Human trafficking in London: Leann's story
Nine years after escaping her traffickers, Leann still deals with trauma
For three years, Leann was forced to open up fake bank accounts and steal people's identities.
If she didn't comply, she'd be beaten.
If she got caught and arrested, her attackers were waiting for her when she got out of jail.
"It was nine years ago and I still hear a type of vehicle and the hair on my neck raises, my stomach starts churning, I feel like I will vomit," she said.
Even nine years after she escaped a home where she was beaten and raped for three days for a perceived theft, Leann is scared that the crimes she knows about could bring harm to her and her family.
- Human trafficking 'huge business' in London, police say
- London fight against sex trafficking gets funding boost
"I saw individuals who were sex trafficked, who were forced to do other horrendous crimes, because it was demanded of them. You don't get a voluntary out. You do what they tell you or you get a consequence. And if you get too many consequences, you become a liability and you don't come back."
Leann attended a conference about trauma and human trafficking, held for police officers, community partners and justice officials earlier this week in London.
She wasn't forced into the sex trade. Instead, her traffickers used her to perform illegal acts. She sometimes had to do jail time for the crimes.
From addiction to forced crimes
"It started when I had a significant injury, developed an addiction issue, and changed to stronger and more significant drugs," Leann said.
"I ended up owing a lot of money that there was no possible way to pay off. I was violently beaten multiple times until there was a submission and I told them I would do whatever they wanted.
"But because I was in a wheelchair and using a walker, I wasn't very attractive or capable of doing the sex industry stuff."
Instead, she would open bank accounts, assume identities and have multiple IDs.
The more money she made back, the more drugs were pushed on her, and the more her debt grew.
"I had multiple stints in jail, and the bill kept piling up. They'd always have someone waiting for me outside of jail to take me to do more."
The cycle continued for three years, until her traffickers thought she stole from them. She insisted she didn't, but they locked her in a room. She was sexually assaulted and beaten.
"On day three, someone left a door open and I escaped. A passerby saw me and offered me help and took me to a trauma centre," she said.
Because of her injuries, police were called. Although she'd dealt with officers before, other agencies were also brought in to speak to her.
"I knew that it was time. I was going to die if I didn't start doing something to start saving myself and trust someone somewhere. That was my out."
Trying to deal with the trauma
For three years afterwards, she got counselling. She still goes sometimes, triggered by a sound or a smell and the horror comes rushing back.
"You can't get clean, sober, and deal with your trauma in three months," she said. "People think of trafficking and trauma and they want to put a very square box on it, they want to blame someone, but they have to look at the situation as holistic. The trauma that comes from trafficking, it's a life-long trauma."
Leann wishes the services available for victims of trafficking were more robust. They're "inappropriate and inadequate," she said.
Police have started looking at trafficking survivors differently, she said, and conferences such as the one held this week in London are a good start.
"Police are stuck to a letter of the law mentality, it's either black or white," she said. "You're innocent or you're guilty. But instead, you have to look at the human element, the context. We're still at a crossroads, because the barriers to people getting out are significant. Having a criminal record holds people back for life."
Leann is now getting a degree from King's University.