Iremember the day I decided I was finally ready to report my trafficker’s abuse after the false promise of a job turned into sexual exploitation. It was September 2018, and a woman from the organisation Women at the Well, which provides support to people affected by trafficking, came out to meet me at Starbucks with a notepad.
I told her going to the police was the last thing I wanted to do. I worried about what he would do if he found out, if his other victims would be OK, whether I had broken the law and would be deported. But mostly I just wondered if anyone would believe me. My ability to trust people was almost nil: after all, my trafficker had proven to me that I shouldn’t trust anyone. The organisation supported me to report my experiences to the police and begin the recovery process. It also referred me to the Home Office, which recognised me as a potential victim of trafficking and provided me with further assistance, including safe-house accommodation, and legal and subsistence support. Importantly, after the initial decision recognising me as the potential victim of trafficking, I was allowed to stay in the country, at least until the final decision on conclusive grounds was made. What followed was a traumatic four and half years of going through the criminal justice system before my day in court finally came. I remember the usher saying to me: “You are the single most important person in this room right now, and without you, this trial would not be happening.” In trafficking, generally there is no prosecution without a witness. With my commitment to see justice served, a dangerous man was successfully removed from the streets and sentenced.
Following my experiences, I feel safe now that my trafficker is behind bars. He can’t hurt anyone any more. That’s the most important thing to me. I have been able to take back my sense of agency, reintegrate into society and support myself independently. Healing from my experiences and moving forward with my life would not have been possible without the help I received. I am here today, safe and healthy, thanks to professionals from NGOs and local authorities. If I had gone through this journey five years later, under the proposed illegal migration bill, which is back in the Commons today after amendments in the Lords, there is a chance my story could have ended very differently. In fact, my trafficker would still be walking the streets today.
The legislation is designed to detain and remove from the UK those who have arrived here via irregular routes, including potential survivors of modern slavery. The bill sets out that those who arrive irregularly will be detained and removed from the UK. According to an analysis of the bill, carried out by the Modern Slavery and Human Rights Policy and Evidence Centre, to which I contributed, this could have devastating consequences by limiting survivors’ ability to report their traffickers and access the support they need. Many people will be scared of coming forward to the authorities to be identified out of fear of being detained and removed rather than protected – exactly the threat traffickers use to control those who they exploit.
Under these conditions, I would not have been able to help send my trafficker to jail. The home secretary could decide that it’s absolutely necessary for trafficking victims to stay in the country to support a prosecution – but the bill specifically creates a presumption that survivors’ presence in the UK is not required to provide this support. When you watch police dramas, they don’t show you the merry-go-round of interviews, the sudden call to provide a piece of evidence or pop into the police station to sign a paper. Having lived through five years of this, I can confirm that it is tantamount to a part-time job. The idea that I could do this from the other side of the world, where my morning would be the officers’ bedtime, is laughable.
Perhaps even more importantly, it would have been near to impossible to access the specialist support I needed and deserved. In my home country, there is still no law addressing trafficking happening on its own soil, let alone provisions for citizens returning to recover from these experiences. I doubt I would have been able to access therapy, accommodation and the many other things I needed to begin my journey to recovery.
If I had gone home I would have taken a broken chapter of my life with me, with no chance of changing my story. The bill is at odds with the compassion I have received from British people, which helped me turn my trauma into a story of my strength. Britain has long been proud of providing support and protection to people who are in need. For people who experienced modern slavery, it has built a support system that – although imperfect – has been leading the way for the rest of the world. Is the UK really prepared to dismantle it now?