17-year-old Maria* had enjoyed her day at school in Romania – but it quickly became a nightmare after she left to go to a friend’s house. There she was snatched by traffickers and taken to the UK.
The criminals made her use a fake passport, presenting her as 21 years old. She was told she was heading for a hotel cleaning job but instead was taken to a brothel in Birmingham, where she was forced to have sex with many men. She was beaten, threatened with knives and locked in her room.
Maria’s story is not rare. There are thousands of trafficking victims in the UK, including people forced to work in brothels, car washes, nail bars and on farms.
But despite increasing numbers of victims, successful trafficking convictions remain far too low. That is is why Justice and Care has launched a pioneering partnership with two police forces putting our workers in the heart of investigation teams – to engage with survivors and help them secure justice.
Two Victim Navigators have been employed to work with officers in Surrey Police and Kent Police, with more forces also expected to take part in the pilot programme early next year. The Navigators will help provide specialist knowledge about slavery as investigations are taking place, and provide support to survivors in recovery.
The extreme trauma faced by victims, threats of violence and psychological conditioning makes investigating the crime and successful prosecutions difficult. It is hoped the roles will assist victims to access the help they need and will support police efforts to bring those responsible to justice.
The pilot project will last an initial two years, with leading slavery academics helping to assess the programme’s success. Director of Europe and the US, Christian Guy, says the project is exciting for those trying to tackle the crime:
We are excited by the response of senior police officers and prosecutors, with many wanting to work with us. Like us, they see the support of victims and the need for specialist advice within investigations as critical work if we’re to succeed in the UK.’
Thankfully Maria was rescued by the police and was able to be returned to her family who thought she had died. She says she met scores of other Romanian women forced into sexual slavery whilst held in Birmingham.