Author: elaine cruise

Information Against Exploitation Project (IAE)

Information Against Exploitation is a social project funded by the Bedfordshire Police and Crime Commissioner.

Many people at risk of exploitation may not know if they are being exploited. Many do not know if they are supporting or combating exploitation and are unaware of their Legal Rights. The purpose of this booklet is a learning aid to empower individuals at risk or experiencing exploitation and better understand its various forms and their legal rights.

The information within has been co-produced with individuals with lived experience, working professionals and services that support them.

A downloadable PDF version of the IAE Booklet is also available, please download on the link: Report D&A v6.

The Booklet is to be used by working professionals who are supporting individuals who may be at risk of one or more of the forms of exploitation. The Booklet should be used with the online interactive tool.

To  access the Interactive Tool please click here.

The Booklet and Online tool cover seven widely recognised forms of exploitation. These are:

  • Sexual exploitation
  • Forced labour and modern slavery
  • Domestic servitude
  • Criminal exploitation
  • Forced Marriage
  • Human Trafficking
  • Organ Harvesting

If you would like to find out more about how the IAE Booklet on how it was made please click here.

MSHA Charity Ball

23rd November 2019

Our Ball is back! We hope as many people as possible can join us for a night of fun at Venue 360!

Tickets ARE available!

Updates to follow!

Come Dine With Us!

13th June 2019

After a successful Come Dine With Us, Mary Seacole Housing Association and Aristone Solicitors are hosting again!

The Red Chilli
96-104 Wellington Street
18:00 – 22:00

Let us know if you’re interested in joining us!

Updates to come!

Mrs W’s Story

My life was perfect, I had the perfect life; an amazing career in care, a doting husband, beautiful children, and a lovely home; and just like that it all fell apart. 

My husband and I were great for a long time but over time things started deteriorating. It started by small arguments here and there. Then it went to constant fighting, shouting, and yelling at one another. He started to make me feel worthless, he told me I was ugly, and no one would want me, and I should consider myself lucky that he was there for me. I tried to put up with it for a while but slowly it ate away at me. Then I found out he cheated on me, I started not to care about him; but I had to stay there for the sake of my kids. 

So, I started going out and realised that there were guys out there who were interested in me and told me I was beautiful. Men were telling me all the right things to make me feel great again, so I started seeing one guy, then another and then the next. Partying and meeting new guys became a type of routine, every weekend. I started to notice things slipping at work, I felt my relationship slip away, my children wanted to spend less and less time with me. But I would go from one party to another party and find solace in someone else’s arms. 

Eventually my husband had had enough, and he told me I had to leave, and although I saw it coming, the worst thing was having nowhere to go. I did not have plan B, so I had to leave my children with my now ex-husband.  So, I ended up on a random guy’s sofas for a while. I was struggling but tried to keep a brave face. Then my ex-husband took me to court and was awarded full custody based on my so-called promiscuity, double standards. Losing my husband was hard but I expected this from when I found out about his first encounter of infidelity. But I had lost the most important thing in my life, my children. I was broken emotionally and mentally; my heart was taken away from me. Not much else matter now. 

The one thing that was keeping me going was my career, what happened next was something I did not expect – I was fired. I kept on making silly mistakes at work, not turning up to work and when I was, I was late or not fully there from seeking validation from men or partying. 

Now there was nothing left of my former life. I went from one ‘relationship’ to another; they did not last very long, a couple of weeks- at most couple of months and then on to the next. 

My last relationship was the worst, I was used to these men treating me like I was disposable, and I was just there temporarily until they were bored; I remember just numbness, no feeling. The last relationship gave me a wakeup call, my ex-partner started abusing me physically. As with everything like this, it happened slowly but it escalated very quickly. He tried to be discrete in the beginning but eventually even he did not care where, and I was expected to make up excuses or just stay in the house, so no one noticed. I started to abuse drugs when I started to feel pain as I realised feeling numb worked for me. 

