Adina's Story

‘Her bravery allowed other international sex trafficking survivors to be rescued.’

In September 2023, Azalea welcomed Becki to the Encompass frontline team as Anti International Sex Trafficking Officer.

Quickly, Becki learned that for women who are surviving sex trafficking, ‘regular working hours’ don’t exist. Currently, a time of peak demand for purchasing sex and committing acts of violence is between 5.30 am and 7.30 am. Therefore, Becki began an early morning outreach within days of joining Azalea.

Having phoned ahead to CCTV and the Police to inform them of the intended outreach session, Becki set out on foot, accompanied by two volunteers, to walk the streets of Luton Town Centre and High Town loaded with back-packs containing hot drinks, cakes, sweets, condoms, personal safety alarms and essential signposting literature produced by Azalea in collaboration with the Police and other statutory services.

Heartbreakingly, CCTV knows many of the women along the “beat” by name due to their consistent presence and vulnerable nature. Thankfully, this means that they will often let our outreach teams know who is being sexually exploited that night and where to find them. Collaboration with CCTV and the Police is essential to safely delivering our outreach work. 

Becki and the team met and talked with seven women that morning. Of those, three were from other countries, which is representative of the general increase in internationally trafficked women encountered by Azalea during Outreach.  

One of the women met by Becki was standing alone. As Becki approached her, she appeared to be frightened: as Becki explained, “She looked like she thought she was in trouble”. She introduced herself with her ‘working name’. We are now grateful to know her real name is ‘Adina’ (a pseudonym used throughout). 

Often, a way into the conversation is for us to offer a hot drink and a cake. Adina was visibly taken aback when Becki offered her something to eat and drink, as this clearly was not what she was expecting, and as they started chatting, it became evident that Adina was being sexually exploited.  

Becki didn’t have long to speak to Adina as she was conscious of the other women present at the same time subjecting her to exploitation- but Becki managed to tell Adina about Azalea and pass on one of the secret business cards carried by our frontline team (these cards give the women a name and a contact number, but don’t give details of Azalea – evidence that a woman has spoken to Azalea could put her at risk of violence from a perpetrator/pimp). 

Becki’s early morning outreach continued the following week (and every week since continuity is vital to the success of Encompass), and she met Adina again. Becki gave Adina details of our weekly Drop-in sessions, and Adina found the courage to come along.  

Trust was developing; Becki was determined to hold on to this fragile bond and invited Adina to meet her again that week. Miraculously, Adina came again and began to tell her story. It was at this point that she was confident enough to share her real name with us and accepted a phone loaded with £10 of credit and further literature. 

Becki saw Adina again at her next early morning outreach. Adina was reminded of Drop-in, and again, she came. She was reassured to find Becki there but she felt she couldn’t join in with the activities offered to guests – she felt that she needed to clean herself and asked for a shower. This is often the case with sexually exploited women; they want to scrub their skin clean of the abuse that they have experienced.  

With the encouragement of Becki and our dedicated volunteers, Adina stayed at Drop-in and received acceptance just as she was, without any need to change or become clean.  

Over time, Becki and the outreach team saw Adina intermittently. It was clear she was homeless and being exploited, as well as suffering from a drug addiction. 

Then, worryingly, three weeks passed with no sign of Adina. Women surviving sex trafficking rarely have the freedom to decide where and how to live. Adina was hiding in a small, sheltered area on a street near the Azalea Centre when Becki spotted her. She was with another woman who was about to light up a crack pipe. Men were loitering.  

Delighted to see Adina, Becki asked the men for some space and called over to her – “I‘m glad you are alive!” Adina was distressed that Becki was witnessing the drug-taking. She apologised.  

This is often the case with sex-trafficked women. The drugs are a necessary emotional and physical painkiller for them to be able to tolerate the incessant abuse. However, this is not the life that they want for themselves. They want to be free from their addictions.  

