A day in the life of an unseen project worker
I start my shift. A new resident arrived overnight and, after a handover from a tired night worker, I read through the new case notes. She’s from Romania, another in a long line of Romanian women who are tricked into coming to the UK and then forced into slavery by an organised crime gang.
After our morning staff meeting, I meet our new resident for our first key work session. We spend an hour or so together looking at and discussing how she is doing, what she needs and identifying immediate risks and fears. Her story is tragically similar to others. She met her recruiter through a family member and kept in touch. She was told it was easy to find work in the UK and that education is free. The recruiter had offered to pay for her to come over to the UK and put her up until she found her feet. This girl, like others I’ve met, has never had opportunity before. She comes from rural Romania where education finishes aged 10, jobs are virtually non-existent and buses to the city even less so. Of course she decided to come. With just a Romanian ID card and a small bag of clothes, she boarded the bus to the UK. It’s a long journey. She tells me she was met by a man who then took her to a small flat in a big city. Once inside she was locked in. Her ID card was taken, she was threatened, beaten, raped and then sold. She then tells me how she escaped through the window, dropped to the ground and fractured her leg. But she still managed to run. We complete a Support Plan together deciding how we can begin to assist her whilst she’s with us. She needs to register with a local GP. The repeated rapes have left her vulnerable to sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy. She doesn’t really understand what a counsellor is but will ‘give it a try’ because the faces of her attackers ‘keep coming for her’ day and night. She can’t go home, she says, because the traffickers know her address. They will come for her and sell her again. They told her so. I briefly explain her rights as a Romanian citizen in the UK and urge her to let us help her seek legal advice.
I ring the police investigating this latest case. Luckily, she has an amazing investigating officer who’s sympathetic to her situation and appalled at the severity of her experiences.
In the afternoon, I complete an English lesson with one of our Bangladeshi residents. This is part of unseen’s Butterfly Project, an education project designed to empower women who have known nothing but subservience and discrimination. The majority of our residents have a lack of formal education. They are brought up in poverty, with little chance of a ‘career’ or ‘life choices’, but these women are excellent students and relish the opportunity to learn. Every single resident who has come through our doors has said the same thing: “I just want to work and be safe”.
Before I finish my shift, a different resident comes to use the telephone to call home. She has not spoken to her family for 2 years but an international charity has helped her track down a contact number. Within minutes, she is distraught. Her father has died. He died while she was held captive, so he died not knowing what had happened to her. She never got the chance to say goodbye. It is impossible to convey the trauma that these women have suffered. I’m not even sure that they are able to process it themselves. Our house is a safe place for women for a few short days, weeks or months. But longer-term support is desperately needed.
As I make my way home, I think of the many small flats in cities across the UK and know that part of my heart will be forever dark, dark in the knowledge that there are women who are trapped, beaten and raped every day because they cannot escape.