Personal Account – escaping from sexual exploitation in East London

We've raised the first ever super-complaint about police treatment of modern slavery victims, alongside our latest Underground Lives report Police Response to Victims of Modern Slavery, indicating that police failures when interviewing victims of modern slavery are hindering the prosecution of traffickers.

In 2018, there was a 250% increase in the number of modern slavery operations by UK police forces. However, numbers of prosecutions for perpetrators of modern slavery remain considerably low, with only 7% of recorded cases being referred to the Crown Prosecution Service by police.

Rosa* experienced sexual exploitation in London. When she managed to escape, her experience with the police deterred her from reporting her case. She is now being supported by Hestia.

"I was pregnant with one baby when I managed to escape. It was very cold and I realised I had nowhere I was running to. I felt I needed to go to a police station because I couldn’t trust anyone.

On the streets, I met a Nigerian lady who helped me. She gave me an oyster card so I could travel on the bus. She led me to a police station. When I arrived, I rang the buzzer and they asked me who I was. It was freezing cold and I was in shock. I couldn’t talk much. A man and a woman came out. They took my details. Inside the station, the woman left us alone, she said she needed to check something. The man started interrogating me."

"He questioned everything I told him. How can you say you’re running away if you have a coat on? Is it this cold in Nigeria?

"I told him I grabbed a coat that was by the door when I escaped but he didn’t like my answer. How come it fits so well? How come you have warm clothes for your son?"

"He even questioned why I spoke English. He said they don’t speak English in Africa."

"I said we speak English in Nigeria. He didn’t believe me. He then started searching me. He emptied my bag and took out every item. He made me empty out my pockets and take off my shoes. It was so traumatising I cannot remember it all.

Our latest report also found a number of key themes that led to victims having a negative experience with the police. These included feeling that they were not being believed or made to feel like criminals, officers prioritising pursuing immigration offences over protecting victims and female victims of sexual exploitation being interviewed by male officers.

He said he’d throw me out if I didn’t tell the truth. He shouted at me to speak up. When I asked him to slow down because I didn’t understand him, he accused me of insulting him. The officer at the counter was rude to me too. He told me to get up and told the other man to search me. The woman came back. She said she had spoken to the Home Office and they had told her they’d find me a place to stay. Two hours later, they came to take me somewhere safe. Those people were nice.

"I didn’t want to complain after that, I didn’t want anything to do with the police. That’s why I didn’t report my case (refused to support police investigations)."

Society is beginning to understand the intricacies of modern slavery, and just how deep and complex the trauma is for those affected. However, without specialist understanding of modern slavery and effective, consistent training for all police forces, many vulnerable victims are left further traumatised and in need of therapeutic support. This must change.

Read Underground Lives: Police Response to Modern Slavery.

*Name has been changed.

About our Modern Slavery Response service

Hestia's Modern Slavery Response service started in 2011, providing safe houses in London and Kent as well as pan-London outreach support in every London borough to those affected. Since the service started, we have supported over 2,500 victims, including 839 adults and 317 dependent children in 2017/2018 alone.

Our Phoenix Project empowers members of the public to come together and volunteer their time to support victims of modern slavery in their local community. Through your support and skills, you could change the life of someone affected by this brutal crime.

Volunteer for the Phoenix Project

About Underground Lives

Hestia is the main organisation supporting victims of modern slavery in London. We campaign and advocate for victims of modern slavery to ensure their voices are heard and they get the  support they need to rebuild their lives.

In 2017, Hestia released the first report in the ‘Underground Lives’ series to reveal the true face of modern slavery in London. 

Our latest 'Underground Lives' report revealed the impact of modern slavery on male victims, highlighting that half had slept rough.

Read our Underground Lives reports