Survivor of modern day slavery recalls moment she realised she was being trafficked
| Last updated
**Warning: Reference to and descriptions of child trafficking, sexual assault, rape, baby loss and attempted suicide.**
Jameela* is one of 4.8 million people worldwide forced into sexual exploitation - 21 percent of whom are children, according to Stop The Traffick, a coalition campaigning to bring an end to human trafficking worldwide.
She was nine years old when a family member took her from Nigeria to a city in Italy to 'further her education'.
"As a child, it's everyone's dream to go abroad from Nigeria," Jameela tells Tyla. "[...] When she told me that, I was happy, because I thought it would change my life."
Travelling with her aunt, the nine-year-old used a passport which featured her photograph, but not her actual name.
At the time, Jameela questioned this, but 'got beaten because [she] asked a question'.
"You're not meant to ask questions, you're just meant to do what you're told."
After arriving in Italy, her aunt took her to a hotel where it was clear people 'knew' her already.
"As soon as we get there, they speak Italian and give us our key. The hotel looks like she's used that place constantly," Jameela says.
Settling into the hotel room, Jameela saw 'different people' come in to pick up other girls sitting in the room with her.
"They come with big suitcases of money, they give it to my aunt and then the guys will sometimes go with two or three girls," she says.
"Later, I was watching cartoons on TV and I heard [her] and two men arguing about money. She was telling them she paid a good amount and they were telling her this is a large trip - meaning there's a lot of girls. They were telling her, 'You even got one that is a minor which you're going to get a lot of money for'.
"Innocent me, I didn't understand or realise what I was about to experience in my life."
Jameela then travelled with her aunt to another city, which is when her aunt told her why she was really there.
"It was really hard for me to swallow. I was crying, I was shouting, 'Why?' Why would she do that kind of thing to me?
"I was asking, 'I'm so young, I'm just a child. What person wants to do that kind of thing to a child?'"
Jameela's aunt told her: "That's none of your business. I've already [been] paid for the first person."
Indeed, the first person had already arrived at the house where Jameela was staying, and that's when she realised 'what was actually going to happen'.
At the age of nine, Jameela was drugged - 'for the person to do whatever they wanted to do' - and when she woke up, that's when she started to 'question [her aunt] again'.
"She beats me because she wants me to keep quiet. [...] She put loud music on and then beat me. I was just really tired. I couldn't scream or shout anymore.
"I just have to keep quiet."
A few days later, someone came to the house with new clothes for Jameela.
"They had to do something to make me look more matured," she explained.
Jameela was also informed by her aunt she had a $50,000 (£40,000) debt to pay off. The money was stated to her in US dollars as opposed to Euros - Jameela believes this was done to confuse her and the other girls and leave them unable to tell if her aunt was lying about how much they earned each day.
"We just have to accept whatever they say."
Jameela and the other girls she was with had bodyguards watching over them to help ensure they didn't step out of line.
"Sometimes they stretched themselves so their clothes or t-shirts rose so you could see a gun or knife," Jameela explained. "It's a way of telling you: if you try to run, before you move we're going to shoot you or stab you."
Jameela's aunt later sent her to Spain, where Jameela was able to move around more freely without a bodyguard, and where she also made a friend - the daughter of a woman who did her hair.
When her friend's mum found out Jameela was being moved to London in 2002, she decided to help.
"She asked me if I loved my friend [...] and I say, 'Yes, I love her very much'. She says, 'Okay, if you're her friend, you can't tell anyone. Because if you tell anyone, your friend's going to die, I'm going to die or you're going to die.'"
The hairdresser knew someone living in London and gave Jameela a phone number, which the young girl wrapped in tissue paper and cling film before concealing inside herself.
When Jameela arrived at London's King's Cross Station, her aunt paused on the phone for a minute.
Seeing her opportunity, Jameela dropped her heavy backpack and started to run. She ran for '45 minutes straight', as fast and far as she could.
Penniless, Jameela was forced to beg on the streets for money to pay for a phone booth to get in touch with her hairdresser's friend.
