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Trafficking victim's relief at finding refuge in UK safe house

Published 31/07/2015

Trafficking victim Emma, not her real name, was forced into prostitution around Europe
Trafficking victim Emma, not her real name, was forced into prostitution around Europe

A trafficking victim who was forced into prostitution around Europe after being groomed to believe she was going to be a model has spoken of her relief at finding refuge in a UK safe house.

Emma (not her real name), 23, was working as a hairdresser and studying part-time for an economics degree in her home country of Albania when a client convinced her to join his new modelling agency.

But her new boyfriend soon became her captor, moving her across Germany, Italy and Albania where she was forced into sex work and kept under constant lock and key.

The trafficking victim told her story as the new Modern Day Slavery Act comes into force, a strengthened effort to tackle slavery and trafficking in the UK and protect victims.

Recalling the start of her ordeal, Emma said in broken English: "I was working like hairdresser and I have a client... and one of them was the person who did everything to me.

"He was speaking about his idea to open a modelling agency. But it's not true, because he lied to me.

"I choose to go with him, from there start everything."

It was on her first trip abroad to Dusseldorf in Germany, using fake passports and documents, that it became clear she had been betrayed.

"I couldn't escape because I was locked," she said. "Every time I have person around me, I was never on my own.

"I didn't have a choice or opportunity (to escape). I was worried he would do something to my family."

Emma escaped only when Italian police questioned her as a potential witness about crimes her trafficker had committed, and she was deported back to Albania.

But on her return she was shunned by her family and out of fear of being hunted down by the trafficking gang she fled on the back of a lorry to the UK.

She said it was "not her choice" to be in the UK, but after nine months of recovery at a Home Office-funded safe house in London, run by the Hestia housing charity, she has hope for the future.

"(At the safe house) they give you support in everything. My life changed since I've been in Hestia. Here we have an angel who help us, our care worker.

"I have that feeling that if somebody is going to do something again, I don't trust nobody.

"It's hard for me to move on because when you see other people and their lives, you feel like rubbish.

"But things are better now."

New measures under the Modern Day Slavery act which come in to force today include a statutory defence for victims, which strengthens their protection against inappropriate prosecutions for crimes committed as part of their exploitation.

They also include introducing reparation orders, which encourage the courts to use seized assets from perpetrators to compensate victims, and access to civil legal aid for slavery victims.

The Salvation Army, which holds the Home Office contract for managing safe houses for adult trafficking victims, has helped more than 2,500 men, women and families over the past four years.

The charity said it has helps 100% of victims referred to its services, but official figures estimate that the 10,000 to 13,000 people remain trapped in modern day slavery in the UK.

Responding to the new legal measures, Anne Read, anti-trafficking and slavery director at the Salvation Army, said: "Everyone engaged in this work is pleased that something is being done, there is now an escalation in effort. There are thousands of people trapped in situations not of their choosing, doing things they do not what to do and things need to be done to help them and to stop anybody else being sold in to slavery."

To coincide with the new legislation, the College of Policing has published definitive national guidance on investigating the crimes of slavery and human trafficking, such as how officers can better identify people who may be at risk of becoming a victim of trafficking or forced labour.

Forms of modern slavery across the UK include forced criminality, such as cultivating drugs, forced labour in agriculture, construction sites or nail bars, sexual exploitation and domestic servitude.

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