Catholic safe house helps secure jail sentences for sex traffickers

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A Catholic safe house for women in London has helped to secure jail sentences for two sex traffickers. 

Caritas Bakhita House, which is owned by the Catholic Diocese of Westminster, enabled a victim of the two men to report their crimes to the police, leading to prison terms of 15 and 16 years.

The unnamed victim arrived in the U.K. from Romania in April 2019, believing that she would work in a factory. But she was trafficked and forced into prostitution. 

According to media reports, the 20-year-old was forced to work on the streets of London even after she became pregnant.

She was able to acquire a mobile phone, which she used to phone her family. They alerted the Romanian police, who then contacted their U.K. counterparts.

The young woman was rescued by the Metropolitan Police, which is responsible for law enforcement in the Greater London area, who took her to Caritas Bakhita House, which opened in 2015. 

She was seven months pregnant when she arrived at the safe house, which is run by Caritas Westminster and named after St. Josephine Bakhita, the patron saint of trafficking survivors. 

According to a July 31 post on Westminster diocese's website, Caritas Bakhita House offered the woman immediate medical support. She was registered with a midwife and the local doctor's surgery, and received medical checks and vaccinations.

Staff helped her to apply for a certificate giving her access to free medical treatment. She then underwent an eye test and received prescription glasses. The shelter, which relies on donations, also provided clothing and toiletries.

The woman attended English classes and budgeting lessons. She was also given a secondhand smartphone, which enabled her to stay in touch with her family in Romania. Throughout her stay, a Romanian-speaking volunteer at Caritas Bakhita House assisted the team. 

Working with the police and the International Justice Mission, a U.S.-based NGO, Caritas Bakhita House helped the woman to fulfill her wish to give birth to her baby back home in Romania. 

Police traveled with her to the Romanian embassy to collect a temporary travel document because she did not have a passport or ID card.

The International Justice Mission collected her from the airport in Romania, reunited her with her family, and is continuing to offer her care and support. 

On July 24, a judge at Woolwich Crown Court sentenced 19-year-old Ilcic Dumitru and his 24-year-old brother, Ioan Dumitru, to 15 and 16 years in jail respectively. 

Detective Inspector Grant Anderson, from the Metropolitan Police's Modern Slavery and Child Sexual Exploitation Unit, said: "This was an awful crime which subjected a vulnerable young woman to a hideous way of life. We know she will never forget her time in captivity but I can report she gave birth to a healthy baby boy."

"I hope she now has some closure after knowing these men will be behind bars for a long time."

"We are committed to bringing these offenders to justice and will continue to work with local and oversea partners to do this."

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Karen Anstiss, the service manager at Caritas Bakhita House, said: "This result shows that three different agencies with varying roles can work well together, putting the needs of the victim and her unborn child first, but also securing convictions against those who are fueled by their own greed." 

"Human traffickers have no conscience about the hurt and pain they inflict on others in order to bring about the money they crave."

The International Labor Organization estimates that 24.9 million people worldwide are trapped in forced labor, with 4.8 million suffering sexual exploitation. Women and girls account for 99% of victims in the commercial sex industry, according to the ILO. 

Since his election in 2013, Pope Francis has frequently denounced human trafficking. He encouraged the formation of the Santa Marta Group, an alliance of international police chiefs and bishops that aims to eradicate human trafficking and modern-day slavery. 

In 2019, the Vatican released an online guide seeking to combat the "ugly business" of human trafficking, which generates an estimated $150 billion a year.

This is not the first time that Caritas Bakhita House has helped to put offenders behind bars. The safe house has so far assisted the authorities in jailing traffickers for a combined total of more than 130 years.

Asked how Catholics could best support the shelter's work, Anstiss told CNA: "The obvious answer is funding as we receive no help from the government, but if people can raise awareness on any level to try and slow down this appalling crime that would be amazing."

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