She was studying nursing, having moved to the UK from Romania. She was walking along the street in North London when a car stopped and two armed men threw her into it. She was brought to Luton Airport where she boarded a plane to Galway in Ireland. And then she was forced into sex slavery. She was 20.
She was subject to constant beatings, received almost no food or drink, and was forced to service men 15 to 20 times a day in an Irish brothel. She was then trafficked around Ireland and sexually exploited – under threat, and for the financial profit of others. Each week, she came across 10 to 15 other women in the same situation.
Anna* finally escaped in Belfast, with the help of a man she met in a brothel there. Once free, the trauma she had experienced led her to attempt to kill herself in Belfast Lough: “I wanted to go and never come back.”
Anna was a victim of human trafficking.
Human trafficking and ‘slavery’ are now used interchangeably, as most modern-day slaves are transported in order to be exploited. In Northern Ireland, approximately 30 victims are rescued each year, and the police service suggest that this is only the tip of the iceberg – but just how big the iceberg is, we don’t know. The picture here is similar to the rest of the UK: victims are men, women, and children. People like Anna are exploited in the sex industry (which is deemed to be one of the fastest-growing in Europe), but people are also exploited when they are forced to work in our agricultural and fishing industries. Others are trafficked here and forced to beg in the streets or carry out criminal acts; and others are kept in situations of domestic servitude with no way out provided.
In response to this unjust reality faced by people here and abroad, Northern Ireland is speaking up this Friday, on the 7th EU Anti-Slavery Day. Various political parties are holding awareness events; several schools are hosting assemblies on the issue; universities are planning gigs and information sessions; and anti-trafficking charities The A21 Campaign, International Justice Mission and Stop the Traffik are carrying out various awareness-raising activities such as street theatre and leafleting.
Anti-Slavery Day is important for two reasons: first, it reminds us of the plight of the 27 million people just like Anna who are currently enslaved in our world, and allows us the opportunity to share their stories. And secondly, it reminds us that we are not alone in our fight against slavery: our voices are joined by those of others, and together, our voice is louder and stronger every day. This Friday will be an important day.
And here on threads, we’re getting in on it a little early. Every day this week we’ll be talking about slavery; each post shedding light from a slightly different angle. I have the amazing opportunity to partner with amazing organisations working on the ground and further afield as part of my job with No More Traffik in Northern Ireland; and I am thrilled to be able to introduce to some of these over the next week.
Tomorrow, Laci Carns from International Justice Mission will paint the picture of slavery as a global problem and highlight what IJM are doing to stop it. On Wednesday, we’ll hear from Natalie Collins from Spark who will explore the cultural undercurrents that allow slavery to continue. Then on Thursday, I’ll be interviewing Holly Taylor, a student involved in the A21 Campaign, who works within the EU to prevent slavery and care for its victims. Finally, I’ve gathered a few friends to help me compile a list of 10 practical ways in which slavery can be stopped, which I’ll share on Friday.
I’m looking forward to journeying with you this week. Slavery is an uncomfortable, horrifying, pressing issue that our generation is having to deal with. It’s not easy.
But there is hope. Anna did not die. She is well, and is now rebuilding a life for herself. She is also helping local law enforcement find and prosecute her traffickers.
And there are others – 27 million others, in fact – who need to be rescued and rehabilitated, and for whom we must fight.
EU Anti-Slavery Day is a great place to start.
*not her real name.
Gemma Wilson is the guest editor for threads this week. Check back throughout the week for more articles she has commissioned around the theme of slavery.