The human cost of modern slavery

Streetlight received a 5,000 grant from Sussex Community Foundation
Streetlight received a 5,000 grant from Sussex Community Foundation

Sussex Community Foundation has two funds – the Nick and Gill Wills Fund and the Brenda Ford Fund - that specifically support charities and community groups in Sussex, supporting women who are vulnerable or at risk of abuse, exploitation or violence.

Horsham-based Streetlight is a frontline support service supporting those involved in prostitution and who are at risk of sexual exploitation and trafficking, including exit support and harm reduction advice. A £5,000 grant from Sussex Community Foundation helped to pay for six months’ of specialist administrative and managerial support.

Most women will enter the sex industry in times of financial vulnerability. This was the case with Martha (not her real name). “I thought I was coming to the UK to work in a restaurant or a nail bar to help pay of my husband’s gambling debts,” she says.

Martha became involved in sex work because she was not earning enough money working in a restaurant. Every day, the debt that was owed seemed to go up – she was told that she owed nearly £30,000. Her family, including her daughter, were being threatened with harm if she did not pay back the debt.

She reluctantly became a prostitute as she thought it might improve her economic situation so the debt would be paid quickly and she could return to her home country.

Martha told an outreach worker that sex work felt like ‘a deep dark hole I can’t climb out of’. When she was first seen by Streetlight UK, she was fearful, very scared and kept repeating: “Please don’t send me back,” and “They will kill me.”

Working alongside police officers, Streetlight UK was able to talk to Martha about her options and what she would like to do. She was clear that she wanted help to escape the people who were forcing her into prostitution. She was successfully referred to the National Referral Mechanism, the framework for identifying victims of human trafficking or modern slavery. Two suspects were charged with human trafficking and prostitution offences.

“The grant has enabled us to develop and expand our support service, particularly in the Crawley and Gatwick areas,” says Streetlight UK’s director, Helena Croft. “Our increased presence, working with Crawley and Gatwick police, has resulted in further collaboration with Safer Crawley Forum and its partners, with a trained and dedicated team of volunteers now able to accompany the police on live operations in brothels, hotels and suspected addresses where sexual exploitation may be taking place.”

Our next grants application deadline is Friday 4th May 2018. Visit www.sussexgiving.org.uk/apply for more information.