Finding a way to help trafficked women
It's in the UK's sex industry that Sister Ann Teresa has found her vocation. Having cared for prostitutes in the red light district of her home town of Southampton for more than seven years, the catholic nun became more and more alarmed by the growing number of women from abroad that had been forced into prostitution.
Rather than turn a blind eye, she started hiding them. First in changing locations, then in a number of secret ‘safe houses’.
Katarina found herself at one of these safe houses after police had liberated her during a raid. The nun still remembers the shy and frightened girl she welcomed that night.
“At first she wouldn’t let the staff out of her sight. She was terrified to sleep on her own, so she would bring her quilt down to the sitting room and she would sleep on the settee, with staff around her.”
The girl was severely traumatised by her ordeal. A study of 26 trafficked women reveals just how much she probably had to endure: Many gave accounts of the violence they had experienced - attacks with sticks, bottles and knives, burnt with cigarettes and thrown from moving cars. They suffered from gynaecological and psychological problems and had been infected with sexually transmitted diseases such as hepatitis C and syphilis. One of them, on Christmas Day, was forced to see 80 clients.
Many of these girls are being kept for years before they manage to escape or are liberated. “They’re brutalised and treated with incredible violence so they’re just completely traumatised when they come to us,” Sister Ann explains.
Her refuge is part of the charity she helped set up called the Medaille Trust. It provides unique, round-the-clock holistic care from trained staff who are specialised in treating victims of sex trafficking. There are five different houses at secret locations in the UK which cater for girl's rescued or escaped from forced prostitution.
The Medaille Trust offers these women a necessary ‘first-stage recovery’ as the Catholic nun describes it. It's the only institution in the UK looking after victims in such an all-embracing way: They receive medical, and psychological help, they get support in getting back on their own two-feet and into employment or education. Each house can cater for around six women.
But as the numbers of trafficked women swell, the charity is in desperate need for funding and support.