Deborah Finding knows well what it takes for women to get their lives back after being forced into the sex trade against their will. She is team leader of the POPPY Project, a government-financed organization in Great Britain that provides up to four weeks' support to trafficked women. She describes the basic facts and background on how the global sex trade works and the challenges in uprooting the networks of traffickers.
Could you tell me what the POPPY Project is?
The POPPY Project was set up in May of 2003 to help women who have been trafficked into the U.K. for prostitution. ... We give them a safe house to stay in in a secret location. We give them subsistence money, and bills and stuff are taken care of. We give them access to counseling. We help them with health appointments -- GPs, dentist, sexual health. We can help them get a solicitor, help them with their asylum claim if they are claiming asylum. Or if they want to go home, we can help them with that as well. And if they are giving evidence to the police, we can support them to do that. The project is able to house and support 25 women at any one time.
... When women first come to the project, it is like everything is a crisis; there are so many different things going on, and you have to start fixing them as soon as possible. The first few weeks is about the women feeling slightly more physically safe in terms of being able to open the curtains. We have had women on the scheme who have been frightened of somebody seeing them even if they are on a second-floor room in a residential location, which is a crazy level of fear, really.
Is there a legitimate danger that these women can be seen by traffickers?
It has definitely happened that traffickers have located women. It has to do with how big the traffickers' network is and how clever they are. Sometimes it has to do with the fact that trafficking has a lot of parallels with domestic violence, and sometimes the woman will go back to the trafficker and leave a number of times before she really left, because whatever the situation is, it might be that this is the only person that she knows in this country. She's got no idea if she is going from bad to worse, and if the trafficker has threatened her and her family; if she doesn't go back she might be too frightened to stay away, which is more common, I think.
[Where are most of the women you see in the project trafficked from?]
The lion's share of trafficked women who we get in the project are from Eastern Europe, from countries you would expect: Albania, Moldova, Ukraine, Romania, Lithuania. We also get a significant amount of women who have been trafficked from Africa.
What is the typical story of a woman who is trafficked? Or maybe there aren't any typical stories. What cases have you found most shocking?
What is quite common and what I find most shocking is how often the women's families are involved, or at least complicit in the trafficking. I think we had a woman who was sold by her alcoholic father. We had a woman who was brought into trafficking, into prostitution, by her older sister. We have heard of families where they haven't believed the [woman's] story, or the traffickers go back