Recount of a Case in Court
The following is a personal recount from a student of law, writing a Masters Thesis and volunteering at HopeNow.
As a volunteer at HopeNow it has been interesting to observe trials where the accused are victims of trafficking. Unfortunately, victims of trafficking far to often go unidentified as such and, therefore, risk being held in police custody in Denmark. They are often sentenced based on conditions, which should have granted exoneration according to Danish law.
The following story sheds a light on how HopeNow makes a difference for victims of trafficking in Denmark.
She had been arrested at Copenhagen Airport at the start of January in 2013. Since then, she had been in police custody accused of carrying falsified papers. The Police and the prosecution believed they could prove in court that her passport was falsified.
Did you know?
The Danish law corresponds with the Palermo Protocol’s focus on prevention, protection and prosecution of cases of human trafficking, especially when concerning trafficked women and children. Denmark signed The Protocol in 2000. Moreover, it corresponds with The European Union’s laws on trafficking. The idea behind the law is that there is a strong possibility that victims of trafficking have been forced to commit a criminal act.
For many years, HopeNow has built up a network and kept contact with the African minority in Denmark and through this network learned of the woman being held in police custody. HopeNow arranged for a personal meeting/interview with the woman in prison.
During the meeting, it became evident to psychotherapist Michelle Mildwater, who interviewed the woman, that the woman is confused, worried and shows signs of fear. For the experienced psychotherapist, these are signs that indicate a possible victim of trafficking. As the woman is traumatized the interviewer must be careful not to enhance the traumatization during the interview. Therefore, the woman is in the following 10 days interviewed further on two occasions by Mildwater in order to obtain her background and thereby find out how she ended up in Denmark.
It turns out that in the beginning the woman owed around 50.000 Euros to a criminal network that trough physical and psychological terror forced her to prostitute herself. Four years later, her debt has only been reduced to around 25.000 Euros. Such information is vital to gain in order to apply for the woman to be officially treated as a victim of trafficking. A so-called 1A document must be written and it must contain all these information. Unless the woman is given the status of a victim of trafficking, the system will treat her as a criminal and she will be sentenced accordingly.
At the beginning of February, HopeNow sends in the necessary paperwork in order to begin the formal identification process. The woman’s defence attorney also receives the identification papers together with a message that HopeNow is available for consultation in regard to the trial.
To HopeNow’s big surprise the woman calls the next day and informs them that she is due in court that same day. HopeNow learns that the defence attorney has not read the documents sent to him/her and, therefore, has no intention to present them to the court. This means that the woman cannot be sentenced in Denmark and instead she is to be transferred over to Reden International crisis centre.
HopeNow reacts instantly and prints copies of a preliminary trial where a court dismissed a similar case and released the woman on trial. The Defence, the Prosecution and the Judge each get a copy in court. After much confusion on how to proceed, the court decided, much to HopeNow´s joy, to put forward an acquittal.
Although the prosecutor requested to postpone the case (which would have meant a prolonged police custody for the woman) the case reaches closure as the woman is acquitted and later on transferred to Reden International.
I observed the trial and I cannot help to wonder how it must feel to be acquitted after a month in police custody in a foreign country – and still mentally to remain a prisoner. Moreover, I wonder the consequences for the woman had HopeNow not stepped in.
Last but not least, I leave the courtroom without being able to comprehend the prosecutor’s argument for postponing the trial – “the woman is not in distress and is comfortable at her current location” – in prison.