1. On the first day of Christmas...
We have already spent several Christmases in hospital, including the Christmas after William’s first transplant in November 2008. Knowing what it is like to be away from home during this time of year, it was fantastic to be able to bring a bit of ‘Williams Wishes’ Christmas magic to some of the families who will be spending Christmas in Kings Hospital, under the care of the children’s intestinal transplant team. I managed to sort out all the hampers last night and had the first batch all sealed and ready to deliver which was a huge relief. My fab friend Hayley came with me which was fantastic. I could never have got them all over there and up to the ward on my own. We met some of the families who are going through all sorts of worries and challenges. I know a lot of how they are feeling and it felt amazing to be able to do something and see very real and heartfelt smiles on faces. I was asked how I manage to do this kind of thing along side all we are going though. Knowing that something good can come out of our own experiences and that we can use what we learn to help others makes the whole thing a positive. A good thing in some ways. So it keeps me positive and keeps me going.
It was a fantastic start to Christmas and set me up in a spirit I hope will continue though the month. The only downer of the day was that our Christmas tree was supposed to arrive today but is still marked as waiting to be dispatched so I hope that arrives soon so we can get the house festive.
2. A confession
I’m not a modern day superwoman
I pick up my broken iron around three times a year
the rest of the time hang clothes with the accuracy needed
to ensure they dry straight
On most Sunday’s we have pasta
With maybe a roast once a month
or…once every couple of months
If there is desert it will be a yogurt
or maybe ice-cream
I bought pudding rice a month ago with the very best intentions
The packet is still sealed at the back of the cupboard
I’m not a modern day superwoman
I send my son to school in odd socks most mornings
I forget tissues and wipes on day trips
Our tooth fairy has forgotten to come many times
But the biggest confession I feel I must make
Is that, today, I ordered a ‘shop Christmas cake’
3. Modern slavery
Tomorrow, The Global Freedom Network (GFN) will bring together faith leaders (including my Guru, Amma) forming a historic initiative to eradicate modern slavery by 2020 throughout our world and for all time.
They will sign the Joint Declaration of Religious Leaders against Modern Slavery to underline that modern slavery, in terms of human trafficking, forced labour and prostitution, organ trafficking, and any relationship that fails to respect the fundamental conviction that all people are equal and have the same freedom and dignity, is a crime against humanity, and must be recognised as such by everyone and by all nations.
Three years ago, I wrote this piece about human trafficking for Cosmopolitan Magazine. It tells the amazing story of an incredible and brave woman.
Each year, 4000 women are kidnapped and brought to the UK and forced to work as sex slaves and this figure is expected to increase steadily as we approach the 2012 London Olympics . So how do ordinary women end up trapped in such desperate circumstances? Survivor Oxana Kalemi, 35, bravely tells her story...
“I was out enjoying dinner with my boyfriend after a particularly busy week in the hairdressing salon I own and work in. As the waiter approached our table, I suddenly smelt the stench of cigarette smoke. Within seconds my mind was swimming and I was back there, in that London brothel, a sweating client reeking of stale aftershave and cigarettes bearing down on me...
Thankfully that part of my life – where I was forced to sleep with up to 13 men a night – is now behind me but that doesn’t stop flashbacks and nightmares from haunting my present.
Ten years ago I was living in a small town in the Ukraine. I had three small children; two boys, Sasha, who was nine and seven-year-old Pasha and a girl named Luda who was six. I had split up from their dad and was struggling to get by as a single mum. Our home was damp and draughty and the children and I often went hungry. I was desperate to give them a better future but no matter how hard I worked I was never able to save enough to buy us a decent house.
One day, my friend Marianna told me about this job in a casino in Bosnia where I could earn £500 a month – not a huge amount, but more than I’d ever earned before and certainly a big wage for someone in the Ukraine at that time. It would mean being apart from the children while I found somewhere to live and get settled but I didn’t feel I had any choice. This was my opportunity to make a better life for us – it was heartbreaking but I asked my sister-in-law if she’d look after them for me.
The day I left, I hugged the children hard and blinked back tears while promising to see them very soon. Then Marianna and I set off, travelling first by bus to the station where we would catch a train to Romania. But when we got there, Marianna said she had a problem with her passport.
“I’m not going to be able to go,” she said. “But you should.” She reassured me that her boyfriend would meet me at the other end and she’d catch me up as soon as she could.
After a lonely twelve hour journey, I arrived in Romania where I was met by Marianna’s boyfriend Leo. But instead of taking me to the casino, he took me to an apartment in a small town, which was owned by a woman named Olga.
I was quickly ushered into the flat and into a room and I instantly knew something wasn’t right. There was a stench of dirt in the air, the carpet was threadbare and there was just one stained bed in the middle of the room.
“I don’t understand. Why am I here? What about the casino?” I said, my mind starting to race.
“There is no casino,” Olga replied.
