There are an estimated 136,000 people living on conditions of modern slavery un the United Kingdom (Global Slavery Index 2018). According to the 2017 annual figures provided by the National Crime Agency, 5, 145 potential victims of modern slavery were referred through the National Referral Mechanism in 2017, of whom 2,454 were female, 2688 were male and 3 were transgender, with 41% of all referrals being children at the time of exploitation. People are subjected to slavery in the UK in the form of domestic servitude, labour exploitation, organ harvesting and sexual exploitation, with the largest number of potential victims originating from Albania, China, Vietnam and Nigeria. This data however does not consider the unknown numbers of victims that are not reported.
Natalie was trafficked to England and forced in to prostitution. Though she was able to escape after a while, she was left homeless and penniless, forcing her to return to the sex industry. Natalie tried to apply for a national insurance number and go on benefits, but her claim was rejected. Natalie was also pregnant. Homeless and pregnant, Natalie made the difficult decision to get an abortion and moved in with one of her clients, who restricted her movement and confined her to the house. Eventually in 2013, Natalie was able to escape her enslavement.
This part of my story begins in 2011. An opportunity appeared to go abroad and work in England for a couple of weeks. I was flown to England and provided with a flat to work from.
When I reached the UK, the arrangements, which I believed to have been made with my traffickers, suddenly changed.
I lost my freedom and became a sex-toy. I was scared for my life as well as that of my family. They threatened they would harm my family if I did anything they didn’t like. I was scared to leave this situation and the weeks passed by.
One day, though, after a long wait and lots of preparation, I made my way to freedom. I didn’t know, however, that it would be out of the frying pan into the fire. I found myself on the streets without money, friends, home or food. I became officially nobody.
I was marching the streets of Manchester for a couple of weeks, trying to find a job, handing my CV into shops, coffee shops, bars, and fast food restaurants. But, it seemed as if I were a ghost, no one noticed me, no one wanted to give me a chance to prove myself and before I knew it I was back in the sex industry and working in a massage parlour. My financial issues were resolved for a while, but my confidence and mood started to sink so fast I almost fell into depression, I was disgusted by myself. But I couldn’t stay on the ground for long, as I discovered I was pregnant. I looked for help and contacted an organisation who I met through the parlour. They were helping women in need, such as drug/alcohol addiction and survivors of trafficking.
I couldn’t stay in the sex industry any longer so I applied for a national insurance number and jobseekers’ allowance through the job-centre and started to actively seek for jobs again. As a result of being unsuccessful in finding a job, I decided I’d try to do some voluntary work to gain some work experience in the UK. Still, I didn’t find anything. This knocked back my confidence. Here was a smart girl, offering work any time of the day, and still no one was interested.
In the meantime I made an anonymous report to the police through my caseworker, but received no response to that at this point. At the end of January 2012, I got fired from the parlour because of my pregnancy. I was out of money again, my rent was due and I was around 10 weeks pregnant. My claim for benefits was rejected in the middle of January, with the reason given that I have no proof of being a resident in the UK.
So, yet again, I became homeless, penniless, and without dignity. And to add to that I was pregnant; my one and only hope and love growing in my tummy. The father and my best friend convinced me that I would be a bad mum to keep this innocent creature in my circumstances. So I put myself aside and arranged an abortion as my last option.
On 1st February, the most regretful action of my life took place, I ended the life of my baby. On the 2nd February, I got a bill from the hospital for almost £700. That same week I got kicked out of the place where I lived as I could not pay the rent.
Not having options available again I moved in with one of my clients. It was another bad move, but not having a choice, it was this or the streets. I soon found out that the guy was extremely jealous and he cut me off from the outside world. Yet again I became a caged bird. I couldn’t go out to the street, meet friends or even look for jobs. It only got worse when I tried to reach out for friends or help, I ended up physically abused and emotionally tortured, till the point that I considered ending my life. But help and love came unexpectedly.
One afternoon, when the guy went out, I packed all my stuff and the baby’s dad came to help me escape, and offered me a place to live. After a couple of weeks of pulling myself together I tried getting benefits again as I didn’t want to be dependent on someone anymore.
Almost a year after I had made my anonymous report to the police, someone finally contacted my caseworker.
