Interview with JACINTA KENT

8 October 2010

Yesterday i interviewed one of the main members from LAST (Leeds anti sex trafficking). It was very insightful and i learn't a lot more from her that i ever could looking on the internet for resources. I left my questions vague in order to let Jacinta talk as much as she could about the campaign she is so passionate about. Below are the questions, it is a very long interview but well worth reading if you want to find out more about the sex trafficking trade in the UK and across the world. I will be using a lot of this information to generate my ideas and stimulate my project.

Question One:
How long has the charity /campaign been running?

Okay so first of all we aren't a charity we’re a campaign or a pressure group. Amnesty has a similar status. The reason for that is because you’re then tied into certain obligations if you have charitable status. So we’ve chosen not to go down that route at the moment. We started officially in the spring of 2009. But we’ve been working together as a core collective against trafficking for the last 5 years, prior to this we worked for a campaign called ‘The Truth isn’t sexy’. That was for the Yorkshire branch of a national campaign, and that came out of London. We kinda just rolled with it up here, whereas this is something we’ve created up here in the North. And aside from the work that we’ve done and specific campaigns we’ve kept an ongoing presence in the community through giving talks and workshops and being part of the community events.

Question Two:
What local support do you have? (police etc)

Its notoriously hard to get statistics for the amount of woman being trafficked, anywhere in the world and we seem to really struggle with that in the UK. there are no definitive statistics, people bat around with 1,000, up to 3/4,000 some people say 10,000 and its dubious as to where the sources are for a lot of these statistics. We have no real way of knowing other than to look at the referrals project such as ‘The Poppy Project’. In terms of working with partners in Leeds, we tend not to work with statutory agencies because we’re more part of the grass routes community/ campaigns /organisations so what we’ll do is work with other partner community groups in the area to raise awareness and raise funds. The objective of the organisation is to act as an auxiliary arm to existing charities and campaigns.

Question Three:
What can you tell me about what happens with Trafficking?

So the initial process happens in what we call the filter country, the country of origin. And thats where recruitment will take place. Recruitment can be done through a variety of different means, through deception, coercion, kidnapping. If its deception it could be that you young woman is told that she is being taken to another country to get a good job where she can send money back to her family, it may be that she’s going to a dancing job, it may be that she knows she’s going to do prostitution but she doesn’t realise she’s being trafficked. It could be anything. Kidnapping is obviously when they’ll just take the young woman and coercion again where there will be some sort of force involved, subtle force or violence. Sometimes the trafficker of the trafficking accomplice will pretend to be a boyfriend and groom the woman until she will do anything he says. Once those initial steps are taken it the moves onto the next stage or their journey, they’ll head towards the destination country. And sometimes between destination/ source countries they’ll stop in a transit country and sometimes this is for the trafficker to lay low for a little while or to forge some papers, or to change means of transportation. There’s a number of different reasons. They don’t always stop in a transit country. When they get to their destination country, say for example they’re coming from Lithuania to the UK, on arrival there could be a number of different ways they’re handled. So it could be that they are taken immediately to a brothel, where the madam or the owner of the brothel is waiting for them. It could be that they are taken immediately to a private residence such as a flat, house, apartment. It could be that they are taken to a slave auction, these aren't as common but they have happened, where especially virgins are auctioned off to the highest bidder. It could be a number of different ways that they are transported up and around the country to different establishments, to saunas, massage parlous etc. When they reach that establishment more often than not they are locked into a room or apartment and raped and beaten and the reason the traffickers will do this is to create a climate of fear and instability. They have to implement that immediately. So that the young women know that they can’t mess around with that person or they will be killed, and generally trying to enforce control, over the woman. Quite frequently threats are made on that woman's family. Now i keep referring to it as a woman, but men and children are trafficked as well but for the purposes of what we deal with within last its commercial sexual exploitation of women. So, yes they’ll make threats to the woman’s family back home they’ll threaten to tell the family what she’s involved in because she knows that would mean she would be ostracised by her community. There may be threats to kills the family, mame the family, cut off limbs put them in the post, all sorts of horrible things. And quite frequently that’s what will keep the woman there, either at that point of a while down the line the woman will think that actually her life isn’t worth it and she would rather kill herself, to stop what would happen to those that she loves. Quite frequently something called a debt bondage is created, the debt bondage is where the trafficker outlines a number of different payments that they have made on behalf of the woman, therefore the woman has to work X amount of hours/ days/weeks/ years in order to pay off that debt, and that debt is for the transport, passports, accommodation, all of these expensive things. So the riding it off under a payment scheme . Now occasionally the traffickers do release the women once they have paid of their debt, most often they don’t. Most often they will keep flogging them until the woman can literally not perform any more. Quite frequently they will need to sleep with somewhere between 10 and 40 clients a day, or perform sexual acts for that number. Obviously thats rape time and time and time again. So the woman is being constantly violated, physically abused and physiologically abused. For the main part women will transported to a variety of different locations in order to keep it underground. So if you can imagine being brought to this country, not being able to speak the language even if you did escape, what would you do? who would you talk to for help? where would you go? So there’s this constant disorientation, that these women experience. There is an estimated, and this is an estimate because statistics really aren't reliable in this field, 600 to 800 thousand people trafficked across international borders every year. And about 80% of those are women. However the UN estimated there’s about 2.4/ 2.5 million people trafficked every year, now thats internally as well. This includes men women and children. The statistics vary but what it does indicate is that the problem is huge. and it is the fastest growing criminal industry in the world. One trafficker can net at least £68,000 with one woman.

