Convicted as a “trafficker”

I’ve been a victim of sexual abuse and domestic violence and believe every woman should be protected. I come from a poor rural area of Brazil. At age 12, I was forced to work as a domestic servant to help support my family. I was repeatedly sexually assaulted by two sons in the family.

I came to Britain to marry, after many years the relationship broke down, and I became a sex worker to get an independent life for me and my children. The wellbeing of people around me has been the focus of my life. That is why I opened a place to work indoors where it’s safer. I saved to open a health club. I had all the health and safety checks, and a receptionist to make sure women who worked there would be safe. I had a few women who came from Brazil and other countries. All were over 25 years, had been working in prostitution and were in no way forced. But because I am a woman of colour, and from another country, I was targeted.

I was arrested in and convicted of trafficking. I pleaded guilty because the police threatened to charge my 18 year old daughter if I didn’t, and because my solicitor and barrister strongly recommended it.

The judge agreed I had treated the women “kindly”. He accepted “none of the women was coerced by you into acting as a prostitute . . . none was actually deceived as to the nature of the work they would be required to undertake . . .each had previously worked as a prostitute . . .. The police often frequented the premises and went out socially with women working there. The judge used this against me saying that it “undermined the public’s confidence in the police” as if I should be punished for the police’s behaviour.

I was put in prison for nearly three years and separated from my children, the youngest was only six at the time. Children at that age need their mother’s protection. I was terribly distressed, and my children were deeply affected. I was also prosecuted under the Proceeds of Crime Act. We lost everything – our home, savings, even personal gifts and belongings – which I’d worked so hard for. I’m 45, a single mother with two children to support, having to start again with nothing. Me, my family and friends were vilified by sensational and false reporting in the local press before trial. Any friends who tried to help me were either charged or threatened with charges by the police. My address was put in the local paper, and my daughter had to move home and could not attend college. Now the Home Office wanted to deport me. Legal Action for Women found me a good lawyer to try and stop the deportation. My British citizenship was revoked, yet I’d never committed a crime.

All I did was run a flat where women were able to work safely – why is that a criminal offence, did I deserve to spend three years in prison for that and to have my life and my family’s life ruined.

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