Becki was relieved when Adina made it to another 1-1 she had set up. Our warm and welcoming Drop-in space was somewhere Adina could confidently meet Becki safely. She explained that she had been living in a nearby town, staying with a ‘friend’: “it was warm” Adina said. Becki discovered that this ‘warmth’ came at a cost, and this ‘friend’ was far from someone who had Adina’s best interests at heart. Adina had chosen to come back to Luton and be homeless because this was preferable to the abuse she was experiencing with the ‘friend’.  

 Showing incredible courage, Adina decided to report her experience to the Police. Becki went with her. Adina told the police that she had been brought to Luton from Romania. She had been brought to a house to live with a ‘family’. She described the family and gave the names of two men and a woman. Her account was detailed, and it took the police several hours to record her statement. 

Adina had given evidence and, in doing so, had become even more vulnerable.  

The police were able to find a hotel for Adina for one night. Becki picked her up the following morning. Car journeys are a good time to talk – side by side, but not face to face. Adina was chatty despite the pain she was in from Class A drug withdrawal. She had more information and wanted to tell the Police. Back at the Police station with all her worldly goods (three small bags), Adina was seen by a Modern Day Slavery Officer.  

After the meeting, Becki pressed the Officer for a decision on how best to protect Adina. She explained that Adina was withdrawing (the women know this as “clucking”) and needed accommodation. The officer directed Becki to speak to the Homeless Unit at Luton Borough Council. Becki had already tried the Council – an international with no papers is not entitled to help with housing because they have no recourse to public funds. Adina was frightened: “Am I safe? Will you get my documents now?” 

The Police couldn’t help, but Becki wasn’t giving up on Adina now. She called the Salvation Army on behalf of Adina. She began to set up a referral through which the Salvation Army would help Adina apply to be recognised as a victim of human trafficking through the National Referral Mechanism. 

The harsh reality of Class A drug addiction is such that Adina couldn’t hold on for another meeting. She told Becki she urgently needed to go and earn £20. Becki had to let her go. This, again, is a difficult reality of working with sex trafficking survivors. They have to have coping mechanisms to suppress with their trauma and suffering, and drugs usually do the job for a short while. We remain non-judgmental as they battle their addictions alongside everything else.  

Later that week, Becki received a call from a Police Field Intelligence Officer who confirmed that he had picked up Adina’s case file, thanks to the information that Becki had submitted. He reported that officers were actively looking for Adina. Mercifully, Adina was found. Encouraged by the Police, she summoned the courage to give the information she had not initially felt able to provide, and she is now safely housed, out of the area, and being offered long-term support. 

Adina’s story does not end with her rescue. Her bravery enabled other international sex trafficking survivors to be rescued. The intelligence gathered through Adina’s disclosure enabled the Police to execute a warrant at the end of November 2023. To facilitate the execution of the warrant, Azalea (led by Becki) assisted with the setting up and running a reception centre. Whilst the traffickers would be taken to the station, the survivors of trafficking would be brought to the reception centre. The Police had secured space in a church for this purpose. Becki worked hard to try to make the space as welcoming as possible for any women (and possibly children) who might be rescued.   

Becki gathered Romanian bibles, Romanian treats, toiletries, backpacks and games for the women. She set up a craft table for children and ensured she had baby food, just in case. She worked on instinct – she had no idea how many survivors she might meet. Working alongside Becki were Sexual Health Services, the Police and other agencies. 

Adina continues to live out of the area in a safe place, supported by Justice and Care, the Police and Azalea, and other local services. Becki speaks to Adina regularly and is visiting her soon. Consistency is key to a relationship, regardless of where someone lives.  

Moving Forward 

As Adina moves on, so we at Azalea continue to move forward in partnership with the Police, Border Force and other crucial local stakeholders and funders. Becki worked hard to make the Reception Centre as welcoming as possible for the survivors of the November warrant. Now,  there is a ready-made, warm, safe and welcoming space available to survivors, as our mobile drop-in van is operational. Currently, we can only resource one worker to provide specialised care for survivors of international sex trafficking; we are urgently working to fund additional anti-sex trafficking workers. This will enable Azalea to care and support more for women like Adina.

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