Victims of human sex trafficking have told how they were enslaved by witchcraft, torture and death threats in modern-day Scotland.
The harrowing stories of ten women were compiled by campaigners investigating the world’s fastest growing organised crime. Nine came from Africa, one from South America.
In one of the testimonies to a Glasgow charity, a 21-year-old told how she was branded and forced to take a “witchcraft oath” to prevent her escaping.
She said: “I had to take the oath. I was given this mark on my hand. I was told that this mark, if you tell anyone what has transpired, you are going to die.
“They gave me a razor blade to eat, they took my armpit hair, they removed my nails from my toes and my fingers.
“They removed the hair on my body, they tied it up and put it in this shrine, then they tear my body and told me that if I tell anyone, ‘you will just die’. When I saw the shrine, it was so big, I was so scared.”
The women tell their stories in research commissioned by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).
The main centres for sex trafficking are Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen, Dundee, Paisley, Stirling and Falkirk but it also touches small towns and villages.
So far Scotland has had just one successful prosecution – while there have been 150 in England and Wales.
Human rights lawyer Baroness Helena Kennedy, who headed the investigation, said:
As a criminal lawyer, I have heard and read many stories of women being beaten, abused and suffering psychological torment, so there is not much that shocks me.
“However, the evidence that we took from women not only shocked me, as it would any woman, but resolved me to ensure their voices, their experiences, their insights, were heard.
“These are stories of ordinary women – mothers, daughters and sisters – vulnerable due to poverty and discrimination, being deceived into Scotland and subjected to horrifying sexual violation.
“These violations occur across Scotland, and not only in our cities; the women and girls are exploited indoors, in private “sex” flats, not in shadowy back streets. They may seem fine and in control when in fact they are mentally shackled and controlled by traffickers.
“It is now up to us all to work together – across our families and communities, our villages, towns and cities, and in our politics – to identify and, together, rid Scotland of the modern slavery in our midst.
Kennedy published a report on Scotland’s failure to tackle trafficking last November – but this is the first time the voices of victims have been heard.
The research found women are trafficked from across the globe to Scotland but mainly from Nigeria, China and Brazil and many come via England.
But there is evidence that an increasing number are taken straight to Scotland. All of the victims had been vulnerable in their home countries.
Many had lost family, were fleeing poverty, abuse or tribal violence and had turned to trusted community “aunties and uncles”.
The women were mainly locked in flats and rooms, forced to have sex with up to 15 men a day, beaten and not allowed to use contraception.
Their passports were taken and they were told their families would be killed if they tried to leave. Even when the women became pregnant they still had to have sex with punters.
Women who were considered “new” were particularly popular in brothels.
Some even talk of their children being held with them. One woman was locked in a room with her daughter who had to listen to her mother being raped.
She said: “There was a room attached to my bedroom with a toilet and a shower. The trafficker said that I should look smart as it is money I have to make.
“When men came, the trafficker would unlock the door and take my daughter away.
“While I was with these men I could hear my daughter crying in the other room. It was terrible. When the men were finished they would use the bathroom and then leave.”
Women from Africa described their traffickers as powerful people within tribal communities who had connections with corrupt officials.
The EHRC report said: “These women report being controlled using oaths or juju magic.”
A 21-year-old described how she was forced to take alcohol and drugs so that she would be compliant.
Money was paid to a madam who forced her to work seven days a week and beat her if she failed to keep customers happy.
She said: “It was so painful, they were so rough, they didn’t care, they just wanted satisfaction.
“I saw more than 10 men a day and because I was new, everyone wanted to have me. People waited for me.
“When I finished with one they say go and have this liquid, wash up. My body was so painful.”
The ten women who gave their testimonies had all come through the Trafficking Awareness Raising Alliance (TARA), a Scotland-wide support service based in Glasgow.
The interviewees were aged 21 to 33, nine of them from Africa, including Somalia, Nigeria, Gambia, Uganda and Kenya, and one from South America. The women had all fled their traffickers.
A couple were helped to escape by regular customers but the men who intervened were the exception.
When one woman told a customer she had been trafficked he became more brutal, while another punter only helped a woman to escape so that he could use her for himself. He abandoned her when she fell pregnant.
One victim said she repeatedly told punters she was trafficked and needed help, yet only one assisted her.
The man, a regular trusted by the trafficker, took the girl to his house, gave her a little money and dropped her at the Scottish Refugee Council.
Another girl was freed when the police raided a brothel and one who had been captive for ten years was found unconscious by police and taken to hospital.
Many victims were told they were under constant surveillance but one Nigerian girl took a chance when her female trafficker went to London.
The victim said: “She said that I could not leave the house. She said that she had people watching me. All she would do was to call the house, if nobody answered then she would know.
“All of this time I was looking out the window. I was thinking to myself who could be watching me? Who would be watching if I just took a step outside? If I left the house? I was so scared. I cannot even remember leaving.”
The victim had been trafficked as a child to north-east England and was then moved to be sexually exploited in Glasgow.
In one account, a victim took a chance when, on her way to the toilet, she noticed the flat door was open.
“I was terrified the men had set a trap for me so I just went to the toilet. “When I came out I saw the door was still open. I was very scared but I took a chance and ran out.
“I came to the landing and saw three doors. The first two I tried were shut fast. I thought about returning to the flat but the third door opened. I went through this door and there were stairs. I ran down many flights of stairs. I ran out of the flats.”
The victim had been trafficked from Africa and was only prostituted in Scotland. She was trafficked by a trusted community member she turned to after witnessing the murder of her parents and grandparents by the police.
When she ran out of the flat she stopped a couple of female passers-by – the first refused to help but the second took her by bus to the Scottish Refugee Council.
Users’ Comments (57)
This is another major problem directly connected to the uncontrolled immigration we have in this country . We have major crime gangs based here from the Far East ,Eastern Europe , Russia etc,yet we are told that the multi cultural society is good for us . Tell that to the poor women in this story or the honest people who are effected by these crime gangs . Oh and not one politician will tell the people waht the cost of immigration is to this country . Not one as I have asked each party and not received one reply with any detail of cost.