Ellie: ‘Putting trafficked people in prison – that is the worst part of it’
When Ellie, 32, describes the first part of her life, she races through the disturbing details in a neutral tone; the problems she experienced as a child and a young woman are not what makes her angry. She grew up in a slum outside Kampala in Uganda. She was sent to live with another family when she was seven and sexually abused by the head of the household; when she turned 15, she was forced to marry him. He was violent, so when a neighbour offered to help her escape to a new life abroad, she agreed.
She was taken by plane to the UK with a group of six other women. Ellie thought that she was going to work as a cleaner, but on the day she arrived, she was driven to the home of a white man who told her she would have to work as a prostitute to pay back her debts for the passport and air travel. For two years she was locked in a house with the other women, and periodically driven to customers’ homes.
She only escaped when a sympathetic client gave her £60 and explained how to get to London. In London, she met a man who allowed her to stay with him, but who quickly began to ask for sex in exchange for shelter. One night when he was violently abusive, she called the police.
This is the moment, in a life story of unmitigated misfortune, when you might expect that things would begin to improve. However, it marked the beginning of a new wave of difficulty, and this is where she begins to get angry. She was taken to hospital, but not treated; later the police took her to a police station, where she was fingerprinted and told she had no visa. Since she had only been given a passport to hold for a few seconds when she passed border control at the airport, she knew nothing about visas.
“They were asking each other: ‘Did she come here legally or illegally?’ The way they were talking was very intimidating. They didn’t ask about the attack. They were more interested in why I was staying in the country without a visa.” The man who hit her was not arrested, but she was taken to Yarl’s Wood detention centre. “I’d never been in detention before. It felt like a prison: being locked up, eating your food at certain times, sleeping at certain times. Most of the time you can’t go outside; you can barely see daylight.”
The other inmates laughed at her when they found out she had called the police, and told her she was stupid to have expected them to help her. She was quickly put on suicide watch because she told staff that she would kill herself rather than be deported back to a country where she would be in danger from her husband and her traffickers. “They wouldn’t let me buy tinned food in case I took the tin and cut myself; they watched me while I showered in case I hanged myself,” she says. For a while she regretted having escaped from her trafficker, and thought returning to her existence as a sex slave might be preferable.
It was only when she was in Yarl’s Wood that she realised she had been trafficked. “So many of the women I met in detention had been trafficked. I don’t think the police who interviewed me knew about trafficking. They were more interested in catching someone for being an illegal migrant than in helping someone who has called for help. All they were talking about was deporting me,” she says.
It was only when a sympathetic guard suggested that she put her name down for legal aid that she was put in touch with Eaves. Her asylum claim on the grounds of trafficking was rejected initially, but with Eaves’ help, this was overturned.
She wishes there was greater awareness of trafficking throughout the system. If border staff had been on the lookout for people-trafficking when she arrived in the UK, she would have been prevented from coming into the country. “If they had stopped me on the border, I would have been so much happier; I wouldn’t have done all the bad things that I was made to do. But I came here and I was turned into a prostitute.”
She is calm when we speak; very articulate and very angry about what has happened to her. “Putting trafficked people in prison – that is the worst part of it. You have gone through bad times, and then you find yourself in detention, told you are going to be deported back to the traffickers. That man is still there and he is still bringing in women. That’s why I’m so upset.”
Source and rest:
‘I came to the UK and I was turned into a prostitute’ – trafficked women share their horrific stories (guardian) (posted via inoreader/ ifttt).