Britain is cracking down on human trafficking. In their latest drive to stop the crime, police say they are targeting gang leaders and their trade routes. Authorities say Britain is a main destination in the international human trafficking market and many victims get trapped in it with the promise of a good job. VOA's Mandy Clark reports from London.
Joanne is not her real name. She wants to remain anonymous. She says she thought that when she left the war in Rwanda, her life would get better. "It felt like a new chapter, a new life, a new beginning and I was desperate for that."
The man who smuggled her into Britain had other plans. Joanne recalls the events. "He forced himself on me, then he started bringing different people to gang rape (me). He'll be paid in the process."
Joanne says her entire family died in Rwanda and she did not have anyone to help her. "My first thought was to escape, but to where? I wanted to kill myself but didn't have the means to do that. I wish I had died with my family."
The Helen Bamber Foundation is an anti-trafficking organization that is helping Joanne come to terms with her trauma.
A video plays: "Elena used to cry. Maria doesn't feel anything anymore." To raise public awareness, the trust has come out with a powerful campaign featuring actress Emma Thompson.
British government research suggests that 4,000 women involved in the illegal sex trade may have been brought to the country for that purpose -- and the number may be twice that. Authorities call their new crackdown Pentameter Two and plan to surpass the results of a previous crackdown. That operation last year freed 84 women and teenage girls from brothels and massage parlors and led to 232 arrests.
Detective Chief Superintendent Nick Kinsella runs Britain's Human Trafficking Center. He says, "We need to make this, the U.K., a hostile environment for traffickers where, if they are involved in trafficking activity, it's a high-risk, low-profit crime."
Joanne says she was freed after 11 months because her health began to fail and she was no longer of use to her trafficker. She says he let her go, but gave her devastating news. "He said, 'I have HIV and I'm pretty sure I have infected you.' I went to a clinic and found out I was HIV positive which leads to AIDS and I totally lost my mind."
Sister Patricia Mulhall is a Roman Catholic nun who works with the United Nations in developing legislation to stop the trade in humans. "It's 21st century human slavery. A drug is sold -- it's gone. But a woman and a girl can be sold over and over and over again,'" she said.
Sister Mulhall says the message has to get to the men who pay for sex. "I think we have to tackle the situation head-on. Look at the demanders and challenge the social behavior."
She says if the demand stops, the trade could cease to exist, but Joanne says she is not hopeful. "It's happening, it's still happening and it's not going to end with me," Joanne said.