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.
Amy’s sexual exploitation began at the age of 11 after fights with her mother led to long hours spent in local parks and town centres. After a few months she began spending time with one man who invited her to spend time with him and his friends at their flat. However, once there Amy was subjected to physical abuse daily. Not knowing how to escape or where she would go, Amy’s abuse continued until she was 13.
I was sexually exploited by a local group of men from when I was 11 years’ old until I was about 13. I stopped going to school at the age of 11 and had some terrible fights with my mother, meaning that I would spend long hours in the local parks and town centre on my own. An older man took an interest in me. When I confessed my age he found it enticing, confusing my initial instinct that a grown man wouldn’t want to be friends with someone so young. He made sexual advances, which escalated until he pressured me into letting him have sex with me. He made fun of my underdeveloped body and insulted and humiliated me constantly. He insisted I had slept around with other boys.
This went on for a few months, until another man took an interest in me. He was much younger, around 18, and had a car. He took me out for a date, and when I wouldn’t sleep with him, he told his mates I was really a boy. I was so embarrassed I allowed him to have sex me, just to prove a point. This boy was very abusive to me. He found it funny that I couldn’t tie my laces after I got dressed and told all his friends when he had slept with me.
I was very unhappy and started spending time with one man, we’ll call him ‘Al’. He was very quiet and gentle. He soon started having sex with me too. It was confusing; I loved spending time with him because he was the only one who didn’t shout or swear at me.
Al invited me to spend time with him and his friends at their flat (several men lived together). They lived in the same village as me, and I had no other place that I could go to. Different men would come to the flat and touch me. At first I said no, but I could not stop them. What made me more vulnerable here was Al started to treat me differently. He hated that the fact I let other boys hold me and kiss me. I tried to impress him by drinking and being clever but he still didn’t like me as much. One night we were having a party with loads of men. I agreed to go into the bathroom with one man, because he said he wanted to talk to me away from the noise of the music. In the bathroom he pinned me to the door, bashing my head when I tried to get away.
Suddenly I realised how small I was; I had no chance of fighting. I was trapped in there and no one answered my screams; they just turned up the music.
Someone did let me out but the incident scarred me. After that I stopped saying no.
The abuse escalated until I was being passed around half a dozen men, almost every day. Over a week it could be twenty different guys. My body wasn’t ready for it and I bled constantly, another thing they made fun of me for. They had other girls, too. None as young as me, mainly girls from 13 to 18 years’ old.
I did not know if I could leave. And even if I did, there was no place that I could go to hide from the men.
They lived in my village, and knew where I would go. I did not think that I could get away from them, and even if I did my only other option I had was to go back to that crippling loneliness so I convinced myself that the abusers were my friends, an illusion I still struggle to fully discard even now. One of the perpetrators would leave me covered in bruises where he pushed me against tables and the worktop. Worse were the constant criticisms. For me, it was a treat to be allowed to use someone’s towel; usually I was told I was too dirty to touch their stuff. Being allowed to just sit and play a video game or watch telly was enough kindness to make me cry.
The violence got worse as did the emotional abuse, continuing until I was 13. The worst incident was being kicked down the stairs by someone who had always been gentle with me – it was so unexpected but, at the time, I thought it was fair because I had refused to sleep with him. By then the men had tired themselves of me; I was drinking heavily and had lost the innocence that they had found attractive.
The authorities didn’t know that this sort of abuse happened. They were on the lookout for international trafficked victims. On one occasion, I was arrested for assaulting a police officer – no one asked any questions, like why I was drunk at 9pm or followed up after I was released from custody.
When I dropped out of school, I was given other options, mostly distance learning. I had little contact with social services despite being out of education. I feel that any young person who isn’t at school should be an immediate red flag, especially if, like me, they showed violent behavioural traits. Why didn’t the social services ask what I was doing, all them hours? I think this was the major point when they could have stopped me getting deeper into the situation
Even now I struggled to see myself as a victim. My abuse was mainly emotional and I never ended up in hospital. Yet all the published cases involve crimes what I feel are far more horrific then my own. I never knew what happened to me wasn’t a choice; I never knew I was abused.
If this crime was published in all its brutal honesty rather then dramatised for TV with “key points” like a particular beating, other girls might realise, just because they aren’t being drugged, battered or held prisoner, they are still very much a victim.
At 18, I went to the police regarding a separate incident. When prompted I told the officer about other incidents, but was treated with total disregard. They said they would have a look, see if the offenders were still at the same address but they never followed up or got in touch with me again regarding this.
At the time of disclosure, I was informed there were little grounds to prosecute. I was made to feel I could push, if I wanted to, but they were very clear that they would not back my case and saw it as a waste of time and resources, not even noting the names or dates I gave.
As such I had little faith in the likelihood of a positive outcome for me. Also, going to court without the safety net of a likely conviction would have compromised the life I had built for me and my family, as well as expose the truth about my past, which I still have kept very much hidden.
Yet another factor was, and is, that I struggle to recognise certain “nice” perpetrators as abusers, and am very uncomfortable with the thought of putting them in prison. Some of them were young people themselves, pressured into abusing me by older men. In these cases the abuse was rarely continuous; they were ashamed and didn’t want to do it again
Working with Sophie Hayes Foundation has made me see that every day is a journey. It is the little things that you must remind yourself to be proud of.
For me, I have many small goals I am working towards.
I am in the early stages of my very first healthy relationship. I am proud I have finally said no to violence.
This summer, I have the confidence to wear whatever clothes I wish to. I am proud I feel safe in a skirt or shorts – I know I have the right to dress how I chose now.
Another goal I am working on is accepting my past and not hiding it from the people I love for fear of their opinions. A few weeks ago me and my boyfriend were watching a movie when a rape scene came on. He held me while I cried. I had a panic attack but I am proud that I had the strength to tell him the reason for my tears.
This shows not every day is a good day but I am proud that I am working through it. I am a mum to a beautiful son, I have a job I love, and I study.
I am going to university in the near future. I am proud that I can say my future is my own: I will not be dictated to and controlled anymore.
I am learning to be strong and I am learning that I am worthy.
I have hope
Narrative provided by The Sophie Hayes Foundation in their report ‘Becoming Hope: Stories, Reflections and Recommendations about Trafficking and Slavery Aftercare in the UK’.