If you have spent anytime on my blog in past couple of months, you have realised that human trafficking happens where you are. What you mightn’t have realised, however, is that it happens to you, to people like you, where you are.
She was living in a city in the North of England, and was 18 years old and had no idea about human trafficking. One night she was out with friends, Kas started talking to her, he worked at a bar she went to all the time. He was very flattering and fun but she said no, she wasn’t interested in anyone at that time. However, over the years they developed a friendship, he accepted she wasn’t interested and what came out of it was an amazing friendship, after a couple of years they chatted regularly on the phone. After about a year she broke up with her boyfriend at the time and Kas had been there for her, understanding what she was going through and really listening.
They had known each other for six years now and she trusted him as a best friend. He told her he was off to Spain for a holiday, and she should come along for a weekend to cheer herself up. Tempted by some light relief, some pizza and a chance to get away for a few days, Sophie said yes.
About six weeks later he invited her to see him again in Italy. It was when she got to Italy that everything changed. Kas changed. He announced on her third night that he was in debt and Sophie must help by working on the streets to earn the money he needed to pay back. It was the start of a previously unimaginable horrific experience.
Sophie Hayes was British. Educated. Supported by a loving family. Sophie Hayes was trafficked.
We can no longer pretend that any place is safe from human trafficking; nor indeed that anyone is safe. It is an expansive crime that is far-reaching and takes on many faces. It is not only people from economically poor backgrounds, people with no relational support, people with no qualifications who are trafficked. And it is not people from other countries who are trafficked on our doorstep. Although Sophie, a British victim, was indeed trafficked outside of the UK, British victims are sometimes kept in the UK – what people used to travel for within the context of sex tourism, they are now comfortable doing at home. In essence, to deal with the increase in demand, women and girls are not only trafficked from their countries to ‘serve’ the sex trades in other countries: trafficking happens at home to those who are at home.
Freedom and safety are not guaranteed because of education or family relationships. Criminal gangs pimp out girls they find and build relationships with locally. What people used to keep for foreign nationals in terms of forced labour, they will now enforce on their fellow natives. Human trafficking happens when people are trafficked 1000 miles, and when people are trafficked from one town to another one in its neighbourhood. In Northern Ireland, I heard recently of a girl from Ballymena trafficked to Craigavon. Indeed, David Ford spoke earlier this month of a new offence being brought forward “to deal with those who traffick United Kingdom citizens within the United Kingdom.”
The A21 Campaign’s “In Her Shoes” video: “Human Trafficking can happen to anyone”.
Within the context of a campaign warning young girls in France against the dangers of falling into forced prostitution, this video was issued, entitled C’est ça ta vie en rose? (Trigger warning).