The United Kingdom remains a significant destination for men, women and children trafficked for the purposes of commercial sexual exploitation and forced labour. 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. At least one child a day is trafficked into Britain according the to the Human Trafficking Foundation, with children forced to work in the sex industry, domestic service, cannabis cultivation or as criminal on the streets. Child victims of human trafficking primarily originate from Romania, Vietnam, Nigeria, and from within the UK itself.
Agnes was running away from an abusive home life when she met a woman who took her in. Agnes was offered the chance to travel to the UK to train to become a doctor under the promise she would repay the cost of travel. However, upon arriving, she was forced to provide sexual services to men as part of her ‘repayment’. Agnes was able to escape at the age of 21 but was forced to continue sex work in order to be able to afford to live. It was not until Agnes arrived at City Hearts that she was able to obtain skills and childcare and begin building for a better future.
I was born in Nigeria and growing up, I was told that I was cursed. My life was regularly threatened.
One day, after my father had died, my step mother poisoned and killed our neighbour’s dog. She said that she would tell them I had done it, and that if I did not leave she would do the same to me.
I ran away in fear of my life and became homeless, staying under counters in market stalls and eating rotten food. It was there I met a lady who took me in and looked after me. This was the first time I had experienced love and kindness. I spent my time cleaning the house of my new ‘Auntie’. She asked me about my hopes for the future and I said I’d like to become a doctor. She said she would help me and would take me to the UK for training. But before we left, she made me swear an oath that I would repay all the costs of the documents, travel and living when we arrived.
I was taken to the North of England and the ‘repayments’ began. I was forced to sleep with men who regularly came to the house.
I asked my Auntie when I would be able to start training to become a doctor, but she told me this was now my life. The house was comfortable, but this was added to my debt that I had to repay. On many occasions I became pregnant. When I did, my Auntie would give me strong medicines, along with a lot of alcohol and use a metal hanger to remove the fetus. This procedure was added to the debt I owed. I didn’t understand at the time how bad this situation was as my Auntie was the only person who had ever shown care and affection towards me.
At the age of 21 I escaped, but got into a relationship with a man who was controlling and abusive. I became pregnant and gave birth to my daughter, and a couple of years later my son. I would spend days in the house with my two young children freezing and with no money for food. I had no choice but to secretly sleep with men to get enough money for food. We lived off Weetabix. Eventually we were thrown out of the house after the man realised what I was doing. It was then I was referred to City Hearts as a victim of human trafficking.
When I arrived at the City Hearts safe house, I was in a dark place. I was confused and so used to anything good in life being part of a deal which would have to be repaid. I almost ran away as I could not comprehend the kindness; instead, I was expecting a repayment to be required at some point soon, or find out it was yet another trap.
I have gone from survival and just getting through each day, to LIVING! I am living my life and I am full of hope!
City Hearts have helped with reward charts and food taster sessions for my children. I am doing a childcare course, English and sewing classes and am surrounded by opportunity.
I don’t know what the future holds but I am hopeful about what that looks like for me and my family. My daughter said to me this morning, “Mummy, you’re a superwoman” and I was able to reply “Yes, yes I am!”
Narrative provided by City Hearts