I have been a Metropolitan Police Officer for over 31 years. For much of my career, I have worked with some of the most vulnerable people in London. In 1996, I began working on what was then known as the Clubs and Vice Unit, speaking on a daily basis to mostly females working within the sex industry. Back then, those taking the money from the women would be arrested for ‘living off the immoral earnings of prostitution,’ but much like Modern Slavery, it came down to the women being exploited.
Over time the demographic of women working within the sex industry in London started to change; we would find less British women and more foreign nationals, some working willingly and others trapped in debt bondage having been trafficked from their home country. Eventually, the Clubs and Vice Unit became the Modern Slavery and Trafficking Unit. Working in partnership with NGOs and charities, we regularly conduct welfare visits to brothel premises. Victims of trafficking are often told to be fearful of the Police and Authorities or have had poor experience of Police in their own countries. Conducting visits can help to break down barriers and encourage those held in slavery or being exploited to engage with Police.
Often women, after being promised work and a better life for them and their families, are convinced to leave their children behind in their home countries and come to the UK. Once here, they soon realise that the work they were promised does not exist. They are instead forced into prostitution. Fearful of reprisals for their families, they work to pay off the debt they are told they now owe.
Only by working together with NGOs and charities and by breaking down their fears can we empower women to report perpetrators of Modern Slavery. Just last month, I sat with a woman who had been brave enough to escape her captors. She is now slowly starting to rebuild her life in a safe house and is desperate to trace her two children, whom she had left with her mother, hoping that she could earn enough money to give them a better life. As she sat crying with her head in her hands, she said, ‘what kind of mother does that make me?’ My reply was simple: selfless and the very bravest.