“But Marianna arranged it,” I said. “I gave her all my money, £200 for tickets – we’re going to work there together...”
“There /is/ no casino,” she repeated. “You’re mine now.”
My mind lurched as Olga explained that Marianna – my so-called friend – had ‘sold’ me to her. I was now her ‘property,’ a 21st century slave.
In disbelief, I scanned the room for a means of escape and suddenly noticed that every window was barred. We’d had to go through two sets of locked doors just to get in. I was trapped. I began to scream but no sound came out of my mouth.
That night, I lay awake all night, locked in the bedroom. Shock, despair, horror – I must have gone through every possible emotion. I was so far from my hometown, miles from my children – how had my life ended up here?
BOUGHT AND SOLD
Over the next few days, I realised that Olga’s home was a ‘halfway house’. Olga bought girls to sell on to traffickers who would put them to work as prostitutes across Europe. There were two other women with me in Olga’s flat, but we all spoke different languages and couldn’t communicate beyond expressions and gestures.
For the first few days I felt totally desperate – I was trapped and could see no way out. I even thought about killing myself but I knew I had to stay alive for my children’s sake.
After a week, Olga ‘sold’ me and for the next three months, I was bought and sold by various gangs across Eastern Europe. Along with other women, I’d be held in apartments and hotels and be forced into sex with the bodyguards who accompanied us wherever we went. The first time I was pushed into a bedroom and onto a mattress while a bodyguard stripped off his clothes. “Come on, quickly, undress,” He ordered. At first I tried to refuse but the response was simple: “You’re going to be a prostitute so you have to learn to do this with everyone.” Each time I changed hands, I’d hear the same chilling threat: “We have your passport and we know where your children are. We can’t kill you because we need you to make us money but we can kill them.”
I was terrified. I’d weep myself to sleep. Every day I would shower, scrubbing my skin as hard as I could but I knew I’d never been clean again.
I ended up in Albania, where I was bought by Ardy, a young man who became my pimp. Ardy was slim with blue eyes and a boyish hair cut. He looked no older than sixteen. Once again, he told me my children would be harmed if I escaped or failed to make him enough money. I knew they knew where my kids were so the only option was to play by his rules.
For 15 months, my existence – it wasn’t a life – took on an awful shape. After a long and painful shift of sleeping with men in bars or often in their cars, Ardy would insist that I had sex with him in the bed we shared every night. He kept all the money I earned, saying I owed it to him for my keep and to cover his own costs. I once tried to hide some of my tips in the hope of sending them home. When Ardy found out, he beat me.
After nearly a year working on streets and in bars, Ardy suddenly announced we were going to England where I would make him rich.
I made the journey from Brussels to England in the back of a lorry, hidden at the bottom of a container filled with hubcaps. It was horrendous. The journey took all day and I had no space to move and little air to breathe.
We arrived in Birmingham where I was immediately put to work in a brothel that masqueraded as a sauna. There were about ten other girls working there but unable to speak English, I was isolated and lonely. Ardy would never leave my side – throughout my 12-hour shifts, he’d wait outside in the car. The only time I got to cry was in the shower, where the running water masked the sound of my sobs and I could blame my red eyes on the soap. I was trapped in a world of pain with no means of escape. I still had nothing in return for my ‘work’, apart from the clothes and food Ardy bought for me.
After two months, we left for London. There, I would see up to 13 men a night in a massage parlour. I was often left exhausted and in agonising pain from so much sex, especially when the punters were rough with me, but Ardy would never allow me to rest. By then, I hadn’t seen my children for 15 months – I wasn’t allowed to call them and used to wonder how they’d changed.
My only friend at the massage parlour was the receptionist, a Turkish woman called Naz. She’d guessed I’d been trafficked and one day she asked me why I didn’t run away. I told her that Ardy had threatened to harm the children if I tried and her response stunned me: “They all say that. He’s lying to you.”
Suddenly anger bubbled up inside me. I’d experienced endless abuse, pain, even rape at the hands of the ‘clients’ he’d forced on me. Maybe she was right. They treated me as worthless – would they really hurt my children? With those few words, Naz suddenly made me think that escape just /might/ be possible.
I packed a bag and hid it in the wardrobe so that at my first opportunity, I could run. That chance came a few weeks later when Ardy went to the shop for milk. As usual, he locked me in the house but I took my chance, grabbed my bag and smashed the bathroom window. I jumped out, ran to the main street and hailed a taxi to take me to a massage parlour on the other side of London where Naz had arranged for me to hide. Adrenaline surged through my body, I’d never felt relief – or fear – like it.
I was offered work as a prostitute in the massage parlour but I refused and took a job on reception.
A few weeks after that, the parlour was raided by police. I was questioned and for the first time, my whole story came tumbling out. I told them all about Olga and all about Ardy and everything they had put me through. Despite what Ardy had said, everyone believed me. The next morning, one of the officers came back with a small blonde woman.