Question 4:
Do you know what happens to the women once they get old?

For the most part we only know the stories of the survivors. And what the survivors tell us about their experience, and the women they’ve met. Yes, women get killed. Yes, women escape. Some women will get put out to pasture, some women will change jobs within the criminal circle. Because of the way the women are treated, you’ll have heard of the term ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ quite frequently the women will become dependent on that way of life, whether thats because of drugs/ alcohol or because they are physiologically broken and can’t live without their trafficker. It could be that they don’t know any other way of life and they already know they are ostracised from their communities back home so there's no point them going back there and they aren't good for anything else. They may stop working as prostitutes and become part of the trafficking accomplice, there are a number of different ways in which the woman can come out of it, and not always alive.

Question 5:
What events do you have planned for the future?

We are putting on a film night in partnership with the Hyde Park picture house, so that’s on Tuesday the 26th of October, at 6.30pm I’m giving a talk and we’ll be answering questions that people might have and telling people how they can get involved in taking action. And we’re also working on an event thats gong to be a bigger version of the run that we are doing this weekend. In March where we hope to get hundreds of people involved in taking action in running for freedom. We are part of something called the Leeds Summit, which is a city wide/ regional forum and its pulled together by a variety of individual campaigners groups and a group called ‘Together for peace’. And i am one of the people on the advisory board. So we are looking at trying to create an event where people can come and find out all about the different sorts of issues that might interest them and trafficking will be one of those issues. So we’ll be part of that in some capacity but thats not going to be until next year, autumn 2011. But once we’ve finished these events we will be looking at who we can work with next because we tend to work with a different organisations every quarter, so we’ve worked with ‘Poppy project’ and we’ve just finished with  the cultural campaign for Leeds women's aid, and that was about getting free tickets and passes for the women in their project, so that they could experience a most positive side of Leeds so they didn't just have to sit in their flats and have counseling and be depressed. So we got The Carriage Works and Upper North, Lush and The Hyde Park Picture House to give a years worth of tickets. Now we’ll be thinking about who else to work with this quarter.

Question 6:
And lastly what about you? Why did you get involved in all of this? Generally.

I left home when i was 16, and i didn’t believe at that point in institutionalized education. But really i just didn’t want to go to school! But i did want to do something good, and i was a very angry young person and a very inarticulate young person as well. And i used to get into a lot of arguments with people, and not really be able to hold my own, and the more arguments i got into the more i realised i just wanted to be shit hot about everything that i was passionate about. At the time that was surrounding things like race and race awareness. So what I did was just read loads and i went to a lot of events and i spoke to people who were in various different organisations and campaigns and charities. Slowly over time i began to realise that actually the only way we can ever do any good in this world is to be first become conscious of what is bad in this world and to empower ourselves to take action against it. You have to look for the gaps within the campaigns you have to look for the need within the issue. For someone to take action, and I started to think about how i would be a part of change. And this got me thinking a lot about how young people today take action and quite frequently that involves them going on a gap year and flying off to some exotic place in the world and maybe building a well for some little brown people. And whilst i think its really admirable that people are taking action and doing something good and positive, I think it has to be looked at in a lot more depth than that. You have to think about how useful is this action, is it me thats needed to take this action? Could somebody else do it, maybe somebody in that country that was given the resources. Could i be a part of something in my country thats actually raising funds for those resources. It’s a less glamourous path, but it’s ultimately much more productive and useful. And so that got me really thinking about ‘ The global Justice movement’, there was a big summit in Seattle maybe in the late 1990s, and basically groups came from all over the world, big charities and campaigners to small individual campaigns, to say to the G8 summit and protest against these rich countries and how they were giving out the worlds resources were doling out the worlds policies but weren't really taking in the majority world when making any of these decisions. And so people began to say that this wasn’t a very productive way of taking action so why dont we take it back down to the grass roots. Why dont we bring it back down to local communities. People feeling like they can actually be a part of change and not feeling like they are totally overwhelmed by everything thats going on in the world. And from there snowballed a number of different summits in other places where people started to see that actually they could do something with their skills and it might not be the obvious things but it could be something that would help create a slightly fairer world. I campaign on a number of different issues, it could be climate change, trade policies, trade aid and debt, race awareness, the situation in palestine and israel, these are the main areas i focus on because they are all inextricably linked and when you start to look at one you being to see how its linked into the other. And this got me thinking about how i could best do this, without being a very western type of colonial activist. Without me going to another country and saying Oh i know what you need, let me do it for you. But instead looking what they need from here and campaigning for the root cause. So for example, they need a well. Why do they need a well? Maybe because their water has been privatized by a big corporation and as a British person i probably have a lot more clout contacting these corporations and rallying campaigns so why dont we do a campaign against that corporation. Rather than go build a well that will help a few people.
But at the same time i do see the sense in immediate action relief for immediate dangers such as the earthquakes, there is a definite need for people to go out and take action but when we’re talking about long term sustainability thats when you need to think a lot. And the one thing i would always say to somebody is question everything, even if you think its coming from a source you can trust because everyone has their own opinion on progress and they have their own agenda and it might not be in tandem with yours. And it might not be reflective of actual progress, and actual change it might be a short term measure. Or it might be one persons definition of moving forward. We shouldn't be helping people we should be supporting people, you know we are not their saviors and no more intelligent than them and its just the way the world has worked out because of where we are.