Zoe’s Story

Rescue is a process.

Zoe close up

Zoe was rescued from Sexual Exploitation in the UK

“The week before Christmas we received an extremely worrying report about a young Eastern European woman, ‘Zoé’, who was a suspected victim of human trafficking.

The intelligence we received indicated that she was being forced to work as a prostitute on the south coast of England. The information was so detailed we knew we had a window of opportunity, if we acted fast. Over the next few hours, we quickly carried out more research, checked our facts and became increasingly concerned about her. It was clear that she was part of a trafficking ring controlled by a number of incredibly dangerous criminals. We concluded that the situation was so serious it demanded an emergency response. We jumped in our vehicles and drove south but the weather was against us.

Night was falling, we’d been working for nine or ten hours already and to cap it all, it had begun to snow. We only see around 15 days of snow a year, so chaos ensued. Facing five hours on the road, we managed to keep just ahead of the storm, saving us precious time as we rushed onwards.

We arrived late that evening and made it to our first meeting with ‘Zoé’. It was clear that she was profoundly traumatised by her situation but was too terrified to admit that she was a victim. We often see this; girls so conditioned by their trafficker’s control that they’re too afraid to try and break free.

She was in psychological crisis. Her life was a living hell.

Despite the horrors she faced, she could not understand why anyone, especially a stranger, would want to help her escape. She’d been tricked into being trafficked by a friend and that terrible betrayal had devastated any faith she had in humanity. She now thought we were trying to traffick her and couldn’t see beyond her fear. She just refused to accept our help.

As a retired police hostage negotiator, I’m used to dealing with people in crisis, where lives are at risk. I carried out that role for 10 years in a large urban force and maintained a 100% success rate. My training helped me save all the people I had to deal with and no-one was ever left seriously hurt on my watch. This was a different story.

I stood and watched, utterly crushed, as she got into a taxi and drove off.

I was devastated, absolutely devastated, and couldn’t fight back the tears. She had come so close to being rescued but by turning away from our help, she was walking back into a life of misery. She would be raped and abused, night and day. It was the first time I had failed to talk someone around, the very first time. I felt helpless. I thought I had totally let her down but then at the same time I knew there was nothing else I could possibly have done for her.

It was one of the worst moments of my life.

A few days later I was spending Christmas with my family yet all the while under the surface I was in turmoil, picturing her taxi pulling away up the street. I knew that this fragile girl could have been spending Christmas safe and free from sexual exploitation but instead she was still in that brothel servicing clients. I was enraged that any human being could do this to an innocent, young girl. They left her believing that there was no alternative to the abuse.

We didn’t give up, we couldn’t. A few painful weeks later our team tracked her down again.

She still didn’t know if the rescue was real or not, but gradually, she was encouraged to come with us.”

More survivor stories:

Edward close up

Edward’s Story

Edward was beaten, degraded and made to work exhausting hours. One day, he watched helplessly as he was sold by one man to another man for £300. He knew he was a slave. People ask why don’t men like Edward run? The real question is why do they stay?

Empty hands close up

Magdalene’s Story

Magdalene and each of her children were kept under lock and key. She was delivered every day to a factory where she worked gruelling 12 hour shifts. Every penny of her wages was paid into her trafficker’s bank account. Despite going without food herself, she still couldn’t feed her children with the meagre amount she was given.