Originally published to mark Transgender Day of Visibility 2022, we wanted to share UJ's story. They are supported by Hestia's Modern Slavery Response Team.

Trigger Warning: The following story may be upsetting for some readers.

I came to the UK from Pakistan when I was 22. Life back in Pakistan was incredibly hard. When I was a child, my teacher raped me. I tried to tell my mum, but she didn’t believe me. The teacher would give me extra time in lessons, and was charging my parents less, so they thought he was a good man. Even when my mum took me to a counsellor, I didn’t have the power to tell him what I’d been through. It’s very painful to think about.

"When I arrived in the UK, my family stopped supporting me financially. I had no money to pay my university fees, no money to pay rent. I was desperate to work. I did several jobs, including construction work and window cleaning. When I started these jobs, I was so lonely, and I trusted the people I was working for very quickly. I was wrong."

At every job I did, I was abused mentally and physically. I was given very small wages and the only thing I could afford to eat was biscuits. They got away with torturing me because they knew I was too scared to go to the police. I kept quiet and didn’t tell anyone. I cried a lot, and my mental health got worse.

In 2020, I received a call from the Home Office. I was asked to attend a reporting session and was then placed in an immigration removal centre – that’s when I was told I was going to be deported. A lady from the Home Office called me and asked if I’d ever been abused or mistreated while in the UK. At first, I said no, as I thought that telling her about my experience would make things worse. After a bit of time, I called her back, and told her everything. That’s when I was entered into the National Referral Mechanism and was referred to Hestia.

When I came to Hestia, I was feeling suicidal. The team helped me so much. My first advocate, Tina*, was an angel. I remember asking her: “Do you know anything about the LGBT community?”

"I don’t like to put a label or a tag on my sexual orientation or gender identity, but Tina was the first person I told that I wanted to transition. I felt so down and I told her everything. The body I’m in isn’t mine – I feel like my true body is in jail. I have something else inside of me. I feel more feminine inside."

I know that if I can live just one day in the body I belong to, that will be good enough for me.

Tina helped me to get in touch with LGBT organisations, and now I do counselling with an LGBT charity every week. I really feel able to talk to my counsellor about things.

I do get worried about what will happen though. I remember saying to Tina: “What happens if I start to transition, and then they send me back to Pakistan?” In Pakistan, nobody mentions being LGBT. It’s still not accepted – there are laws against it. It would be very hard for me to start a new life over there, to have to hide myself every day. I wouldn’t be safe.

Living here in the UK – this is my life. I know that if I get Leave to Remain, I will feel free, and I can live my own life without fear and judgement. I’m hoping to go to film school and I want to use films and documentaries to raise awareness of the LGBTQ+ community as well as exploitation and child abuse. This year, I also plan on going to my first Pride parade.

I want to learn new things, make new friends and build a new independent life. I want to be remembered as someone who contributed in society.

My soul is still in a lot of pain. But If I can stay here, I have a future.