The UK National Crime Agency estimates 3,309 potential victims of human trafficking came into contact with the State or an NGO in 2014. The latest government statistics derived from the UK National Referral Mechanism in 2014 reveal 2,340 potential victims of trafficking from 96 countries of origin, of whom 61 percent were female and 29 percent were children. Of those identified through the NRM, the majority were adults classified as victims of sexual exploitation followed by adults exploited in the domestic service sector and other types of labour exploitation. The largest proportion of victims was from Albania, followed by Nigeria, Vietnam, Romania and Slovakia.
Grace was just 10 years old when her parents died and she was forced to live on the streets of Lagos. A few years later she met a woman who said she was looking for someone to help her around the house. Grace stayed there for 2 years. At the age of 15 she was taken to England where she was forced to work as a prostitute. Grace was able to escape after 3 months; however, she was taken to a detention centre by authorities after her asylum claim was rejected, despite being told by the police she had been trafficked.
My name is Grace and I am 20 years old. I grew up in the capital of Nigeria, Lagos, but when I was 10 years old my parents died in a car crash and everything in my life changed. I didn’t have any other family to stay with so I slept on the streets for a long time; I had to beg for food to survive.
A few years later I met a woman called Rose at a local market who said that she was looking for someone to help her around the house with things like cooking and cleaning and that she would give me somewhere to stay and she would pay me. I stayed with her for about two years; she made me work really long hours and never paid me any wages, but I still thought it was better than sleeping on the streets.
When I was 15, Rose said that her friend in England needed a domestic worker that she could trust. She said the woman would be able to pay me well and that she would help me go to school too. I thought it sounded perfect, I always wanted to study to be a beautician and I was desperate to start afresh somewhere else.
Rose paid for my passport and arranged the flights to London. We flew to England together and I remember being really excited because I’d never been on a plane before. When we arrived, we went to a house somewhere outside London. Rose told me that I would have to work as a prostitute. At first I didn’t believe her, but then the next day a man called John* came round and he raped me – I was terrified; I hadn’t had sex before. Rose said that if I didn’t do what she said, then John would keep beating me until I did. She also told me that the passport she got me was fake, and if I went to the police for help I would be put in prison, and if I tried to go back to Nigeria, her family would find me and kill me.
Rose left me in the house with John and she went back to Nigeria. John forced me to have sex with lots of different men who came to the house. It was horrible and I was desperate to leave. Some of them beat me and sometimes they didn’t use condoms so I was given a pill to take everyday. The men were paying to have sex with me but I didn’t get any of the money and I wasn’t allowed outside. After about three months, I noticed that the front door was left open so I ran away. I slept on the streets for a few days until I was found by the police; they said that I had been trafficked and told me to apply for asylum. I was pregnant at this point and was sent to live in a hostel in the north of England, but one day when I was seven months pregnant, the authorities came and took me to a detention centre. I didn’t understand why this was happening because the police said I was trafficked. I had to stay in a horrible cell for two months and didn’t get any healthcare even though I was heavily pregnant. They wouldn’t tell me why I was being held there.
The church that I had been attending before I was put in the detention centre raised enough money to get me a lawyer. The lawyer found out that I was taken to detention because my asylum claim had been rejected, so she put in an appeal. I was released just before giving birth, but six months later they took me and my baby, Lydia* to another detention centre. The room we stayed in had no cot and no one ever changed the sheets. I was so depressed– it was Rose and the men who had broken the law, but my little girl and I were being punished.
I met someone from Poppy at the second detention centre and after putting in another appeal, I was finally released because they recognised I was trafficked. Afterwards I went to live in one of Poppy’s safe houses; I had my own room with lots of space for Lydia’s baby things, and I started to feel safe. I had a support worker who was always on the other end of the phone if I needed help; they helped me get counselling and I’m learning how to be a good mother. I’ve started college now too and am on my way to becoming a beautician like I’d always wanted. I am one of the lucky ones because Poppy was able to help me, but I know there are lots of women like me who aren’t able to get the help they need. Although I am still angry about what happened to me, I want to be a good mother to Lydia and make something of my life. I think I am getting there.
As told to Eaves for Women Poppy Project