Women Helping Other Women - How a young charity is dedicated to change how we see and engage with women survivors of human trafficking and modern slavery

18th of October was established by the Anti-Slavery Day Act as a day that provides an opportunity to raise awareness of human trafficking and modern slavery, and encourage government, local authorities, companies, charities, and individuals to do what they can to address the problem. 

 

To raise awareness about this topic and to help raising the profile of this global and horrendous phenomenon, we met with the staff member of The Sophie Hayes Foundation in London and Birmingham to better understand this issue and what we can do to help. This unique foundation has been growing and expanding, opening a second location in Birmingham last year. 

Founded in 2011 by Sophie, a British girl trafficked to Italy for sexual exploitation, The Sophie Hayes Foundation is the only organization in the United Kingdom, focused solely on helping women survivors of human trafficking towards employability. 

 

Our mission is to ensure that all women survivors achieve complete and sustainable freedom, through independence that can only come with the ability to live and work without fear. 

 

“I know that love is not shown by forcing me to work on the streets, beating me up, force-feeding me and turning me into someone with no mind of my own.” 

 

Sophie Hayes - author of Trafficked and founder of The Sophie Hayes Foundation 

From September 2018 to September 2019, I had the honour to work as part of the Research and Expansion Team at the Sophie Hayes Hayes Foundation (SHF). My motivation was to understand the global problem of human trafficking in greater depth.

I sat down with the SHF teams across its two offices. This is as I desired to understand what drove them to dedicate their time as well as life to helping women survivors of human trafficking and modern slavery around England. This unique foundation is primary based in London, however as a result of it growing and expanding it managed to successfully open an office in a second location, namely in Birmingham.

Ruby – SHF Fundraiser Manger.

Ruby has a very strong background in Sociology, she completed an MA in this subject area at the University of Glasgow in 2003. Ruby’s career in the charity sector has focused on issues related to gender-based violence and migration, which has led her to work for this foundation. ‘For as long as I can remember’ she says ‘I have identified as a feminist, and I have always been interested in hearing women’s stories and discussing identify politics’.

Hence her willingness to work at SHF arises from the belief that ‘all women should have the opportunity to lead financially independent lives and to live free from exploitation. There is a pressing need to support survivors of trafficking in the UK, and employment is a fundamental component which helps survivors to integrate into their new communities’.

Joe and Eleonor – Workshops Coordinator

Ruby’s passion is shared also by Joe and Eleonor, the Workshops Coordinators respectively for London and South, and the Midlands. Joe told me that: ‘I work with SHF because I have seen time and time again that women who have become empowered with employability have a better chance at sustaining independence and freedom’. Eleonor explained to me that: ‘SHF specially designed for enhancing and upskilling the women that join the program so that the world can see just how talented and gifted they are!’

Sakira and Juliet - Employability Coordinators

We spoke also with Sakira and Juliet, Employability Coordinator respectively for London and South, and the Midlands. Their role is to supports participants to gain skills and experiences to expand their CV profile and skillset.

Sakira does not lie about the fact that there are challenges: ‘And no, it’s not all rose-tinted horizons; however, I always say that it is so hard to truly express the small changes that you witness in our participants throughout the program. Their journeys and the work we do continues to simultaneously anger, motivate, inspire and energize me in this cause’. But they both emphasize that at SHF they had the chance to design workshops and to work alongside individuals towards their own distinctive interests and purpose. Sakira adds: ‘Our female participants are the heroes of our story, of independence and empowerment’.

Red - CEO

We were incredibly lucky to talk to also meet Red, CEO of the Sophie Hayes Foundation. Starting her career as an Art Director in the UK advertising industry, Red transitioned to the NGO sector in disaster services for the American Red Cross. Her third-sector journey continued across food, poverty & educational inequalities for marginalized groups, social integration for those with intellectual disabilities and tackling the crisis of unaccompanied minors housed in European refugee camps.

Red’s willingness to work with women survivors of human trafficking and, specifically, for the SHF is based on the belief that ‘without employability and financial independence, women can never be truly free’. Red continues to fight global injustice as the European representative for the management committee on the Commonwealth’s anti-slavery 8.7 Network, and as a Board Director for both UN Women UK and Anti-Slavery International.

Making a Change

When asked about the future and which changes, they are interested in seeing, they all provided similar questions around awareness and actions from policymakers.

‘The future needs to recognize 71% of those enslaved across the globe are women and girls’ says Red ‘Therefore, gender equality leading to the empowerment of women to be independent, has to be achieved if the cycle of victimization is to be eliminated’. Julie agrees, emphasizing that ‘society has a better understanding of how subtle and severe ‘Human Trafficking’ has become and how difficult it is for so many victims to escape from their nightmare experience and become survivors’.

Eleanor would like in the future also to see improvements in the field of education not just for women survivors, but also for women and girls in general ‘I want to see in the future is our approach to women’s education (girls and women of any age). I want to see girls being given just as many opportunities as her male peers in the classroom, and I want to see women striving for places of leadership without being considered arrogant or bossy. Ultimately, I want to see an intentional investment in the learning and developing of women in all sectors’.

This group of incredible women is trying to make a difference, if you like what there are doing and want to support their work, please go and visit their website:

https://www.sophiehayesfoundation.org/

Here you can find various ways you can help and support SHF!

Francesca Costi