Page last updated at 06:31 GMT, Monday, 19 March 2007

Sex slave regrets 'ruined' life

by Anna Blackburn
BBC East Midlands

Prostitute (generic)
The Home Office estimates 4,000 are trafficked into the UK every year

Beaten, betrayed and forced to have sex with up to 20 men a day - it sounds like a horror story but this is the testimony of a sex slave in Leicester.

Edita, who was 19 when she was brought into the UK illegally from Lithuania, said her life had been ruined by the experience.

This is a reality for thousands of women trafficked into the UK.

And the problem is not just confined to big cities - this "modern-day slavery" has emerged across the East Midlands.

It comes at a time the UK is marking 200 years since the Parliamentary Act which led to the abolition of the slave trade.

Working out exactly how many women are trafficked into the East Midlands - brought over illegally from Europe or other parts of the world on a promise of work - is very difficult because the "industry" is clandestine.

Many women who survive the world of sexual exploitation are so traumatised when they are found that they refuse to talk.

Edita was fortunate to have found support with the Poppy Project - an initiative based in London which helps trafficked women from all over the world to start rebuilding their lives.

He hit me and then he and the other men in the flat - four of them - gang-raped me. It was horrific.
Edit, survivor

But this help only came after she was found when police raided the flat in Leicester where she was being forced to work as a prostitute.

"Before I was trafficked, I was living at home with my mother. We were both unemployed and very poor," Edita said.

"I had a boyfriend. He was violent and threatened me a lot but I was too afraid to break up with him and sometimes he gave me money which I needed.

"He suggested we went to the UK to look for work. I did not trust him but did not dare say no," she said.

What followed for Edita, now 26, was a long journey from Albania in a lorry through Italy and France. When the lorry crossed from France into the UK, she had to lie on the floor of the cab as she had no papers.

At the end of the journey, the "better life" that Edita had been promised was just a distant daydream.

'Cultural barriers'

"When I arrived in the UK, my boyfriend drove me to a flat in Leicester. When we arrived he took me inside and said I would be living there with him and some other men," she explained.

"He told me what I would be doing - having sex with men to earn him money. I was so frightened and told him I did not want to do it.

"He hit me and then he and the other men in the flat - four of them - gang-raped me. It was horrific. I felt destroyed inside."

Often women do not even know where they are when they are found
Anna Bowden, Poppy Project

Edita spent three years working in the flat, seven days a week, having sex with between 15 and 20 men a day.

She was not allowed to leave and the men threatened to kill her mother if she tried to escape. She was stabbed in the leg and hit around the head whenever the gang felt like it.

Leicestershire Police, who found Edita when they raided her flat, said the extent of human trafficking in the county is very difficult to assess.

"In most cases, victims do not usually have any networks of family or friends in the UK," said Det Supt Chris Summers who heads up the human trafficking and immigration team in Leicestershire.

"With cultural and language barriers, the victims can be very reluctant to come forward to any official authority."

He said although cases of human trafficking were "infrequent", officers were coming across more of them and the force was keen to prosecute where possible.

Special training

Leicestershire has processes in place to deal with victims of trafficking but the story can be very different elsewhere, Poppy Project spokeswoman Anna Bowden said.

"Often women do not even know where they are when they are found. They may have a vague idea they are in the UK but no idea exactly where.

"Many cannot speak English, probably do not even know the word "trafficked" and are so traumatised that they give no clues about what has happened to them until much further down the line," said Ms Bowden.

But she said the situation was improving with more police officers and immigration workers trained to recognise the signs of women who have been trafficked.

According to figures from the Poppy Project, Leicestershire has referred seven women to them since 2003.

This is the highest number in the region with Nottinghamshire referring two, Derbyshire one and no recorded cases in Lincolnshire.

The Home Office believes up to 4,000 women a year are trafficked into the country for sexual exploitation.

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