Our history

Established in Antwerp in 1987, Payoke was the first anti-trafficking NGO in Europe. Since then, Payoke has come a long way. But human trafficking is a complex and ever-changing phenomenon, as traffickers find new and more efficient methods to exploit their victims and operate under the radar.

We continue to hone, refine and improve our services and initiatives. We are committed to perform both efficiently and effectively and to be flexible enough to adapt with ingenuity and creativity to the challenges of the future.

Patsy's kitchen


In 1987 prostitutes, regardless of their origin or working conditions, were not given any serious consideration. Prostitution was regarded merely as a “profession”. Patsy Sörensen, then a teacher and artist with profound political engagement in her neighbourhood, started paying attention to the coercion behind the appalling conditions in which these women and girls were forced to live.</p> <p>Initially the assistance she offered to prostitutes took the form of a room in her private home, where they could have a cup of coffee in a cosy, homey environment. It was a place to relax, talk openly and be listened to. The first NGO in Europe to help and rehabilitate prostitutes was born in 1987 at an Antwerp kitchen table.

Traffickers enter the picture


At the outset, Payoke offered practical support. Patsy gave the girls refuge in her own home with no funds but her own, while struggling to provide them with some kind of recognition as victims of coercion and inhumane treatment. When she discovered that these girls were merely pawns in large criminal networks, she focused on a new holistic approach, offering professional psychological and social counselling, protection, anonymity and legal assistance to bring the perpetrators to justice.

An unexpected visitor


In 1992 a book entitled “They are so sweet, Sir” by Belgian investigative journalist Chris de Stoop revealed to Belgians that a hideous crime aimed at the exploitation of women and girls existed right in their backyards. Amidst national indignation, the only organization addressing the problem turned out to be a minor NGO from Antwerp. King Baudouin, shocked by the idea that slaves were living in his country, decided to visit Payoke, the only place where he could show his concern.

Step by step


Based on the conclusions of a parliamentary commission, a national policy to fight trafficking in human beings was adopted. It featured a coordinated inter-agency approach involving the judiciary, law enforcement, social services, and rehabilitation centers. Payoke also highlighted the importance for victims to be granted a residence permit to legally stay in the country when their traffickers are under investigation and trial, and, whenever possible, even after. The so-called “Payoke’s scheme”, reflected in a Belgian Law Decree of 1994, has since been adopted by other countries, and it is now considered best practice in counter-trafficking legislation throughout Europe.</p> <p>Belgium had developed a multi-disciplinary support system for victims of human trafficking 10 years before Europe reacted to the phenomenon. Not bad for what had begun as kitchen talk in Patsy Sörensen’s house !</p> <p>In 1994 and 1995, Payoke’s mandate was officially extended, allowing the organizations to act as plaintiff against traffickers in court proceedings.

Today’s challenges


For the last few years Payoke has been active in fighting the phenomenon dubbed “loverboys”. Loverboys are pimps who use charm, gifts and drugs to prey on vulnerable girls, often minors, pretending to be in love and luring them into the prostitution business. Payoke works with governmental and non-governmental partners to put the topic on the national agenda and to set up a dedicated shelter for victims in Belgium.</p> <p>With the dramatic increase of migrants reaching the shores and boundaries of Europe, today we also face pressing migration-related human trafficking challenges.</p> <p>Moreover, we focus more and more on trafficking for the purpose of labour exploitation. Labour exploitation has been on the rise in Belgium and elsewhere and it is particularly complicated to tackle due to the significant size of the informal economy in certain sectors and the high number of victims involved.