One day after a particularly rough day with my ex-partner, I waited for him to go to work and decided enough was enough. I cooked my favourite food, bought my favourite wine, and overdosed on medication; I knew putting an end this nightmare would make me free again. As luck would have it, my ex came back early and found me. I was taken to hospital and I am not sure what it was, but I ended up telling the nurse what I was going through. I am still not sure what made me do it. 

The nurse did a safeguarding referral. A part of me was hoping she did and the other was scared, my ex-partner was not going to take this lightly. He was going to retaliate. And he did. I was placed in a shared home, which was not a great place, but I had my own room. My ex-partner found me and told me I must go back to him otherwise I would not like the consequences. He kept scaring me, I felt I had nowhere to turn and so many things in my life that were; this was also an issue. I was abusing drugs and drinking to cope on a regular basis. My keyworker at the place I was staying learnt of my ex-partner and said I had to move – again! My only solace was my ex-partner was given a restraining order. I was safe – for now. 

I was moved to Mary Seacole Housing. When I arrived, I met my keyworker; my understanding was they were there to support you with your basic needs – room, benefits and complaints. I was quite shocked when this keyworker at Mary Seacole Housing, came to ‘settle me in’ to the house. This place felt homely, there were only a few ladies there. It did not really matter as I knew, I would have to move again, and I would not spend too much time there. 

The place was nice, but I still felt empty, so I went back to doing what worked for me previously, partying and finding men to validate me. However, this time there was one difference, every time I went out, the keyworker would be there in my ear. It was so annoying, she slowly started to get in my head; about my ‘unsafe practices’ and how there was another way. The constant talks compelled me to think.

Suddenly the unexpected happened, I was raped by a man I knew! I was so shocked, he claimed to be my friend. My keyworker rang me as she always did to check on me and I told her I needed to see her- she was the only person in my life I now trusted. She came right away, I told her what happened. She was so supportive, listened, did not judge me and reported it to the Police. 

She then focused all her energy to making me feel like I mattered, I was valuable and no matter how hard I pushed, she would still be there to pick up the pieces.  She helped me talk through my choices, my behaviours- and why. 

My keyworker helped me with aspects of my life, my risky behaviour, my substance misuse, my lack of support network, my lack of self-esteem; if she could not provide the support, she knew someone who could and supported me every step of the way, even came with me to my appointments. 

My keyworker never gave up on me, she helped visualise something I had stop thinking about; what do I want? Her passion must have rubbed off on me, I wanted things to change, I wanted some of my old life back. 

She managed to keep me busy in the initial stages after the rape and slowly but surely, I stared to feel like the me, before the drinking/partying. I told my keyworker I wanted to get my career back. She made a plan with me, this included me proving I was managing with my life, I was engaging with the drugs/alcohol recovery workers, spoke to my counsellors and when she was convinced I was; made a plan to get me a job. She worked with me to make CV, helped me find courses in house at MSHA to help with getting a job, such as first aid. She prepped me for interviews and then it happened! I got a job! I was successful in becoming a care worker supporting the elderly in the community.

This was my turning point, for the first time since leaving my ex-husbands life I felt safe. First time since my early teens, I felt a sense of worth. I did not need to use alcohol as a crutch anymore, this month marks the anniversary of a year of sobriety and my keyworker has worked with me to complete a housing application. But the best part of it all is, through the support network that I have developed at MSHA, my ex-husband has started to allow me to have contact with my children. I am now able to see them every weekend and talk to them daily – I have my heart back! 

Hayley’s Story

I was born In Essex and met my ex-partner and moved to London around 5 years ago. My life was going just as any one would expect. I went on to have 3 children, then one of my children passed away. This is when my journey went from good to a really difficult. I was not able to manage with losing my child and I started drinking to block out the pain; it started off with one drink and gradually escalated to the point where I was dependent on alcohol to just function.

I lived with my ex-partner who became very controlling, he was physically and emotionally abusive to me. The relationship very quickly turned into violence and I hated my life. I had lost my daughter and now this man punished me for everything. I just had to get away.

