The UK is a destination for men and women from Central and Eastern Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle East often seeking better livelihood opportunities. The latest government statistics derived from the UK National Referral Mechanism in 2014 reveal 2,340 potential victims of trafficking from 96 countries, of whom 61% were female. The majority of adults classified as victims of sexual exploitation and the largest proportion of victims was from Albania. In 2015, the most reported venues/industries for sex trafficking included commercial-front brothels, hotel/motel-based trafficking, online advertisements with unknown locations, residential brothels, and street-based sex trafficking.
Bella was living in Albania when her marriage failed and she became estranged from her family. During the financial crisis beginning in 2008 Bella’s business began to struggle, so she began to look for work. Not originally planning to go abroad, Bella was offered an opportunity to work in a restaurant in Belgium. However, when she went to go and see the work she would be doing, she was forced in to a lorry and her documents were taken off her. The lorry took Bella to the UK where she was forced into sexual exploitation. She was able to seize a window of opportunity one day and ran for two hours to freedom. She was taken by police to Rahab Adoratrices, a charity founded in 2009 to care for women affected by human trafficking for sexual exploitation.
I wasn’t thinking actually to go abroad but just when you met people and they give you any opportunity, and then you started thinking maybe it will be a good idea. So I met a friend of someone that I know that I was looking for a job because I couldn’t survive to pay my rent and he give me the idea of going in Belgium and working in restaurant. The man arranged everything. I was in Belgium for two days. I didn’t see anything suspicious to make me feel uncomfortable or. But then they say now we’re going to see the work and they took me to a lorry. They forced me to go in there. And when they forced me to go in they took everything, so I didn’t have anything with me. No identity no passport or ID, nothing. I had nothing. I was no one. I didn’t know where I’m going, I didn’t know I was going to be a part of trafficking, sex trade. The only thing that came in my mind, when they sell organs and they kidnap people, they kill them, they use their organs and they sell them. So only this thing came in my mind, nothing else.
I was terrified, I couldn’t breathe I was suffocated but I couldn’t talk. I couldn’t even scream you know because I was scared. And the journey, I think it was about 10 hours. 10 horrible hours.
[You arrive in the UK. Have you got any idea where you’re going?]
They say er welcome to the UK, we are in UK. They took me to a apartment, to a flat. They didn’t treat me bad at the beginning but then they start erm to explain me how is it, how it works, what I was going to do. And makes me feel, and embrace it like a normal, normal thing. Just your life has changed, this is your life. This is what you have to do, you don’t have to be scared, you have to co-operate and makes things easy. More easy for you, more easy for us. It’s good for everyone. They say it’s nothing what you haven’t done before just you have to do it as a business, and you’re going to take your part of money, it’s profession you have to do it. It’s just a profession, you have to see it as something normal. So we will find the customers, you have to do the job and then we share the money. If you don’t, if you try to escape, then we will find you and you can imagine what’s going to happen to you and maybe to your family. The first 10 days they didn’t put me through all this, they tried to convince me. And after I was like rejecting and saying I’m not going to do, then they put me on drugs and then alcohol.
I, I thought how you can make a business with a human body? With a woman, a woman body. How can you call that business?
[The day Bella escaped]
I was really sick that day, really, really sick but er I was really lucky because I found, I found 5 seconds opportunity to leave and I just left. I was without shoes, nothing. And I just ran and ran. I ran about 2 hours I think. And then erm I stopped in a shop which I though, I felt like er safe. Lucky there was a doctor in there and he asked me what’s wrong what’s going on. And I said I’m on drugs, someone drugged me and so then they called ambulance and the door stay with me until the ambulance came, they took me to hospital. And there the police, came because I didn’t know, I know who I was but I didn’t know where I was, what I was doing.
No passport, no nothing. I just had my jeans on and a blouse and that’s it.
Oh yeah, this police officer Kate, I think Kate, yeah it was a lady called Kate. She was really nice with me and she say we’re going to take you somewhere after we finish with the hospital. It was about half past 3 in the afternoon I think and we get to the convent half past 3 in the morning. Sister Ensie had prepared a bed for me and I fell asleep ‘til 11. When I wake up Sister Ensie prepared a breakfast for me and I felt like family, you know the love at the first sight that happens? For some people you can love them from the first sight and Rahab was love at the first sight. And not without reason. Because they are beautiful in heart and they become my family later on. So they were the first person who see me as a human being, they didn’t victimise me let’s say.
Bella: I wasn’t treated as a criminal, I wasn’t treated as a poor victim. But as woman, as a human being that has rights to have care in the most difficult days.
I just needed like love, unconditional love. Being loved from people, being appreciated, not that I’ve done, I haven’t done anything to be appreciated, but they were amazing people.
Rahab is my, let’s put it this way, without Rahab I wasn’t going to be what I am today, because they invest in me so much, they invest in me love, care time. Everything they have got in their hands they invest in me. So I was really lucky. I was the first girl they took care of and erm I hope one day will feel proud of me.
As told to Rahab Adoratrices