Michelle Mildwater and human rights lawyer Anne Brandt Christensen founded the grassroots non-governmental organisation (NGO) HopeNow in 2007 with the purpose of building an organisation based on knowledge about human trafficking and focusing of ensuring basic human rights for trafficked persons. Together with a group of dedicated people, Michelle Mildwater had already since 2003 worked with foreign women in prostitution and had gained a deep knowledge and experience with the issues and problems connected to human trafficking and exploitation.
In the beginning the focus of HopeNow was mainly on African women, primarily from Nigeria and other West African countries. At that time the Nigerian women were clearly the largest group of trafficked persons in Denmark – trafficked to do prostitution in the streets or other kind of forced sex work. Due to that HopeNow over the course of many years from 2007 had a close cooperation with the Women Center under the Danish Red Cross Asylum department. The Women Center accommodated trafficked women, who applied for asylum. The fact that the women were staying for a very long time in the asylum system gave the staff of the Women Center and HopeNow the opportunity to build trust and hereby got to hear the narratives of the women. Through these narratives HopeNow developed extensive in-depth knowledge about the issues surrounding human trafficking, especially inside the African network, giving the possibility to develop best practices and methods based on empowerment.
From 2007-2008 Michelle Mildwater was employed as a consultant for the Red Cross Asylum department, which at that time discovered the trafficked women as a special group in the asylum system. A year later in 2008 Michelle Mildwater was employed as a consultant for the Danish Center against Human Trafficking, and she stayed there until 2011, where HopeNow officially became a partner under the Danish Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking. Like this, HopeNow got governmental funding and a contract to do outreach work in the streets, in prisons, in asylum centres etc. to find and identify victims of trafficking.
12 years later in 2019 HopeNow remains to be a dynamic NGO available and ready all around the clock to do its work – to counsel, support and empower victims of human trafficking, develop new methods and analyse new tendencies within the area. Over the years HopeNow has been in contact with and screened more than 10,000 persons and provided support to more than 2000 individuals. HopeNow is still a partner under the Danish Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking and receive government funds to do outreach work and identify victims of trafficking. HopeNow works closely with its partners – Center against Human Trafficking, Ami Ami and Reden International, who are partners under the Danish Action Plan as well.
Michelle Mildwater is still running director of the organization. Anne Brandt Christensen was foreman of the board from 2007-2016, and she is now member of HopeNow’s advisory board. HopeNow is run mainly by volunteers with only two paid employees – together they represent a large scale of social, cultural and linguistic backgrounds and have different professional and academic skills and experiences.
In the years 2014-2018 HopeNow developed and ran two projects in Kenya in close partnership with the Kenyan NGO named HAART. HAART works within the human trafficking area as well. The projects took place in cooperation with CISU and were funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Together with HAART HopeNow developed awareness programes to spread out to schools, villages and slum areas in Kenya with the aim of preventing Kenyan men and women to be exploited and trafficked to Europe.
Also between 2015-2018 HopeNow received governmental funding from the Ministry of Gender to run a project to examine and focus on possible victims of trafficking within the areas of escort and private sex work. HopeNow identified 69 women, who were trafficked into an area, which is very hidden and also previously regarded as a sole domain of independent sex workers.
The documentation of HopeNow’s activities and results with the target group has become a major priority in recent years. African women are still the largest group, which HopeNow is in contact with, but since 2012 HopeNow has identified an increasing number of men as victims of trafficking. As for the women the biggest group consists of African men trafficked to sell drugs, other kinds of organised crime or forced labour.