Anna came to London from Romania intending to study, but first, she needed to earn some money. She took temporary jobs – waitressing, cleaning, maths tutoring. Then one day in March 2011 she was snatched off the street, flown to Ireland and put through nine months of hell.
Anna was nearly home. There was just enough time to nip inside and eat lunch before leaving for her next cleaning job. She was wearing headphones and listening to Beyoncé singing I Was Here as she walked down the street in Wood Green, north London. She was just a few doors away.
She reached into her bag to pull out her keys when suddenly someone grabbed her by the neck from behind, covered her mouth, and dragged into the back of a dark red car.
There were three of them, two men and a woman. They were slapping her, punching her, and screaming threats in Romanian. Her ears were ringing. The woman in the passenger seat grabbed her bag and pulled the glasses from her face. If she didn’t do what they told her, they shouted, her family in Romania would be killed.
“I didn’t know what was happening or where they were taking me,” Anna says. “I was imagining everything – from organ harvesting or prostitution to being killed, to God knows what.”
The woman was going through her bag, looking in her wallet, scrolling through the recent calls and Facebook friends on her phone, looking at her papers. Her passport was there – she carried it everywhere after her previous one was stolen from her room.
Anna could see there was no point trying to escape from the car, but when they arrived at an airport and she was left alone with just one of the men, she began to wonder if this was her chance. Could she appeal to airport staff for help?
“It’s hard to scream when you feel so threatened,” she says.
“They had my papers, they knew where my mum was, they knew everything about me.”
It was a risk she couldn’t bring herself to take.
At the check-in desk, she was crying and her face was red, but the woman behind the counter didn’t seem to notice. When the man presented their passports, she just smiled and handed them boarding cards.
Trying to pretend they were a couple, he rushed Anna through security to the boarding gates and took seats right at the back of the plane. He told her not to move, not to scream and not to cry, or he would kill her.
Anna heard the captain announce that they were flying to an airport in Ireland – she’d never heard of it. Her face was wet with tears as she walked off the plane, but like the woman at the check-in desk, the air stewardess simply smiled.
This time Anna had decided that once in the airport she would run, but it turned out to be no bigger than a bus station and two more Romanian men were waiting for them.
READ ALSO 30 Richest Men In Nigeria 2017 [Updated]
The fat one reached out for her hand, smiled and said, “At least this one looks better.” It was then that she realized why she had been kidnapped.
“I knew, at that point, that I was going to be sold,” she says.
The men drove her to a dirty flat, upstairs, not far from a bookie. The car broke down on the way.
Inside, the blinds were closed and the air smelled of alcohol, cigarettes, and sweat.
Men smoked and looked at laptops in the living room. On the table more than a dozen mobile phones rang, buzzed and vibrated constantly, while girls wearing little or nothing came and went between rooms.
Anna’s clothes were ripped from her body by a woman wearing a red robe and flip-flops, assisted by some of the men. And from then on she was brutalized.
Pictures were taken of her in underwear in front of a red satin sheet pinned to the wall so that she could be advertised on the internet. She was given more names than she can remember – she was Natalia, Lara, Rachel, Ruby. She was 18, 19, and 20, from Latvia, Poland, or Hungary.
She was then forced to have sex with thousands of men. She didn’t see daylight for months. She was only allowed to sleep when there were no clients but they came round the clock – up to 20 of them per day. Some days there was no food, other days maybe a slice of bread or someone’s leftovers.
Deprived of food and sleep, and constantly abused, she lost weight fast and her brain stopped working properly.
Customers paid 80-100 euros for half an hour, or 160-200 euros for an hour. Some left Anna bleeding, or unable to stand, or in so much pain that she thought she must be close to death.
Others would ask her if she knew where she was if she’d been out to hear the traditional music in the pubs if she’d visited the local beauty spots.
But she says they knew that she and the other girls were held against their will.
“They knew that we were kept there,” she says. “They knew, but they didn’t care.”
It was obvious from the bruises which covered every inch of Anna’s body – fresh ones appearing every day where older ones were beginning to fade away – and it didn’t bother them.
She hated them all.