Originally posted by Elizabeth Day on January 18, 2015 for The Guardian—
“A few weeks ago, Megan Stephens got on a bus in a bustling city centre in the north of England. A man sat across the aisle from her. He was wearing sunglasses and had a moustache. For a horrible moment, she thought she recognised him.
“I just froze and missed my stop,” Megan says. “I was using my phone as a mirror to see if it was him. I was really paranoid.”
The man on the bus had exactly the same features as someone from her past. As a result of what that person did to Megan, I am not allowed to use her real name or describe where she lives. I can tell you that she is 25. Other than that, she has asked me not to mention any details which might undermine her anonymity.
Every one of Megan’s days is shaped by the fear that she will be discovered and that her true identity will be revealed. This is because 11 years ago, at the age of 14, Megan was trafficked into the sex industry.
According to the United Nations, she was one of an estimated 2.4 million people around the globe who are victims of human trafficking at any one time, 80% of whom are being exploited as sexual slaves. One woman can earn a trafficker between £500 and £1,000 a week and can be forced to have sex with multiple partners in a single day. Megan, however, claims she used to net her abusers a similar figure each day.
The man Megan saw fleetingly on the bus reminded her of one of her traffickers: “I felt more scared than I thought I would be,” she says. “I was on a bus full of people in the middle of the city and I was terrified. Absolutely terrified.” It wasn’t him.
Megan’s story is a horrifying one. It is a story of how a vulnerable teenage girl on holiday in Greece with her mother was trafficked into the sex industry and spent six years as a prostitute – in brothels, on the streets, in dingy hotel rooms – before finally making her escape from a life of relentless physical and sexual abuse. It is horrifying not only because of the sadistic violence she endured, but also because of how easily she seemed to slip into this spiral of depravity and how difficult she found it to get out.”
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