“Hello Oxana,” she said, “I’m Sally and I’m here to help you.” Sally had come from the POPPY project, a charity that helps women like me who have been trafficked into the UK. She took me to a safe house and showed me to the most beautiful little room I’d ever seen. It was decorate in warm purple colours and had a clean sink in the corner and a little wooden bed with fresh brand new sheets – such a contrast to the stark, empty, soulless rooms I had stayed in with Ardy.
I told Sally about my children and spent the next four years living in a POPPY safe house, learning English and preparing my case for asylum to stay in the UK. But the horror of what I’d been through still lingered. I would spend my nights sweating and shaking – the little sleep I had was dominated by nightmares and I would wake feeling ashamed and frightened.
By day, I tried to contact my children – but they were no longer with my sister-in-law. I was missing for so long that the Ukrainian authorities put the children in an orphanage and my beautiful daughter Luda is believed to have been illegally adopted by a couple from the US. It was absolutely devastating but I’m working hard to find her and I speak to my boys every single week.
Since making England my home, I’ve been to college, have my own hairdressing business and have met Steve, my boyfriend, who is kind and gentle and supports me in trying to get my family back together. My boys are young adults now. They have now left orphanage and have their own lives. I hope one day they will join me in the UK but they don’t want to at the moment.
Being trafficked into the sex trade very nearly killed me but having experienced the very worst kind of pain and the very worst kind of people, I’m proud to have come through the other side.
You can read more about Oxana’s life in her book Mummy Come Home (HarperElement, £6.99)
PEOPLE FOR SALE
Oxana’s story may be shocking, but it’s the tragic reality for thousands of individuals who are trafficked into the UK every year, whose stories often follow a similar pattern. A Government report in 2009 estimated that at least 5,000 people are trafficked into the UK annually but given the illicit, underground nature of this human slave trade, the real number is likely to be much higher.
And now, as we build up to the London Olympics, services and charities that help trafficked women are bracing themselves for a potential surge in trafficking.
Historically, large sporting events have seen a spike in this awful crime; trafficking in Athens almost doubled during the 2004 Olympics and off-street prostitution in Vancouver increased five-fold during the 2010 Winter Olympic Games.
Even now, with more than a year to go until the games, the growth signs are there, with prostitution in the area near the main London stadium sites doubling during 2010. The reason for the rise is simple: in the run up, there’s a sudden need for a large and cheap construction workforce and then the event itself brings tens of thousands of visitors, demanding cheap goods, hotels, restaurants and sadly, sex. Traffickers too see the event as an opportunity to trick vulnerable people into thinking there will be well-paid work waiting for them.
To combat this, the Metropolitan police and POPPY, an organisation that rescues women from trafficking and helps them access medical, emotional and legal support, are planning events to raise awareness – from warning taxi drivers about the sex trade through to educating hotel staff about the signs of trafficking.
Detective Chief Superintendent Richard Martin commands the Metropolitan Police Human Exploitation and Organised Crime Unit. He says: “We are ready should there be an increase in 2012 but we dedicate every day to preventing trafficking, bringing traffickers to justice and, above all, making sure that the victims of this appalling crime are supported.” The Met are also launching a poster campaign to raise public awareness and to provide a helpline number for women who have been trafficked into the UK. DCS Martin explains “We’ll be placing these hard hitting posters in saunas, massage parlours and supermarkets, where research has shown they are most likely to be seen by trafficking victims.”
But many believe that not enough is being done. POPPY’s funding is under threat and currently, the UK is one of only two EU member states that have not opted into a Europe-wide directive to prevent trafficking and support victims.
Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper said: “Despite saying tackling trafficking is a priority, ministers are weakening essential safeguards, leaving victims at greater risk ... That’s why the Government must do more to make the UK a hostile territory for traffickers. They should also use next year’s Olympic Games to make clear that buying sex from imprisoned women is not a sport.”
600,000-800,000 men, women and children are trafficked across international borders each year. Approximately 80% are women and girls.
POPPY provide the only safe-houses for trafficking victims in the UK. There are only 54 beds available for women. There are no specialised refuges for men or children.
In London alone, there are 8,000 women working in off-street prostitution. 80% of these are foreign nationals, many of whom may have been trafficked.
Paying for sex with a victim of trafficking is a criminal offence that can result in a prison sentence.
HOW CAN YOU HELP?
There are many things you can do to help women like Oxana
POPPY rely on donations from people like you. You can find out more about their work and how to donate or fundraise for them by visiting www.eaves4women.co.uk
Stop the Traffik is an international charity that campaigns to end human trafficking. Visit their website www.stopthetraffik.org for further information
If you suspect someone may be a victim of trafficking, you should call your local police or POPPY’s 24-hour helpline on 020 7735 2062. Always call 999 if someone is in immediate danger of any harm and don’t put yourself at risk by approaching a pimp or entering any form of brothel.