My relationship with my partner became turbulent, he began hitting me. I was scared. I did not have any one to support me, and where I was drinking; I was also not a priority in my eyes but I knew that I needed to get away or I would end up in a really bad state.  I came to Luton to flee domestic violence not knowing where or who will be able to help me; all I knew was I needed to get away.

When I got to Luton, the council could not help me as I am not from Luton. I was now homeless with nowhere to go and no one to support me other than one friend in Luton. This friend happened to mention a service that she knew of called Mary Seacole Housing Association. I was very weary, did not know what to expect from Supported Housing, not knowing what to expect made me uncomfortable but I knew I had to try something to better my life. I was very sceptical. A woman of my age to move into a hostel! I felt I should still have my independence and thought this was being taken away from me. Due to the relationship I was in I had a problem then with alcohol and really thought I would not last a long time at MSHA. But above all I needed accommodation, so I thought I would go and see what this place was about.

I moved to Mary Seacole Housing Association in June 2016, I moved from stage one to stage two and remained there for a long time. During this time I was focusing on myself and with support I had managed to get control of the drinking rather than the drinking controlling me. I was starting to feel like me again, I was focusing on my health, I was volunteering at a charity shop and really enjoying my time there. I was working on my mental health issues that came as a result of losing my child. I was actually in a place I was content with for the first time since the turbulent phase in my life.

From it seems nowhere; things started to slip out of my control. It did not happen in one go, but slowly I was losing grip on the things that made me content and my mental health started to deteriorate and I started making some life style choices that were not so clever.  In my eyes one of the biggest difficulties in my life involve alcohol dependency and previous domestic violence; I also have always struggled with losing my young daughter. Everything after that falls on after the other, with depression I can no work or train, my health deteriorated and my mental health also. I just came into a huge rut. Staff recognised this and moved me back to stage one where I could get more support.

My journey thorough Mary Seacole has been a roller-coaster, I have had very serious ups and downs and even been issued evictions at some points but with the support I have turned those lifestyle choices around.

Thinking back, when I am asked whether I had any coping skills, if I am honest it had always been alcohol. But whilst at Mary Seacole Housing Association I was supported to engage with external services with the support of staff attending with me as I did not feel comfortable on my own. Near the end of my journey my coping skills began to change into just positive thinking and being able to manage being alone. I always felt I needed someone else’s company and being in Mary Seacole Housing Association helped me with this, I was learning to be alone but also knew that staff and other clients were only next door and this helped me to feel at ease.

I got through the process by setting myself goals. One of these were to get a job in a charity shop as I love those. I did manage to do this and worked with a friend volunteering once a week, now I have left Mary Seacole Housing Association, I still go there and spend time with them at the shop, they also helped me to get things together for my flat.

My main goal was to move on into my own accommodation. I just wanted to settle down and have my own space without having to rely on a male. I never wanted to be in the position again where a male can tell me to leave, I needed something for myself, my own space!

My weakness was alcohol and relationships. I just didn’t want to be alone and staff supported me to see that I did not need to depend on either of these things.  I am very thankful for all the support I have been given.

Thinking back on my time at Mary Seacole Housing Association, I managed to overcome a lot of personal matters, I also helped out at the community fun day one year, it was so great to see the joy on other people’s faces and giving back. I gained my job volunteering and then took on a cleaning incentive job within the hostel where I gained vouchers for my rent for cleaning once a week which I used to really enjoy.

Now, with hours and hours of support from staff, I have gained my own accommodation which I really felt I would never get back, I now have my independence and own space back.

The Complex Needs Staff put up with so much and I really thank them for it. I know at times I wasn’t the easiest of clients but they spent hours talking to me and building me up. They believed in me when I didn’t even believe in myself and that meant the world to me.

I also made a few friends and am just thankful for the support I have received and that staff pushed me to my end goal when I really didn’t think I would make it. What is great though is that I know they staff are only a phone call away even though I do not live there anymore. I am truly thankful for my journey with Mary Seacole and could not have made it without them.

