Woman kept as sex slave enjoying fresh start thanks to City Hearts

“That became my new way of living. I didn’t want the pain, so I just did whatever they wanted to stop them hurting me.  When they told me to go and shower, I would know what was going to happen. A man would be coming.”

A woman left traumatised from years of sexual slavery and domestic servitude, is enjoying a fresh start thanks to help from City Hearts.

Mary*, who lives in Manchester with her young daughter, came to the UK to study in 2005 from Malawi.

For a while, everything went well. Mary lived in student accommodation and enjoyed her studies. She made friends, and took on a part time job.

“I met one lady at college who was also from Malawi,” said Mary. “We became friends and she introduced me to her boyfriend and his friends. They said the student accommodation was charging too much, and that I should live with them. I was grateful.”

Mary’s new friends (one female and three males all from Malawi) disliked her meeting other friends and persuaded her they were bad people, slowly isolating her from her support network.

They then demanded she hand over her passport and documents in order to ‘help renew her visa’. The visa never materialised and the documents never returned.

Without her visa, Mary lost her job and college place, and was taken to Leicester by her friends to help her ‘avoid the authorities and stay in England.’

“That’s when they changed,’ said Mary. “These people whom I had trusted, cooked with, eaten with, turned on me. They beat me and only fed me their leftovers.”

Mary’s abusers found her work, but used fake bank accounts and IDs to divert her wages, so she never received a penny.

She was also forced into prostitution.

“One day a man came to the house and I was told to make him happy,” she said. “He was touching me, but I didn’t want that. I freaked out and bit him. I must have blacked out because the next thing I remember was waking up with no clothes on and marks on my body from flogging.

“That became my new way of living. I didn’t want the pain, so I just did whatever they wanted to stop them hurting me.  When they told me to go and shower, I would know what was going to happen. A man would be coming.”

In order to make more money from Mary, her captors took her to the bank to open fake accounts. But to her relief, she was stopped and arrested.

“I was so happy the police were coming,” she said.

But despite telling them her real name and drawing a map to where she was being held, they didn’t believe her.

“I was disappointed they let me go,” she said. “They thought I was an accomplice, that I was just a scum bag and faking the story.”

Mary was then taken to Kettering, where the abuse became so bad, she tried to take her own life.

“I was made to eat like a dog,” she said. “They washed my skin in disinfectant and made me drink things to get rid of pregnancies. I felt like there was no way out of it except dying.”

The suicide attempt failed, and the stress of the abuse took its toll on Mary’s body. She developed a serious skin condition which her captors worried they would catch. They took her to hospital, and it  was there that Mary made her escape.

“I was walking down a corridor, but when I looked back, the two men who were always with me, weren’t there. I started running.”

Mary travelled back to Manchester, but with no money, documents or friends, found herself sleeping rough at Piccadilly train station.

After four days, a Nigerian man asked if she was ok.

“I started crying,” said Mary. “I was just so exhausted and cold. He could have been anyone but I went with him.”

The man took her home to live with him and his daughters.

“I kept expecting them to beat me,” said Mary. “But they treated me like family.”

Mary began to recover, and after a few years was encouraged by her new family to try dating, and found love with a new man. But when the couple applied for a marriage licence, she was arrested.

“Apparently I was supposed to have answered bail for trying to open that bank account all those years earlier,” said Mary. “I had had no idea obviously.”

Mary was put in prison for six months, where she suffered with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and worried her abusers would find her again.

“My solicitor noticed I was always fidgeting,” said Mary. “And that I didn’t like people coming up behind me. I told her my story and she got in touch with the Home Office. They identified me as a victim of slavery and referred me to City Hearts.”

City Hearts helped Mary access medical care and counselling. They also accompanied her to outreach centres and encouraged her to study again.

“I wasn’t in a good place when I met City Hearts,” said Mary. “I was in pain. I was scared to have a relationship with them as I couldn’t believe they wanted to do good for me, but they gave me the confidence I didn’t have. I would have struggled without them.”

Mary found work with the Co-op through the City Heart and Co-op founded, Bright Future project, which helps survivors of modern slavery back into work.

“I’ve had a long dark story,” she said. “But one day I hope I can become a social worker so I can help other people.”

*Mary is a pseudonym