This post is written with a heavy heart. Despite all my efforts, the future of raTrust hangs in the balance. I feel Redbridge Council have betrayed me, put the charity at risk and let down the hundreds of vulnerable women it supports. Here is my story.
At the beginning of April I asked Redbridge Council if they could supply us with the amount condoms needed to protect the borough’s 758 sex workers. Six weeks later I received a call from a councillor and we arranged to meet.
I explained the gravity of the situation. The council had a record of 30 brothels in the area, yet this is woefully incorrect as we work with 115. He was shocked and he promised to help. He suggested I contact the Terrence Higgins Trust (THT) who could provide the condoms.
On May 18, I met with THT who offered raTrust 1,800 condoms every two months. While I was grateful, it is simply not enough to protect the women we support. So, that same day I went back to Redbridge Council to say we needed 45,000 condoms a month. To my delight Redbridge Council promised to supply us with 43,200 condoms a month, which was the shortfall we needed.
I was ecstatic. I thought this was a turning point for raTrust and the women it supports. Many are forced to sell sex against their will and are beaten and abused. At least these condoms might be able to prevent them from developing life-threatening conditions.
On May 27, I was invited to a meeting with Redbridge Council. I felt uncomfortable as I was being pushed to hand out C-Cards to women in brothels. C-Cards are carried by young people aged 13 to 24 as they give them access to 12 free condoms in pharmacies.
I explained that distributing C-Cards was a bad idea. Most of the sex workers are not allowed out of the brothel, let alone the freedom to visit a local pharmacy. Their pimps will not want to see them with these cards. The women would never tell me their real names anyway, so how they could be registered for a card? Nevertheless the councillor promised that if we did this, raTrust would receive 45,000 condoms per month. I was torn. I knew it was a bad idea but these women were desperate. Reluctantly, I agreed.
I picked the cards up early June. I was told that whenever I left a C-Card in a brothel, I would have to register that postcode with the council. Do this and the haul of life-saving condoms was ours.
On June 5, I visited the brothels, as I do every night, reaching out to the women who are ignored and rejected by society. I left cards in nine brothels. When I arrived at the 10th, I was attacked. I was stripped down to my underwear, punched in the face and beaten all over my body. I must have passed out as I came round to find four pimps with knives at my throat telling me that if I brought these cards again, the police would find me in pieces in a river. I was petrified.
It is not an understatement to say I thought I would die from the pain. I didn’t call the police because what could I say? I wasn’t going to ‘snitch’ on these pimps and risk being murdered. What would the police do anyway? They know about the problems in the area and yet I feel we at raTrust are the only ones that care. So, the next day, I started to input the postcodes, crying from grief and agony as I typed.
I then emailed the councillor to say my work was complete. One hour later he responded with: “Sorry but we are not in a position to help raTrust anymore.” Having got the addresses of the brothels, they didn’t need me any more. In one second my world had been destroyed.
I asked if I could meet him. When he saw me his jaw dropped. My face was swollen and purple and my body was black and blue. I told him that if he kept his promise to provide the condoms, I would say no more about the attack. But he didn’t. He and the council simply turned their backs on me, the raTrust and the women we help. So I decided to speak out.
My first call was to the local paper, The Ilford Recorder. The reporter was excited. He said they hadn’t had a story this good in years and that it would run on the front page. Yet after putting in one call to the council, it went quiet. For some reason my “brilliant story” was no longer attractive. I wonder why.
I’m writing this blog as I have no other outlet. I feel exploited by Redbridge Council and ignored by the press. For the sake of the raTrust and the women who so desperately need help, I refuse to go away.
Please share this with as many people as possible. Let Redbridge Council know how badly they have let us down as a charity and the vulnerable women in their area. I’m not sure what they have gained by duping me into handing them over postcodes of local brothels. Do they plan to help these women or are they going to ignore the problem on their doorstep? Do they not realise the risk they put me in? Do they care? I don’t think so: I’ve certainly had no apology. My scars will heal outwardly but inwardly, I don’t think I’ll ever be the same again.
Dominika Rejmer – Director and founder, The raTrust.