Banjit* has horrific first-hand experience of being controlled by a female trafficker. Arriving in the UK from Thailand in 2005 to support her impoverished family by working in a brothel, she says: “I knew I would be provided with food and accommodation in the UK, and would have to repay £27,000 to a Thai woman, but I was unsure as to how much that actually was.”
On her arrival in the UK, Banjit was introduced to Atchara Nualpenyai, who housed her in a flat in east London before taking away her passport to stop her running away. She then told Banjit that she would be able to pay off the debt within two to three months by providing “services” to buyers such as anal sex and sex without a condom.
Banjit was sent to work in brothels all over London and made to work seven days a week, even while menstruating. All her money went to Nualpenyai. Realising she would never be able to repay the debt, Banjit eventually ran away without her passport and turned to the police for help. They subsequently discovered that Nualpenyai had been exploiting a number of other women in brothels around London. In 2011 Nualpenyai was imprisoned for six and a half years for trafficking for sexual exploitation, and controlling prostitution.
The UK is considered fertile ground for traffickers. Police admit there is little scrutiny of the off-street sex industry, and that detecting the crime is difficult and costly. A report by the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), published in 2010, revealed that at the very minimum, 2,600 women were confirmed to have been trafficked into England and Wales and forced to work as prostitutes, and that an additional 9,200 women in brothels and other premises were considered to be “vulnerable migrants” who had possibly been trafficked. There are an estimated 5,890 brothels in England and Wales.
John O’Brien, Detective Sergeant at the Metropolitan Police Trafficking and Prostitution Unit, says that women often commit trafficking offences. “On many occasions the [perpetrators] have previously been sex workers themselves who have realised the financial gains that can be made from these criminal enterprises.”
The idea of victim turned perpetrator is backed up by the prevalence of women as sex traffickers suggested by a study by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, which revealed that women make up the largest proportion of such criminals in about a third of the countries that provided information on the gender of traffickers. “In some parts of the world, women trafficking women is the norm,” it said. There is also anecdotal evidence that increasing numbers of female traffickers are involved in the trafficking of the most vulnerable victims, the under 18s, as well as low-ranking activities that have a higher risk of detection by police.
One Albanian woman told me that the only way she could escape her own trafficker after five years in a London brothel was to agree to return home and bring back fresh victims. “I had to go to my town and tell the girls there that I knew from school that there were great opportunities in the UK for them, you know, as waitresses and even as dancers,” says Elda*. “They were poor and desperate like me, so they wanted to get away. I felt like I had stuck a knife in my own stomach, knowing what I was taking them to, but I could not stand one more day [in the brothel].”
Full article here.
There have always been women who act as low-level enforcers of patriarchy, that doesn’t stop this being a problem of male dominance (and male demand). As the account of the Albanian woman suggests, many female traffickers are doing the only thing they can to ameliorate their own abuse, and they are only one rung up the ladder from the women they are abusing. As the article goes on to say, women traffickers can lull their victims into a false sense of security, and the big (male) bosses know that.