When she arrived, the woman 'got really mad,' telling Jameela she didn't want to be involved in trafficking or risk her family back home being killed, leading to Jameela being thrown outside, left 'crying and begging like a dog'.
Thankfully, the woman changed her mind and let Jameela back in but made her promise to 'keep quiet' and never 'talk about [her] journey to anyone'.
"I said, 'I promise I will do whatever she told me to do.'"
The woman helped Jameela enrol at college, where she studied beauty therapy, found herself a boyfriend and 'established' herself.
But shortly after, the woman she was staying with ended up being deported after authorities allegedly raided her workplace and discovered she didn't have any documents.
"I got really depressed," Jameela said of that time. "I tried suicide a couple of times. [...] I felt alone at that time and I really wanted to talk to someone about what happened, because I had so many questions in my head.
"But there was no one to trust because one thing the traffickers had us believe is if we run, they have people in the police [...] that work with them. [...] So because of that we don't really trust the authorities.
"The only person who truly knew me and how I got to the UK, she just got deported."
Jameela ended up falling pregnant, but the baby sadly passed away.
"There was a bit of a complication, which I knew might happen, because while I was in Europe, anytime we got pregnant, we didn't go to hospitals. [My aunt] had to do the abortion. [...] She'd give us this medication..."
Jameela got pregnant again and gave birth, but the baby faced similar complications and sadly passed away after six weeks. She lost another baby the time after that too.
Sometimes GPs would question the scars on her legs and ring her after appointments asking questions about her past, but out of fear of social services being called, Jameela would take her SIM card out, break it and change her number.
"I can't count how many numbers I changed."
Jameela - who is one in three women globally who experience gender-based violence - only felt able to open up to her doctor in 2015.
"It's really strange because since I was nine I've always had to fight for myself, no one has ever asked to look out for me."
She was given a case worker through the Red Cross, it was through them that Jameela learned what happened to her is called child trafficking.
In 2016, Jameela discovered the social enterprise business Luminary Bakery and was given a help worker there who got her onto the six-month Employability Training Programme and Progression Support Programme.
The course initially daunted Jameela, who'd left school at the age of nine and was now 'zooming to university'.
However, after staying in to study during break times and with support from her teacher and others at Luminary, Jameela not only completed the course, but began thinking about starting her own business.
Luminary has given Jameela 'peace' and she sees it as her home.
"It's like I have this spiritual connection there back to my roots. Even after the programme, there's always help. And if you leave, if they can't meet your needs, they'll look for another charity that can help."
Since leaving the programme, Jameela successfully launched her own cake and coffee shop in 2017 and teaches the Women's Masterclass at Luminary, as well as free online classes for refugees. Despite previous complications during pregnancy and giving birth, she has also gone on to have her own family.
When I asked Jameela what she'd tell someone who's gone through similar experiences to her, she said: "I would ask them to have belief in yourself, a lot of courage, a lot of self-praise.
"What I always say to my children is, 'Whatever it is in life don't give up. Even if you have to fall down 100 times just to get to your destination, just to prove your point, don't give up'.
"Even if what happened in the past didn't happen to me, life can still test me in other ways. [...] Life can keep coming at you, but you - as a woman - we just have to keep telling life, 'Hell yeah, I'm going nowhere, so if you come at me 100 times, I'm going to be strong'.
"[...] I think all good things do take time. So don't give up on yourself. Remember at the end of all journey there's a light. So keep aiming for the light."
*Names changed for the purpose of the article.
For more information on Luminary Bakery's women's programme please visit: www.luminarybakery.com
If you’ve been affected by any of these issues and want to speak to someone in confidence regarding the welfare of a child, contact the NSPCC on 0808 800 5000, 8am–10pm Monday to Friday, 9am–6pm weekends. If you are a child seeking advice and support, call Childline for free on 0800 1111
If you have been affected by any of the issues in this article and wish to speak to someone in confidence, contact The Survivor’s Trust for free on 08088 010 818, or through their website thesurvivorstrust.org