There are an estimated 136,000 people living on conditions of modern slavery in 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.
Sade*was pregnant when she escaped sexual exploitation in East London. She recounts her negative experiences of dealing with the police upon her escape.
I was pregnant with one baby when I managed to escape. It was very cold and I realized I had nowhere I was running to. I felt I needed to go to a police station because I couldn’t trust anyone. On the streets, I met a Nigerian lady who helped me. She gave me an oyster card so I could travel on the bus. She led me to a police station.
When I arrived, I rang the buzzer and they asked me who I was. It was freezing cold and I was in shock. I couldn’t talk much. A man and a woman came out. They took my details.
Inside the station, the woman left us alone, she said she needed to check something. The man started interrogating me. He questioned everything I told him. How can you say you’re running away if you have a coat on? Is it this cold in Nigeria? I told him I grabbed a coat that was by the door when I escaped but he didn’t like my answer. How come it fits so well? How come you have warm clothes for your son? He even questioned why I spoke English. He said they don’t speak English in Africa. I said we speak English in Nigeria. He didn’t believe me.
He then started searching me. He emptied my bag and took out every item. He made me empty out my pockets and take off my shoes. It was so traumatizing I cannot remember it all. He said he’d throw me out if I didn’t tell the truth. He shouted at me to speak up. When I asked him to slow down because I didn’t understand him, he accused me of insulting him. The officer at the counter was rude to me too. He told me to get up and told the other man to search me.
The woman came back. She said she had spoken to the Home Office and they had told her they’d find me a place to stay. Two hours later, they came to take me somewhere safe. Those people were nice.
I didn’t want to complain after that, I didn’t want anything to do with the police. That’s why I didn’t report my case (refused to support police investigations).
Narrative and image provided by Hestia
*Not their real name