Since moving out from Mary Seacole Housing Association, I have gained a job within a Thai restaurant where I help out now and again. My goal that now I have also made contact with my family and I do plan to make arrangements to take a train to Essex when I build more confident to go and see them. I still get to work in the charity shop once a week. My long term goal is to eventually get an exchange and go back to Essex to my own family, but taking using my techniques learnt to face one thing at time, and that is to build confidence to go on the train.

My parting comment would be to say a big thank you to all the staff for believing in me and I would not have made it without them. I am really, really happy now and want to enjoy this moment.

My accommodation!

Thank you very much to Mary Seacole!

Mr A’s Story

My name is Mr A, when I came to the UK I was a child; but back home, children my age have already been through what most adults here cannot imagine. I grew up in Sudan, my childhood was what everyone sees in the news, the civil wars had left the country in such disrepute. I was surrounded by poverty, there was no safe housing, family and locals made the best of what they had, and tried to keep us safe; however, any real shelter in my country was an opulence that I was not privy to. Hunger was a part of my daily life; food was a luxury that was rarely available.

Then we come onto entitlements, such as free education which is considered compulsory; however, I have seen this is far from the truth. It is probably more accurate to state that maybe half or fewer children go to school. I, myself always wanted to have a career and aspired to get an education because I had seen what happened to those that do not have the privilege of this.

When I turned 14, my parents came to me whilst I was out playing with my friends and asked me to come in as they wanted to talk to me. When I went in, they sat me down and explained that I was getting married. I went into shock. When people talk about forced marriages a young child bride usually comes to mind, but I had seen this was not the case back in my country.

One day my family and all got together in a room, I wasn’t fully prepared for what lay ahead. The mood in the room was sombre, there were only a few people in the room. This made me uneasy but I was told we were gathered for dinner. Eventually, some man came into the room with a mobile phone, and said that ‘the bride was ready!’ I looked around the room for answers and very quickly became apparent that the groom was indeed me. I just sat there numb, with my thoughts going all over the place and my stomach doing somersaults: this is not what I wanted my life to be. I pleaded with all of those in the room and said that this is not what I wanted, but quickly came to the conclusion that there was not much point in resisting. I was now married and had never met ‘my wife’ prior to our online wedding. I knew very little about ‘my wife’. All I knew was her name, where she was from and that she was 14 years old. Then we all went home. It was not something that would be considered a celebration by anyone’s standards.

That night whilst I lay on the floor, waiting to go to sleep, I could not help but imagine what other horrors lay ahead of me. Would I also be recruited and be forced to serve the army like many others that I had seen before me? To me this was becoming a real possibility and not a price I was willing to pay.

A couple of weeks had passed, and there was no real mention of ‘my wife’ coming to live me; I carried on living my life as I did prior to this. I used to make a living my smuggling gasoline through borders, however on this occasion, I was caught and I know this meant a possible imprisonment – for life!

At first, the officials had locked me up with several others, some boys were so much younger than me. I was chained to a wall, sometimes I can still feel the chains on my legs as though there is an iced snake pulling you. The days consisted of beatings, for what seemed like no apparent reason. This lasted for six gruelling days. As soon as I was released, a man I had never seen before approached me, offered me an escape route from the country. By this time I knew this country was not able to offer me the life I wanted so I agreed to meet him the following day and planned my journey to leave Sudan.

The journey from Sudan was through Libya and then onto Lebanon before arriving in France. We took a number of transportation routes buses, trains cars. We also took a small boat, and looking back at it, it was probably suited for approx 10 people. There were more than 30 people on this boat. The worst part was one of the boys that were travelling with me and I had gotten fond off, fell off the side of the boat and drowned. This instilled a fear of water in me that I have up until this day.

