[Stop-traffic] News/UK: 'They were smart and they wore suits. They hurt me'

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Subject: [Stop-traffic] News/UK: 'They were smart and they wore suits. They hurt me'
morhant@igc.org
Date: Tue Nov 21 2000 - 10:51:36 EST


                            'They were smart and they wore suits. They hurt me'

        Amelia Hill reveals the horrific plight of young girls from
around the world who are shipped to Britain to work as child
prostitutes. Too terrified to break free from their captors, they are
locked into a world of sexual cruelty, exploitation and drugs -
something the police and social services are only now waking up to.

<http://www.guardianunlimited.co.uk/child/>Special report: child protection

                                                                   Sunday December 17, 2000

         Fayemi was slumped in the back of the car. She had injected
herself with a shot of heroin shortly before we met last week and was
just finishing smoking a rock of crack-cocaine to get a fresh high.
She had not eaten for two days, but she did not care.

Fayemi is 14. She has already seen and done things that no one should
ever have to experience. She has wide, dark eyes and childishly
translucent skin. But the life she has been forced to lead has aged
her, causing wrinkles round her eyes more often found in a much older
woman.

Six months ago, Fayemi's father sold her to two men who visited their
village in Nigeria. She saw the men speak to her father and hand him
money, but she had no idea what it was about until she was bundled
into a car.

When they reached Lagos airport, Fayemi was handed to a woman who
already had two other girls trailing behind her. The woman gave the
three girls sweets and fizzy drinks - and they were waved through
immigration. Fayemi slept throughthe flight: 'I was tired,' she says
in halting English. 'My eyes were closed all the time.'

At Gatwick, the group was met by two men. Dazed and drained, Fayemi
didn't resist when one of them took her away. She had never been out
of her village and in this strange and terrifying new world, she had
no choice but to stick close to the only adult who seemed to care
what happened to her.

The man took her to a flat in London. There were five other girls.
The oldest was about 18; the youngest, Maria, was just six. 'She came
from Nigeria like me,' Fayemi said. 'But the others came from far
away. I could not understand their words.'

Men came to the flat every day. 'From early, early and then late
also. They were smart. They wore suits. They hurt me.' Sometimes
Fayemi was taken to their offices and sometimes they came to the
flat. She was never left alone and any money she was given by the men
who came to have sex with her was immediately taken away.

She hated her new life. She protested and the men who ran the brothel
gave her some heroin and showed her how to inject it. It was her
first introduction to drugs. 'It made it hurt more little,' she said,
twisting her matted hair tightly between delicate fingers.

Two weeks ago, Fayemi climbed out of the window of the flat and ran
away. She now spends between 10pm to 6am every day walking the
streets of East London, dressed in the long fake fur coat and pink
trousers given to her when she reached England.

She wants the cars to stop because she needs the money but every time
someone slows down, she is terrified. 'The men said they would kill
me if I left. It true.' She started to cry. Tomorrow, she said, she
would go further away; a girl she met suggested Nottingham or perhaps
Croydon. She's not sure where they are. Someone else suggested
somewhere called 'Scomland'.

The trafficking of children into Britain for the purposes of sexual
slavery was virtually unheard of four years ago. Many organisations
refuse to accept that it is happening: 'There's no evidence at all
that foreign girls are being bought into this country and set to work
as prostitutes,' said Jane Ayres, director of the Praed Street
Project in Charing Cross, a highly respected, government-funded body.
But an Observer investigation has uncovered incontrovertible evidence
that foreign girls as young as 11 are being trafficked to work as
prostitutes in flats around London.

These girls are not only victims of sexual exploitation, but are here
illegally and under the age of consent. Every caution is taken by
their pimps to escape detection: the children's services are not
advertised, they never work outdoors and, although they sometimes
visit punters in their homes or offices, they are accompanied by
their jailers from the moment they leave the flat to the minute they
return.

The Observer has found a small number of children who have escaped
their masters working on the streets of South and East London. All
are too terrified of authority and of adults to ask for help,
believing that whatever terrible treatment they have suffered, the
Government and police will do little to help them.

These girls eke out lives of terrible danger: unless they can
persuade another brothel to take them in - a highly unlikely option,
given their illegal age and status in the country - they must walk
the streets in a city whose language they cannot speak and whose
mores are alien to them.

'There are three girls on the block here who are obviously underage
and barely speak English,' said Gemma, who has been working as a
prostitute since her mother stood her on a street corner at the age
of 11. 'We're all at risk but they're in serious danger. They don't
understand what they're agreeing to and they don't see the signs that
we do: I can see violent men a mile off because I understand the
signs. They don't understand anything - they do eventually but it's a
hard and nasty learning curve.'

The swollen weal left across one of Chanel's high cheekbones had
turned her finely boned face into a pathetically lopsided mask. She
will be 16 in February. When she was 13, her desperately ill mother
sent her to live with her 28-year-old brother in a small African
village she refuses to name.

Within months, her brother had bought two false passports and two
tickets to England. 'I wore different hair and different clothes,'
she said, twisting in her seat and shredding the cigarette packet in
front of her. Her attention was starting to fail: it had been a
couple of hours since she smoked her last rock of crack-cocaine and
her friend hasn't returned yet with the fresh supply she was sent to
buy.

Chanel's brother set up her in a flat in London with other four
girls. 'No English girls,' she said. 'There was a Romanian girl with
a baby. She was young like me but the men came to look at the baby
without any clothes. I don't think they touched it; they just
watched.'

None of the other girls spoke French and, like Fayemi, Chanel was
kept prisoner in the flat. She tried to save money to get home but
her brother took everything she earned. The only time she managed to
save a few pounds, her brother beat her so badly she was bruised from
her lower thigh to her shoulder. He didn't hit her face, though; that
came courtesy of a recent customer.

