation with Renate Bárány. In this article we would like to share the story of HOPE FOR THE FUTURE and explain the importance of our work.

Most cases of human trafficking in Austria are cases of sexual exploitation, which also occur within the framework of legally regulated commercial prostitution

In Austria, prostitution is regulated by the rules and legislation in the respective federal state. Prostitution is defined as: ‘the commercial tolerance of sexual acts on one’s own body or the commercial performance of sexual acts.’ It is practiced on the streets but can also take place in other settings such as pubs, bars or private homes. According to the law, people who work in prostitution are officially considered self-employed; employment by someone else is not possible. In 2017, 316 prostitution establishments were registered in Vienna. People who legally work in this area must register with the municipal authorities, get regular health checks, pay social security contributions and register with the tax office. Unfortunately, there are no precise numbers of people affected because authorities and institutions simply have too little knowledge about the mechanisms of human trafficking and sexual exploitation that take place in the prostitution industry.

FOOTPRINT, an Austrian association devoted to helping and supporting people who are suffering or suffered from human exploitation, states that ‘In Vienna, the market share of illegal prostitution is estimated to be about twice as high as the share of the legal prostitution. Most of the registered sex service providers in Austria are migrants; ca. 85-90 percent (source: Federal Chancellery of Austria). The demand for prostitution is, according to the Federal Criminal Police Office, consistently high. Many women who offer sex services in Austria come from Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Poland or Nigeria.’ The prosecution of human trafficking and exploitation crimes is difficult, as statements by those affected are necessary for a conviction. Victims are often intimidated and hopelessly entangled in relationships of dependency and therefore do not turn to the authorities.

Providing help and support with economic rehabilitation (job market integration) enables survivors to get out of exploitative relationships

Those affected by sexual exploitation can usually only escape such harmful relationships when they have realistic perspectives of being able to financially support themselves in a different way. The Platform against Exploitation and Human Trafficking (‘Plattform gegen Ausbeutung und Menschenhandel’), founded in 2015, describes the connection between prostitution and human trafficking as follows: ‘Sexual exploitation often takes place in the context of prostitution. Lack of labour legislation, minimum wage laws and other relevant protective regulations (such as maternity protection and maternity leave), as well as the setting of upper limits for rental fees enable human and sexual exploitation. The victims are forced to accept such poor working conditions because they depend on that financial income. The financial pressure is also increased by the fact that the victims are often repeatedly prosecuted for the wrongdoing of their customers.’ The only way for survivors to start building up a new life for themselves, is for them to have real perspectives and chances of escaping that financial pressure.

Re-integrating victims of sexual violence into the labour market is hardly possible without any preparatory measures. After having experienced such traumatic events in the various forms of exploitation, the primary concern is their mental health. By providing a safe haven in which the victims have the chance to work through and deal with the traumatic experiences, the survivors can build up their self-esteem and slowly find their way back to a stable, self-reliable everyday life. As the majority of those affected come from non-German speaking countries, they are also faced with a language barrier.

Through her previous work at HERZWERK, Andrea Staudenherz was already more than aware of the conditions for people who work in prostitution in Vienna. In 2015 she then decided to found HOPE FOR THE FUTURE. „The topic of human trafficking and prostitution is something that has been close to my heart for several years now. I was a volunteer in the street work team.“

HOPE FOR THE FUTURE adds an essential element to the support offered for people who are affected by exploitation

When people seek help to find a way out, the question of new professional opportunities is often difficult to answer. This is exactly where HOPE FOR THE FUTURE is trying to make an impact. By offering various workshops, HOPE FOR THE FUTURE tackles the difficulties of preparing survivors for the job market. Andrea’s approach is unique: ‘For people in prostitution and those affected by human trafficking, there are already a few associations and organisations that offer legal advice, street work and shelters. But there was a lack of low-threshold work training and workshops for integration into the labour market – we are closing this gap.

’Victims of sexual exploitation have been raped and sexually abused repeatedly, many of them for the first time as children by a relative or family friend. These experiences leave very deep emotional scars and many survivors struggle with alcohol or drug problems. Marked by life, it is extremelydifficult for them to not only find regular employment but also to hold it. That is not something that can happen from one day to the next. It is a process, that leads the affected people down a difficult road, and it needs patience and support to get back to a normal everyday life. Things like punctuality or calling in when you are sick are expected from an employee, but people who have previously been living and working in the same place and therefore been available for sex at any time, have to learn a different daily rhythm again. And that takes time and training.

HOPE FOR THE FUTURE actively offers opportunities for a new professional start. Our focus is on preparing the survivors for the job market, supporting them with their job hunt and providing further training opportunities with external partners. HOPE FOR THE FUTURE is a non-profit, non-governmental organisation whose work is aimed at providing clients with effective and sustainable support.

HOPE FOR THE FUTURE offers a workshop programme with a sewing workshop, German courses, word processing courses and self-empowerment training. Andrea states that ‘At the moment, we have seven employees and seventeen volunteers in various areas, but there is still lots to do and we can always use more volunteers.’

Many of Hope for the Future’s clients have no sewing experience and they often do not feel confident enough. At the beginning, the trainers teach them how to use the sewing machine before they are taught how to sew a straight seam. In a step by step process they then eventually succeed in sewing a bag.

‘It’s always nice to see how happy the women are (and sometimes the men too), when they have sewn their first bag (which they can keep). They are proud of what they have made themselves and with time their self-confidence grows too.’, says Andrea. The association also offers German training for beginners and advanced learners.

After years of struggling to survive, the victims can finally find a new perspective

Without any realistic preparation for the labour market, it is hardly possible to leave exploitative relationships. Ever since it was founded, HOPE FOR THE FUTURE has proven that it´s services close a gap in the support of people affected by human trafficking or sexual exploitation. The number of trainees participating in the workshop programme has almost quadrupled since it was founded. Almost 80 people have already been able to draw hope within the framework of the programme and build a new future for themselves beyond exploitation. After years of struggling to survive, it is a whole new experience for some of them to build up trust, set goals and envision a new perspective.

HOPE FOR THE FUTURE is financed by donations and can only maintain its programme through the additional contribution from many hours of voluntary work. Donatepurchase one of the unique products that was created in the sewing workshop (available in our online shop) or organise a home party, where friends and acquaintances can also purchase the unique workpieces. Check out the areas in which we are looking for volunteers and share the information with others. Together we can create new hope.

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