We finally arrived at a migrant camp in a French jungle. This was an awful place to be. There was no sanitation, nowhere to wash, nowhere to get food. Everyone around me was always sick and looked really cold and unhappy. I had to keep the goal in my mind of coming to the UK where I would be taken care of. The day came when I was advised that I had to get into the back of a truck, where we were advised that we needed to put bags over our heads near the crossing so that the officials did not detect any carbon dioxide in the truck and run the risk of us getting caught.

We arrived in the UK. The journey feels like a bit of a daze. All I know is being split up from the people that I had travelled with and being told that I was going to see something called a Social Worker. One thing was apparent straight away, the language barrier was going to be a big issue. I did not understand most of what these people were trying to tell me. This made me feel really uneasy with everything.

At first, I was moved to a place in Bedford but within a few days, I was moved to Luton. My new Social worker said she had a place for me to stay at a place called Mary Seacole Housing Association. She said this place had other people my age living there and there was someone there 24 hours a day to support me.

When I first came to the UK I felt like a frightened child and did not know what to expect from living in the UK. Life over here was completely different from what I was used to. However, I liked the idea of living with residents that are around the same age, and I noticed that there were other Asylum Seekers that I could relate to. Knowing this, my mind was put at ease and knew I would be looked after and settle in along with others.

I remember my first night at MSHA: I was overwhelmed with a sense of relief when I lay my head on the pillow. This place was going to be somewhere where I could finally call home, feel safe in and realise my dreams on my own terms.

Within days of me moving in, I asked for support in regards to my health. I had developed itching on my leg since my stay in France. It turned out that I had interacted Scabies: a contagious skin condition caused by tiny mites that burrow into the skin. This was so scary for me, however, staff had supported me to receive the appropriate treatment and I made a full recovery.

Another health concern that I had resolved was I needed to undergo primary immunisations in the UK as without vaccines, I was at risk to exposure to epidemics of vaccine-preventable diseases that may occur in the future. However, I always refused to receive immunisations, due to a trauma of needles that stemmed from when I was beaten in prison in Sudan and the prison officers carried out a procedure by stitching the bottom of my leg without anaesthetics which left me scarred and traumatised. However, after months of encouragement, I recently agreed to get the immunisations completed.

I also used to struggle with insomnia when I first moved in. I often stayed up late thinking about my family in Sudan and especially my brother which I was very close with. I think that the lack of sleep was due to the on-going issues in his home country and I came to find out that things at home have indeed become calmer: this has made me feel at ease and in turn has reduced my migraines significantly.

Since my arrival at MSHA, I have been enrolled in an ESOL course at Barnfield college, where I am currently developing English skills in reading, writing and listening. This is something that I will never take for granted.

In addition to this, I also obtained relevant documentation with the support of MSHA in obtaining his Biometric Remain Permit card which is now valid for 5 years and expires in 2022. I cannot fully describe in words what this means to me, this is my ticket for me to realise my dreams finally. I now have a national insurance number, so I do not have to smuggle gasoline for money. I have a provisional driving license so that I can drive and gain independence. I have travel documents to go on a holiday, set up a current and savings bank account which enables me with financial stability.

MSHA has also supported me with such an array of formal and informal training such as fire awareness training and a pathways booklet during key work sessions which enabled me to learn how to look after myself and live independently and this proceeded in completing a housing application to submit to Luton Borough Council.

I learned so much during my time at MSHA and not just basic skills such as cooking and cleaning, but how to manage my money, how to use my time wisely, what activities I enjoy and learn to be at peace with myself.

During my time at MSHA, I received continuous support and encouragement from staff clients and management. I  felt safe and well looked after throughout my stay at MSHA, I was able to achieve everything I desired to and feel encouraged to progress and develop further with the skills and knowledge I have gained from my stay at MSHA.

With the support of MSHA I now have my own place, this is a little daunting as for the first time in my life, I will be completely on my own, and that feeling in itself is somewhat bittersweet. I am so proud of my journey and that I am capable of living on my own but there is also a sense of sorrow for all that I have left behind.

My focus is now living my life on my own terms and I am so thankful that I am one of the lucky few able to do so!