A woman has revealed how she was kidnapped, tortured, and trafficked into the sex trade in Ireland.
'Anna,' whose real name was withheld to protect her identity, was a 20-year-old Romanian who had moved to London in 2010 to study nursing. On March 11, 2011, she was walking home around lunchtime when a man grabbed her from behind and pushed her into the back seat of a car.
A woman in the front seat took her bag while the man held her and slapped her. Anna recognized both of them. They shared a room in the same house she had moved into a few weeks earlier. Each of the rooms was rented individually and she had never spoken to the couple before. A man she didn't recognize was driving the car.
"Don't say a f*****g word. If you say anything I am going to kill your family. I know who you are," said the man who was holding her down.
Anna told the Sunday Independent: "They started to drive. They told me where my mother lived and where my father lived and that they would kill them. I was scared."
They drove her to Luton Airport, where, at the check-in desk, tickets were produced for a flight to Galway. Anna hoped to get away, but the man accompanying her would not leave her side.
The man handed Anna's ID to the flight attendant as they boarded the plane.
"She didn't think there was anything odd about that, me not handing it to her myself. I only wished she had noticed and started asking questions."
At the airport she was met by two Romanian pimps. Anna would later learn that these men had "bought" her for €20,000 ($27,000).
Slim and attractive, Anna had been identified as the perfect candidate to be trafficked. With no family living in London, she would be easy to smuggle out without anyone raising the alarm over her disappearance.
Anna was taken to a brothel madam in an apartment in Salthill, Co Galway.
"I told them: 'I am very hungry and I need to get out of here.' I was starting to cry. But they beat me and they said: 'You know what you have to do for food.'"
The madam began ripping her clothes.
"She put a knife through them. She left me on the floor, left me naked in front of the men.
"They were laughing. They said: 'You can't get out of here. We are watching you. Don't worry. In five minutes your boyfriend is going to come. You have to f**k him in order to get food for yourself. You have to f**k many other people to get food.'"
A few minutes later an Albanian man arrived.
"I didn't see her ask for money, but she came back with €200 ($270) and threw them [the pimps] the money. She grabbed me by the hand and by the hair and said: 'Move.' That guy was already naked in the room."
Anna was held down by the madam and punched in the back by the Albanian as she struggled to escape.
"What happened next you can imagine. I couldn't walk after that."
Afterwards, the madam whipped her with television cable as cold water from a shower rained down on Anna to reduce the swelling to keep her presentable for clients.
Soon Anna was seeing up to 20 men a day and was never allowed to leave the apartment. Clients paid between €70 ($95) and €500 ($675), depending on what service they wanted. The money was usually handed to the madam or one of the pimps.
Two months later, Anna and two other girls were taken to another brothel in an apartment building in the center of Belfast.
After five days it was shut down after a raid by the police, but none of the women was arrested.
Anna said some of the customers during those five days were police officers.
Afterwards, she was brought back to Galway. "I was so low and I tried to kill myself. But they found me and tortured me as punishment."
She became aware that the other trafficked girls in the brothel were watching her in return for drugs.
Anna decided to become more co-operative and her pimps allowed her to take calls from customers on the phone. "I tried to trick them and it worked."
She started to record customers' numbers and began memorising every detail she could about her captors.
Then in the middle of the Galway Races, police raided the apartment and Anna and three other women were arrested and charged with running a brothel. However, the pimps evaded arrest.
She says she didn't get the opportunity to tell police everything and felt she had no option but to plead guilty. She received a small fine.
"It was bloody hilarious because the pimps were out on the street waiting for us to be released."
From there they were shuffled around to Cork, then Limerick, followed by Dublin.
Anna said her clients in Dublin included business people, barristers and politicians.
"These people were proud of themselves. They would talk to me and tell me what they did for a living.
"I remember the politicians. I don't think I will say who they are. It is too risky for my life.
"I remember one who stood up in the bed. He had a big belly and was not very attractive."
"I became immune to all the pain and suffering. I just didn't care."
After Dublin, it was back to Belfast, where Anna found an opportunity to escape when a rival drug gang became embroiled in a turf war with her pimps.
She says that one of the gang member's paid £2,000 ($3,220) for Anna, but instead of demanding sex from her, he pumped her for information about the pimps' operation.
"They wanted to know how much money I was making for [the pimps]. They were trying to recruit me for their friend's other business. But I said: 'No.'
"They offered me help and said to call to the flat any time."
On November 12, 2011, the pimps had gone out and the madam was intoxicated from drinking and drugs. Anna decided to make a run for it.
"I just looked at her and I thought there is a time in your life when enough is enough.
"I told her if she dared to touch me one more time I was going to kill her. She threatened to kill me and my family, but I didn't care. I just left.
"I just ran. I went to the drug dealers. In less than five minutes I made a deal with them.
"They [the pimps] knew the people I knew were more dangerous than them.
"Two weeks later they threatened the pimps in their car until they were run out of here. It collapsed everything, all of their business here. It was a war between drug dealers and pimps."
Anna says she didn't immediately go to the police because she didn't trust them, but the following April she made a statement, providing the PSNI with information on the gang and a database of over 3,000 customer phone numbers.
Police had already been investigating the gang at that stage. One of the pimps was later arrested in Romania during an international police operation and is currently facing trafficking charges in another country. The madam also taken into custody and is facing serious charges.
Though she says the scars may never heal and she lives in constant fear from death threats, Anna says she is now trying to rebuild her life. She has returned to her studies and has formed a relationship with an Irishman.
She says her one wish is that lawmakers pass legislation criminalizing people who pay for sex.
These are the people who are creating the demand for trafficking, she says, and until they can face punishment the cycle of human trafficking will continue.
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