More on internal trafficking

// 12 December 2007

Further to my post on internal sex trafficking, here’s a report from Amelia Cook, a member of Sheffield Fawcett Society, on a talk the group attended on Project Reflex. The project focuses on rescuing and caring for sex trafficking victims and prosecuting those who have raped them, beaten them, then sold them on:

“The [15-year-old] girl was resold seven times, repeatedly raped and forced to work in brothels throughout Britain. She escaped only after enlisting the help of three local women at a Sheffield nightclub [Kingdom, now Embrace] and ran barefoot, distressed and traumatised, to a local police station.”

The presentation was highly informative, extremely disconcerting, and, like the story above, very, very distressing. One advert in particular that the police officer showed us, produced by the UK Human Trafficking Centre, left many of us in tears. He had spent several hours giving us case study after case study from his three years on the job, telling us how things seem from a police officer’s point of view, and had driven it home that this IS happening, on our doorsteps in Sheffield RIGHT NOW. A video presenting the victim’s point of view at that moment was very upsetting.

Project Reflex is victim-focused. Their purpose is to dent the world of sex-trafficking, sure, but their actions are focused on rescuing women (and men, should that occasion arise) who are forced to have sex with men, 10, 25, 40 a day, and who do not feel free to escape from a life of slavery because they have been threatened so viciously. If that woman is so afraid of the consequences or so desperate to put this behind her that she is unwilling to help with their investigation or give them information in any way, that doesn’t matter, she will still be taken care of.

Victim care was something we were all very keen to hear about, and while it sounds like Project Reflex, as the first unit of its kind, mostly had to figure things out through trial and error, the level of care they offer to victims is astounding. From new clothes and toiletries and a bed for as long as they need it to the type of language they use to ensure that the victim is always given a choice, even for simple things like, “Would you like a cup of tea?” so she can start taking control over her life again, the depth of attention to the victim’s needs is impressive, especially considering the reputation the police force has for insensitivity to women and rape.

It was a very powerful presentation, and his ninety-minute talk turned into three hours, two cups of tea and a drink at the pub afterwards. We couldn’t get over what we had just seen, and all of us felt naive, ignorant and useless. How could we have ever thought that this was just something that happened abroad, or to people who were desperate to leave their countries or who even wanted to leave their families in the first place? Teenagers are tricked with promises of modelling or summer jobs, children are sold by their poverty-stricken parents, and victims are threatened with the deaths of their loved ones should they attempt to escape, to the point that some will even refuse safety when it is directly offered to them. In the examples the police officer gave us, “representatives” of the so-called modelling agency or summer work company visited the house of the girl before she left the country with them. They know where her parents live and travel frequently between countries. Killing them is not an empty threat.

This is not about immigration, and this is not about prostitution. It is rape and it is slavery, one of the most clear-cut examples of wrongdoing in this world. I want to help, but apparently the service they need most that we untrained students stand any chance of providing is as company for victims in the period between their rescue and the conclusion to their case, in whatever form. This would be fine, but these girls need to meet other girls their age who can make them feel at ease and even become friends – in their language.

So I’m going to offer my services, and if they encounter a Japanese victim while I’m in Sheffield then I hope I can do something at that time, but that doesn’t sound too likely. I’ve never before wished I spoke Lithuanian, Albanian, Czech, Chinese or Russian, but right now I feel so fired up I would willingly take classes in one of the above languages specifically to be able to serve in that kind of role. Hopefully though, we can make recruitment of people with those language skills at Sheffield University a bit of a project, and at least feel like we can help them in that way. It’s not quite as direct as I’d like, but I really want to help, in any way that I can.

The more I learn about the world around me, the more tempted I am to slant my postgraduate study at a feminist angle. I feel so, so ignorant, and need to learn more.

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