BLIC: "They act as friends, offer a job and quick profits” We investigate: Who and how falls prey to cruel human traffickers

“An arrest for human trafficking and mediation in prostitution” - not a month goes by without newspaper columns being filled with articles about the exploitation of people, workers, women for the purpose of human trafficking. “Blic” has been exploring this phenomenon, who the most common victims are, but also how we can deal with it as a society.

A trial of Mihailo Maksimović and his brother Dušan Milenković has recently begun at the Higher Court in Belgrade on the charges of soliciting prostitution. One of the accused brothers, Mihailo, was also charged with human trafficking for which he faces a sentence of 2 to 10 years in prison. In the 21st century, does this information sound horrid to you?

Judge Aleksandar Perišić of the Association of Judges and Prosecutors of Serbia told “Blic” that human trafficking is a very serious criminal offense.


Utilizing a person’s necessity to meet the most basic human needs, traffickers make enormous profits.

“Most often, victims of human trafficking are down on their luck persons seeking a better life who meet cunning individuals capable of exploiting their position to make enormous profits. Victims are usually refugees, poor, and those who want to meet their urgent, basic needs quickly. This criminal offense can also occur in offering an attractive job abroad, promising an easy income, as in general a trafficker acts as a friend offering an easy solution in the shortest possible time,” the judge said.

Jelena Hrnjak, from Citizens’ Association for combating human trafficking Atina, told “Blic” that women who end up in the human trafficking chain are forced to engage in prostitution, hard physical labor, criminal acts, and some of them have been forcibly married as young girls.

“In situations where they manage to escape these difficult life circumstances, it is very important to provide them support to recover from trauma and achieve independence. They are assisted in this process by Citizens' Association Atina, which was founded in 2003 by women activists who realized that institutional solutions alone were not enough. The mere existence of institutions cannot contribute to the fight against human trafficking, these institutions must consistently implement all available measures. It takes a strong and active citizenry that will tirelessly and continuously monitor which norms the institutions apply, a citizenry that will have empathy for those who have not had equal chances and opportunities in our society,” said Hrnjak.

“They offer friendship”

According to Judge Perišić, human trafficking can also occur in armed conflicts, when one side uses traffickers to provide necessary "soldiers" who will wage war.

“Perpetrators of these criminal offenses initially approach as friends, full of understanding, with the aim of gaining complete control over the victim, and when this is accomplished, their true intent comes to light - treating people as things that are sold and bought. Therefore, take caution when a stranger is offering unlimited help, or even just empathy and conversation,” emphasized Judge Perišić.

As Jelena Hrnjak said, most traffickers do not understand the extent of harm they cause to victims.

“It has been proven countless times. I have attended hundreds of trials for this crime, and I have never seen any of them repent. Many of them do not even understand what they have done, especially when it comes to a member of their family, as they consider that their wife, their daughter is their property that can therefore be treated as they see fit. It is a deeply rooted notion of owning and objectifying women, to show ultimate power and control over their lives,” said Hrnjak.

According to her, there are many examples of parents being the ones who sold their children, forced them to sexual or labor exploitation.

“Many traffickers have previously been perpetrators of other crimes, we have seen it countless times. There were even those who committed this same crime twice, and were convicted of it,” said Hrnjak.

High penalties

Considering the consequences, our criminal legislation recognizes human trafficking as a serious crime, for which it imposes proportionate prison sentences.

"They range from 3 to 12 years in prison for the basic form, up to 20 years depending on whether the victim is a minor or if the act was committed by an organized criminal group, or if it resulted in death," Judge Perišić emphasized.

Violence is unacceptable

“In our society, particularly in the public sphere, everyone is searching for a justification, when we should instead finally make it clear that violence cannot be justified and have those responsible for dealing with the issue begin acting in accordance with such a social attitude. That means zero tolerance for violence!” said Jelena Hrnjak from Atina.

As she emphasized, the measures prescribed by our law must be implemented without exception, and institutions must resist more strongly and show a joint front in the face of this burning issue.

“In addition, it is necessary to develop an awareness in society that violence is unacceptable, including the obligation of citizens to report it. Work with children on these topics should begin from preschool, particularly with boys to whom, as I often quote, “rape should become as repulsive as cannibalism”. State officials should be held accountable both for action and inaction, for failure to act on reports, etc. In a society where there is no accountability for the caused harm, there can be no fight against human trafficking,” she emphasized.

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