'I feel so terrible and disgraced'

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The Independent Online

Stef, A 21-year-old Nigerian mother, was lured to Britain with the promise of a place at a college in London as a route out of poverty. Instead she found herself trapped in a cycle of vice, imprisonment, abuse and the threat of violence to her family if she tried to break free.

Stef, A 21-year-old Nigerian mother, was lured to Britain with the promise of a place at a college in London as a route out of poverty. Instead she found herself trapped in a cycle of vice, imprisonment, abuse and the threat of violence to her family if she tried to break free.

Stef (not her real name) now lives at a "safe house" in the city. "When I was young my parents died and there was a friend of my mother's who came to me and said she would help me out in getting my education in the UK, which is why I followed her. She never put me into college. Instead she taught me about prostitution."

She was told by thefriend that she could only return if she raised £40,000 from working as a prostitute. "She insisted that that was what I was going to do and that I must do it and I must give her the money. I feel so terrible and disgraced," she says.

"I knew Aids, I knew HIV goes around, there were so many other diseases that I was scared of. But even with a condom I feel I'm not safe. She threatened me that if I don't work for the money she will kill my grandmother and my son ... She hit me anyway."

Stef escaped with £200, which she lost when she was mugged. She was befriended by a prostitute who said there was no other way to make money as she was in the country illegally; they worked in a south London brothel until it was raided by the police and she was arrested. She claimed asylum, which she won, arguing that her life could be in danger if she returned home.

She says: "There are so many women and girls out there who need our help. It's not that they are trying to make stories up or something. They do need our help so much."

Sandra Dickson, of the Poppy Project, who has counselled Stef, says her case is typical. "Some women have been raped repeatedly ... as a kind of breaking-in for prostitution. [We] don't have any women who haven't experienced sexual violence. [They have been] stabbed, burned, thrown out of cars, tortured or watched other women being tortured."

Nigel Morris

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