Human trafficking and exploitation happen in secrecy. Victims are therefore hard to identify and generally live on the fringes of a society, which profits from any form of sex work or labor that the victims provide.
Managing director and founder of ACT212 Irene Hirzel originally encountered cases of sex trafficking of women while working as a consulting outreach worker in the red light districts. Her first time meeting a victim of trafficking was in 1997 in the city of Basel. The victim, a woman from Cuba, had signed a contract back in her home country, which seemed to offer an attractive job opportunity as a waitress in Switzerland through which she hoped to save her sick mother from poverty. However, the contract turned out to be a trap, which was disclosed shortly after the arrival in Switzerland. Freeing this woman presented an arduous and challenging undertaking, especially during a time prior to the round tables of public authorities, preceding the national action plan of the EJPD (Swiss Justice and Police Department) before the issue of trafficking was addressed.
Irene Hirzel met many more with similar stories within the scope of her field of work. She met other women while working as a manager of projects that aim at preventing trafficking of women and children, visiting their home countries in East Europe and Asia. The motives for victims to leave their countries became apparent. Among them: poverty, war, environmental disasters, the absence of prospects, unstable family backgrounds, and discrimination, to name a few. It became clear that such misery could not merely be fought with ideological and religious ideas. A holistic approach was needed. Human trafficking had to be approached from all ends, in terms of both supply and demands. Actions against human trafficking showed to be only effective when using a broader approach, in which different parties work together. The round tables against human trafficking, in which different cantons of Switzerland participate, demonstrate how the cantons involved identify and protect more victims.
ACT212 was founded to support the endeavor of the National Action Plan against human trafficking (NAP) in Switzerland and abroad. The association does so through counseling, training, raising awareness, collaborating with experts and like-minded organizations as well as through its national hotline that relies on the Swiss public’s assistance.