Northern Ireland

Smuggling debts lead Chinese migrants to rape and prostitution

'Fay', a Chinese victim of trafficking has broken a six-year silence to tell how she was imprisoned and repeatedly raped because of debts to a people-smuggling gang.

'Lynne', another Chinese sex worker, said the pressure of a £50,000 debt to people-smuggling gangs drove her to start sex work.

She works independently from her own terraced house in south Belfast.

Both women became involved in the sex trade due to their trafficking debts.

Their stories have emerged as part of an investigation for a BBC Radio Ulster and Radio Foyle documentary.

Fay was recognised as a victim of trafficking after being rescued from a brothel in Londonderry by police in 2009.

This is the first time she has spoken publicly about her time imprisoned in a brothel.

As a follower of the Falun Gong religion she says she was persecuted in China, so she fled to England with the help of the Snakehead, a gang of people traffickers.

She owed the gang £20,000 and they arranged childminding work for her in England so she could gradually pay them back.

The Snakehead gang then arranged new employer in Northern Ireland who said he needed a childminder.

Duped, then raped

When she arrived, she discovered there were no children. She saw other women in the house but wasn't allowed to talk to them. She now suspects they were sex workers.

She was kept in a locked room.

After some days she alleges she was raped by a policeman. She felt helpless, and unable to turn to the police for help.

The brothel was run by a woman called Rong Chen.

From then on, Fay says Chen threatened her, and made her have sex with customers.

She recalls being raped by about 10 more men over the following two months.

Chen was convicted of running five brothels in Northern Ireland, including the one in Derry in which Fay and three other women were found.

Image copyright PSNI
Image caption Rong Chen was sentenced to seven years

She was sentenced to seven years for trafficking and served three and a half. She is now fighting deportation proceedings.

No-one was ever convicted of raping Fay, and she is upset that she wasn't called to give evidence at the trial.

Fay no longer has family in China, and has lost touch with her only daughter.

"I don't have anybody there. Why should I go back?" she said.

Her permission to stay in the UK expires next year.

She still needs psychological support and said: "I feel like I've been in jail for six years."

Lynne arrived in the UK two years ago and worked in the kitchens of London's Chinese restaurants. She was paid between £3.50 and £6 per hour, less than the legal minimum wage.

When she spoke to BBC News NI, she said: "Most people from China are in debt when they come here. My loans were 400,000-500,000 RMB." (£40,000-£50,000)

After her student visa expired she became worried about frequent immigration enforcement raids carried out in London's Chinese restaurants.

Assaults

She had never considered sex work before arriving in London, but heard that it paid well. After a year of low paid jobs, she moved to Belfast and started selling sex.

She said: "Many Chinese women can't find work. So they do this work. It requires low skill level."

She said: "I earn £600-700 per week. My rent is £500 a month.

"I was on a student visa, and have been in the UK for almost two years. I overstayed. But I haven't had problems with the police. They leave me alone."

She has been assaulted by a client.

Migrant sex workers are prone to physical assaults and robberies because assailants know the victims cannot turn to the police for help.

She told the BBC she plans to work for a couple of years until her debts are paid, and then wants to return China, where her child is.

She says she has no regrets about coming to the UK.

Her sex work does not currently break any UK laws because she works alone and from home.

The full story can be heard in a BBC Radio Ulster documentary - Vice Girl or Victim - on Sunday at 12:30 GMT and on the iPlayer.

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