Soon after that I met a couple of police officers for a chat and they introduced me to the NRM system. Two days later my evidence was given and a week after the first meeting I was on my way to a safe house. I was relocated to a completely different part of England and handed over to caseworkers again, but this time it was a year after my escape. I felt lonely in the house. All the others had children, which made my heart hurt every single day and shrink to the size of a walnut. During my 45 days of recovery period, I got some medical check ups and my jobseekers finally got going. I also saw a counsellor, but other than this they were unable to help me. I wanted to get back to the city I knew and to the people I had got to know and trust. During my stay I managed to get a voluntary post in a charity shop through my own effort. When my time at the safehouse ended I felt I pretty much left with what I arrived with, my clothes. I had no home to go to, no job, nothing major changed in my life other than wasting 6 weeks of my life in a house where I felt suffocated, controlled and vulnerable again.
So I went back to my boyfriend then and the New Year brought along some good. Thankfully through a local church and its members, a family offered me accommodation and another couple offered me a job, so at the end of January 2013 I finally started to work, paying taxes and on the way of becoming independent. But the torture didn’t finish just yet.
I started to discover that the police mislead me on many occasions, and my disappointment burst out. I wanted to retract my evidence, but I had no options to do this by law. I felt let down by the community of people who are supposed to protect us.
It got so bad that we had to involve a mediator between myself and the leading detective as I felt as if he found it easy to lie to me. I found out that my traffickers were either on bail or on run, which made me feel vulnerable again. I woke up every morning wondering if this would be the day when they took their revenge on me.
By the time their trial started at court all of my traffickers were on the run and it is still unknown where they are at this time.
When I gave my evidence at court, thanks to the defence, I didn’t feel like a survivor. I was portrayed as a gold-digger who had tried to use the British system to gain free money.
I cannot describe the anger I felt, that here I am, all this happened to me and they are calling me a liar and golddigger. As much as I want my traffickers to get their justice, people need to realise who keep this business running, your fathers, brothers, husbands visit working girls on a daily basis and if it wasn’t for that, sexual exploitation and trafficking offences would disappear from the court rooms. People have to realise they affect our lives unknowingly and the only one who can change this state is us, please be part of this.
As a summary, the lack of well-known aftercare organisations, the lack of help around benefits or work for girls like myself, all affected me. Also police forces and law don’t support survivors of trafficking enough.
My opinion is that not only traffickers but customers should be charged at some level for paying for sexual services, because if the market doesn’t stop, the business will always run.
The best thing, that helped me the most, was my caseworker’s efforts. So, a big thanks to Jo! (from Natalie’s original local support organisation) Her frustrations about the things not moving forward for me and her nevergiving-up attitude showed that I’m doing the right thing in a faulty system which isn’t in my benefit. My suffering paid off and I’m finally on a path where I want to be. Also, a huge thank you to all the girls at the SHF. Your emotional support motivated me so much to create the dreams I have now, and I’m looking forward to this year. And to all the girls out there, don’t give up, you all worth better, and there is help out there, and every day which is harder than the day before will take you to the victory and at the end you will cherish those days because they will make you a stronger person, just don’t give up, a new day will always come!!!
Since my escape the world collapsed around me, not only I’ve been in hopeless situation but every time I tried to make it better all I got is a door slammed into my face.
It’s been several months before things started to change, I slowly gained my independence back and have created some sort of security around myself.
I live in England which is foreign to me and building a future, I have a job and somewhere to live and through Sophie Hayes I gained some friends.
I’d lie to say there are no more bad days in my life because there are many but what makes a difference is that I’m not alone anymore, and sharing your pain is the way towards healing.
Everything I have, I built it by myself and it makes me proud, many of the people I know tell me I have incredible strength but as I see it, if I have had given up when the 1st door been closed in front of me, I wouldn’t be here today. Carrying on in a damaged world and confidence is hard, but if you give up you have already lost. What I’m trying to say is the clouds will go away one day and luck will find you, so as people who doesn’t look at you differently because of your past, indeed they often admire that something special that you have within you and makes YOU a real life survivor. Don’t give up!”
Narrative provided by The Sophie Hayes Foundation in their report ‘Becoming Hope: Stories, Reflections and Recommendations about Trafficking and Slavery Aftercare in the UK’.