Slavery safe house praised

28 September 2018

CARITAS Bakhita House, a Roman Catholic charitable safe house for female victims of modern slavery, has been praised in an independent review for its “homely feel”, specialist rehabilitation programme, and committed staff.

The review was conducted between March and June by the Study of Modern Slavery at St Mary’s University, Twickenham, in west London.

The house, which is owned by the RC diocese of Westminster, offers emergency support and accommodation for women who have been victims of human trafficking, slavery, and exploitation. It is run by the RC charity the Santa Marta Group, in partnership with the Metropolitan Police and other agencies in the UK.

The house (CBH) opened in June 2015, in London, and has eight full-time and six part-time members of staff, plus 58 volunteers. It provides physical- and mental-health checks; emotional support; access to pro-bono legal professionals; education, work, or training; support for applications for documentation; and a weekly allowance of £40 with which guests are expected to contribute to the running of the house.

To be eligible for this support, individuals must be female, adult, and a victim (or suspected victim) of modern slavery or human trafficking into or within the UK.

In three years, the house has supported 86 women, 76 of whom have since moved on. Of all guests, 41 per cent were in their twenties, five per cent in their teens, and 33 per cent in their thirties or forties. The youngest guest was 17, and the oldest was 68. Half of the women had been prostituted: 28 per cent had been forced into domestic servitude.

Most of the women (42 per cent; 36 women) were taken directly to the house by the police from brothels or other situations of exploitation. The rest were referred from other NGOs, the NHS, social services, solicitors, or the Home Office, or came forward through other RC organisations.

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More than one quarter (28 per cent) moved into National Asylum Support Service accommodation; 21 per cent reconnected with their area of origin; and 20 per cent took up a social or private-housing tenancy. Two moved into a permanent care home or hospital.

The women came from 32 countries, including the UK. The top five countries were Romania (18), Albania (12), Nigeria (8), Vietnam (6), and Ethiopia (4). Almost half of the guests (40) were from Eastern European countries.

The review interviewed 50 guests as well as staff and volunteers. It reported positive relationships between guests and staff, as well as the police and other bodies. A former guest told the review: “I needed everything when I came here, because I did not have anything; I was alone.”

Activities offered at the house include English, Maths, games, gardening, dancing, reflexology, and dog-walking. One staff member said: “The relaxed environment helps no end, but also the positive results that we have had, which the staff here can pass on and use to encourage somebody to speak. If they don’t want to at the start, that’s absolutely fine. There is no pressure from us.”

Access to therapists for guests, and training opportunities for staff, could, however, be improved, the review says. “Staff were grateful for the training opportunities they had had at CBH, but were keen to access further training, because they wanted to continue to develop their professional knowledge in relation to trafficking and associated topics.”

It recommends establishing an in-house counselling service. “Staff also identified that accessing therapists who were culturally competent and had experience of working with trafficking and modern slavery survivors was difficult.”

The review concludes: “It would be misleading to suggest that this is easy work, or that guests do not suffer many setbacks along the way, because they do. Recovering from trauma is never simple. . . The support offered at CBH is powerful and gives women space to transform their lives and develop new identities that are not connected to their trafficking or other negative life experiences.

“The police reap significant benefits from the expertise of the staff, the high quality of the service and its ability to respond quickly to their needs, the interview facilities on-site, and support provided to victims. It is the view of the evaluators that this aspect of the work of CBH is truly distinctive, and should be commended.”

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