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.Miriam A. was abused from a young age and into her marriage. She was offered the opportunity to come to Britain and start a new life away from abuse. She was promised the opportunity to study and that her children would join her later. Instead she was forced into domestic work, working 16 to 18 hours a day with no breaks. She was forced to do all cooking, cleaning, babysitting and care work. The family controlled when she slept, when she woke and what she ate. If she was allowed to speak to her children, her
Life was difficult in the sense that the abuse started fairly early, as far as I can remember. AS I look back now life for me as a young adult, I think for me the signs were there. It was quite evident that I was very vulnerable. It was blatantly clear to the perpetrators who trafficked me that the abuse the evidence of this young person, myself. Was there it was just there for them to see.
The reason I would say that is that maybe I wasn’t even away at the time that I was that vulnerable. Of course they saw it and they were able to capitalise on that. And these people were able to read through that and see that this person was an easy target. I was an easy target to be trafficked.
I relive it in my mind every day. I was promised protection, I was promised that I needed to leave my abusive husband, I needed to leave that abusive environment for a better life.
Even today after all this time, that conversation plays in my mind like a record. What was promised. In comparison to what actually happened. I blamed myself a lot for what happened to me throughout the years. I blamed myself for being so taken into trusting these people. I think the crucial thing was that I believed them. I truly believed that they would think in my best interests. I thought. Because I had tried various ways to try and escape. I tried escaping the paedophile for years and it was not successful. I tried escaping my ex-husband for years and that was not successful. So, when these people came I felt like I was not alone. I actually had people that will try and help me escape, and this time it could be successful. At the time it seemed they were offering me a lifeline.
I was offered the opportunity to leave my home country and come to Britain and start a new life. And hopefully get my kids to join me and just rebuild my life and forget all of the horrible things that I’d experienced. I was offered education, I would have the opportunity to study, to just start over. I was actually a house maid for a family and that they owned me. And that all that was promised to me was actually a lie.
I then had to understand that there was no way out because until they were ready to get rid of me, that was what my life would be now. I saw house maid lightly. Day to day was 16 to 18 hours, on my feet doing everything for these people. Not knowing If I would be seeing my kids, covering all housework. Nannie duties, gardening, taking care of the husband, the wife, the kids. Washing cooking cleaning, ironing, taking care of their guests whenever they had guests around. Just doing everything. I couldn’t understand it, I couldn’t understand it at all. How it had reached this. But I was told this is what it’s going to be like. I didn’t have a say. I just needed to be obedient and do what was asked of me. They controlled everything. When I slept, when I got up, what I ate, when I was allowed to take five minutes break. Everything.
If I was allowed to speak to my kids, it had to be done through the wife, and that’s if she felt I deserved a treat. I wasn’t allowed to use the phone. I wasn’t allowed to even go to the front door to receive the mail from the mail man. Because I just think it meant every aspect of my life was controlled. I felt defeated as a human being I felt less than a human being in a lot of ways. It did feel like a prison sentence. The only different is that there is no end date to look forward to. I was sentenced to life.
I was rescued in the summer of 2008 and to this day, even as I look back on it, I breathe a sigh of relief. These people can’t get to me anymore. The following morning, I had an interview with my first responder and initially I didn’t trust him. I really didn’t. However, the way approached me initially as a human being, the empathy he portrayed with listening to my story spoke volumes. I wanted to have a barrier up because I didn’t trust him, because I had a barrier of protection. After all I had been lied to and abused so many times. I came from a country where we don’t trust the police. The manner in which he conducted the interview allowed me the room to breathe. Allowed me room to tell my story in a safe environment. And I felt relieved after. I felt like a weight that I’ve been carrying was finally being lifted.
I was truly amazed. This gentleman actually was able to see me as a human being. I think it was the first time in a long while and it was a turning point. I think about that first responder very regularly. I never thought that I would see him again. But just to tell him thanks ofr what he did, which he probably would’ve thought he was doing his job, but just to let him know the impact it had on my life. He became a hero to me, it affected me in such a way that he actually saved me. Not physically saved me alone, but mentally, emotionally. In the sense that we expect angels to have wings. Just so happened mine didn’t
Over the years I tried, tried seeing if I can just find him to say thank you. Two words, thank you. It had been over nine years and I was going to meet this man, yet again. But under different circumstances this time, to tell him thanks.
Meeting DC David West was a momentous moment. My heart was bursting, and I remembered crying, but these tears were different. These were happy tears and I told him, I said thank you. I was able to finally tell my hero thank you. He was so humbled it was a moment that I will never forget.
Life now is quite different. I am more happy, I’m at peace. I’ve finally been reuinited with my kids, I feel more empowered. I feel more assertive. And if I can in some small way, give someone else that opportunity to hope and to see that there is light. That’s where I see myself. I’m excited for what’s to come.
Narrative provided by Devon and Cornwall Police