Victim Support and SOS Hotline
Selling or buying a human being to use them through sexual exploitation and/or prostitution, forcing to beg, work (including work at home), steal, and similar crimes, or force marriage – is defined as human trafficking.
To exploit a person, traffickers always use force, threats and intimidation, fraud or kidnapping, or abuse the problematic situation in which that person finds himself.
In the beginning, people usually voluntarily agree to do a job (including prostitution) or accept help in search of better living conditions, especially when these offers come from acquaintances and close people (trusted people). However, soon after that starts intimidation, threats, constant control, and surveillance, including confiscation of personal documents (ID cards or passports). Also, victims are forced to use alcohol and drugs, and often they are physically or sexually violated. It all has the function of intimidation so that it would not occur to them to refuse to work or try to escape and seek help.
Sometimes, traffickers promise to release their victims when they repay their “debt.” The “debt” is the money they invested in the victim by allegedly helping her/him to find a job or better living conditions. It always turns out that these promises are false because traffickers are constantly finding ways to increase that debt through the alleged costs of housing, clothes, food, as well as fines.
It is important to emphasize that people do not end up in this situation because they are stupid, reckless, or naive, but because someone has deceived them, abused their trust, and turned them into their victims. Trafficking in human beings is prohibited by law and constitutes a severe violation of human rights. Victims of trafficking are not guilty of what happened to them and have the right to support, protection, and a life free from coercion and violence.
The ASTRA SOS hotline and direct victim assistance program were launched in February 2002. The support system and types of assistance that ASTRA began to provide in this way have become more comprehensive over time. This unit has grown into ASTRA’s victim support team, which except SOS consultants, also include a network of professionals engaged in covering the needs of clients: lawyers, psychologists, doctors, translators …, as well as a field action team, which is always ready to monitor clients from the moment of identification to their recovery and reintegration, helping them to overcome all administrative and other obstacles. This includes many activities aimed at improving the economic potential and employability of clients, such as formal and informal programs of professional development or adult education, economic empowerment training, foreign language, and computer literacy courses, support and assistance in finding a job. By the end of 2021, over 50.000 people have trusted and contacted us to seek help or report cases of trafficking or potential trafficking. So far, over 555 victims of trafficking have been identified and directly assisted (of whom 172 were children). ASTRA SOS hotline is still the only SOS hotline in Serbia specializing in the problem of human trafficking in the field of prevention, direct assistance to victims, and support to their families. In addition to direct aid to victims, the ASTRA SOS hotline also has a PREVENTIVE ROLE. Preventive calls make up approximately one-fifth of all calls received. Since the recruitment of victims of human trafficking in Serbia is most often done through formal and informal business offers, ASTRA started to provide citizens with information about safe migration, employment, and schooling in the country and abroad. Also, ASTRA started giving legal advice, i.e., checking the legitimacy of the employer, the destination, and the offered employment contract.
In 2018, the ASTRA SOS telephone for support to victims of human trafficking was licensed by the Ministry of Labor, Employment, Veterans, and Social Affairs. It is the only licensed telephone of its kind in Serbia.