I was still pregnant with Juno when I got a call from my mum asking if had a breastpump. “Um, nope… she’ll be getting it straight from the tap” “Of course, you wally, it is for someone else”. Mum went on to explain that she needed it for a young woman in who had just given birth to her baby boy 13 weeks early. She was pumping with the hospital machine but wanted her own one- it would have made her only and first posession in a year. She had nothing but the clothes she was wearing and now a tiny, fragile new baby to call her own.
I tweeted about this, got an enormous response and by lunchtime Mum was able to deliver the pump.
Oksana had arrived alone at the West London hospital two days before, clearly in very early labour. Her baby was born and while Oksana sat in ICU with him, coaxing out from her and in to her boy the breastmilk that would save him, a Ukranian nurse coaxed from her her story.
Haltingly Oksana revealed that she had spent the last year as a sex slave in a London home. She had begun the journey here expecting to work hard, to save, to do what she needed to do to change the course of her life, from one of dire poverty to one of earning enough, acheiving and realising dreams. But not this. She wasn’t prepared to do this.
Her story is her own story but is starkingly similar to the stories of so many others. The stories of the 21 million modern day slaves across the world.
She was a victim, but felt like a criminal. Her captors took her papers and made sure she knew it was illegal to be here. She feared for her future if she stayed and feared for it if she left.
My mum works for the Salvation Army as the co-ordinator of their Anti-Human Trafficking work. Across the UK they have secret shelters and a network of volunteers driving rescued victims to new temporary homes and new lives. They work with the police and each week discover crowds of people trafficked to the UK, modern day slaves.
This is her on BBC Breakfast just this morning. Do I sometimes wish she didn’t work 12 hour days and had more time to babysit while we go out and stuff our faces with pizza? Yeah, maybe, every so often. But then I realise that most of all I am so proud of the way she pours out her life so that people can be free. It is a bit more important than 2 4 1 Wednesdays at Pizza Express.
Today is Anti Slavery Day and the Salvation Army is asking that people come to understand the signs of trafficking, as it happens for the most part right in front of our noses. If you begin to notice anything suspicious do call their hotline. It is also possibly to donate to support their anti-trafficking work. Read more about it all here. And read the two-part series my friend Mel Wiggins has written, it tackles the comlpexity of the issue and gives ideas about how we can impact some of these, things like labour and education.
That moment that Oksana was dropped off a street away from the hospital, bleeding on a kerb and crying in fear for her baby was also a moment filled with hope. It marked the beginning of two new lives.
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