Six months ago, she ran away. After drifting around the city in
terror, she turned up in Brixton. Her days now start at 11pm with a
visit to the crack house on the corner of Brixton Hill and end at
around 6am, after the morning rush of businessmen has ended.

Her brother, furious to be deprived of his easy income, tracked his
sister down and set fire to her flat at a time when she should have
been asleep inside. The heat of the fire was so intense that the
windows exploded but Chanel had gone out earlier.

The fire destroyed her few possessions. And now she is homeless. In
the past week she has slept outside in the bitter cold or in the
house of punters, one of whom raped her while she was sleeping.

'My mother doesn't know where I am. I haven't seen her for two
years,' she said. 'It's Christmas soon and I want to go home but I am
in too much trouble.' Her brother has successfully instilled a terror
of authority: she couldn't even bring herself to tell the police when
he tried to burnt her flat to the ground as she slept inside it. 'No
police. No,' she insisted, 'I'm scared of them. I'm in big trouble
with them.'

Traditionally, underage victims of sexual exploitation have
circumvented Britain entirely, with routes starting in Africa, Asia,
Central and Eastern Europe, and Latin America and ending in
Frankfurt, Paris, Amsterdam, Berlin and Italy.

Britain has only entered the picture as a staging post: there is a
long history of Irish children breaking their journey in London
before going on to Belgium and a more recent trend in Britain being
used as a staging post to smuggle Nigerian girls across to Italy, but
there has never been any suggestion that the girls were put to work
in this country. Detective Inspector Paul Holmes, of Scotland Yard's
clubs and vice unit, the only pro-active organisation in the country
targeting prostitution, has admitted he is horrified by the result of
The Observer 's investigation. 'The problem of girls being trafficked
for sexual purposes is a major one but this is worse than anything we
have encountered so far,' he said.

'This is the first intelligence we have had that we have a problem in
relation to young girls rather than girls in their late teens, and we
can't even prove that those girls, who are mostly Albanian girls
hidden in Soho flats, are underage because they're almost impossible
to find and have false ID,' he added.

The issue is so new that experts admit it is impossible to know what
started the trend. They suggest the strength of sterling, the
widening global gap between rich and poor, and point out the fact
that even though our ports and airports have tightened up their
immigration controls, Eurostar offers an easy route in. Others point
to the fact that while under the current law, traffickers risk
nothing more than a fine or, at worst, less than two years'
imprisonment, drug traffickers risk at least 10 years. Set this
against the enormous profit traffickers of women and children are
already making - an estimated $7 billion in 1998 - and it seems more
pertinent to ask why didn't this happen earlier?

Nicola Mullenger, a worker for Mainliners, a drug outreach project
funded by Lambeth, South wark and Lewisham councils, compares the
trend to the entry of Coca-cola into Eastern Europe after the wall
came down in 1989. 'It's completely unexploited territory here,' she
said. 'Britain is a gift to them.'

Professor David Barrett, the country's leading expert on child
prostitution, believes numbers of child victims of trafficking have
been increasing at the rate of 15 per cent each year for the last
three years. He predicts an explosive rise unless action is taken.

'There are probably around 1,600 women trafficked into Britain each
year and so to maintain that we're just a staging post when children
are concerned is bordering on the foolishly naive. Race and youth
both have price premiums in this country just as in any other. You
have to imagine the lives some of these girls have been leading:
they've lived in gut-wrenching poverty in war-torn countries with not
the slightest hope of escape,' Barrett said.

'Once their self-esteem has been completely destroyed and they have
dulled their response to the abuse of prostitution, life in a rich,
western world can offer them some advantages over the family that
betrayed them and to whom they can never return now anyway.'

Doodle, one of the many dealers in Brixton who sell drugs to the
local girls - who will visit him up to 20 times a night, spending
their money as they earn it - said: 'I've seen a massive rise in the
number of young, foreign girls coming to my flat in the last 18
months. The girls come here after escaping from whatever flat they've
been trapped in by the traffickers. They might not like this life at
first but after a while they begin to enjoy it. It's a new and
fascinating world to them: 10 is 1,000 to them - they think they're
in heaven.'

DI Holmes believes that now the trafficking has started, it is only a
matter of time before the number of child prostitutes outstrips
demand. 'Once that happens, there is no reason we will not see
extreme levels of violence seen elsewhere in Europe,' he said. 'We
think the lack of competition is the only reason the shooting has not
started yet.'

Gemma's story
''When I was 11, I was walking down the street outside my house in
Nottingham when these men passed and said things to me that I didn't
understand. When I got home, I asked my mother what they'd meant. I
started working the streets soon after that. 'I had my first son when
I was 14 but the father was deported to Jamaica; I haven't seen him
since. I've got three sons now. They live with my dad in Nottingham.
I haven't seen them for two years. 'I love them, I really do, but I
don't want them to see me like this. I know they're being looked
after where they are and when I sort myself out, I'll be a proper
mother to them. I spoke to my dad for the first time in two years
yesterday and he said he would pick me up on Monday and take me to
stay with him and his new girlfriend in Nottingham, My family's rich:
we've got horses. I'm trained as an amateur jockey. When I sort
myself out, I could tech show jumping and stuff. In 1996, I got 6
months for blackmailing more than 30 punters. I filmed them having
sex with me and then threatened to tell. I asked them for more than
3,000 each. It's a shame it didn't work - I hate punters: they're
all bastards.'

<mailto:amelia.hill@observer.co.uk>amelia.hill@observer.co.uk

Guardian Unlimited Guardian Newspapers Limited 2000


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