Live from Abu Dhabi Connect the World takes you on a journey across continents, investigating the stories that are changing our world.
Sophie’s love story started out like so many Hollywood Rom-Coms, where you’re secretly rooting for the overlooked best friend to get the girl in the end. He was a man she knew and trusted, and who knew everything about her, what made her laugh and cry and what her favorite song was. He was there for her when she had bad days, a quick phone call away in times of trouble. She was just a normal girl and he a normal guy.
But this love story turned into a horror story on a holiday with the man she had grown to love. Forced to work on the streets as a prostitute, emotionally isolated, miles from her British home, suffering mental and physical abuse, rape, and torture.
Her "best friend" had spent years ‘grooming’ her – studying her psyche, isolating her from her friends and family and choosing his moment to whisk her away under the guise of a romantic weekend in Italy. He used his years of knowing her to manipulate her, play on her insecurities and paralyse her with fear for her own life and her family’s too.
At the hands of “respectable” men – policemen, lawyers, businessmen, many husbands and fathers Sophie was merely a product, all humanness taken away.
Her story hits you with an undeniable fact: sex trafficking is not a problem that happens somewhere far away, or just in third world countries or to ill-educated people. It happens near you. It is a problem that affects all of our communities.
The main trafficking hotspots are major cities and ports – urban areas where millions of people live and where victims come into contact with a variety of people who could help them if only they knew how to act on their suspicions. But many of us turn a blind eye to things that seem slightly odd, and like her clients, don’t notice silent cries for help.
Hope beyond the story
The Sophie Hayes Foundation was set up give hope.
As the founder of the UK’s first trafficking survivor’s network, Sophie encourages others to stand up and stand together in reclaiming their own lives. She infuses the work of the charity with a real personal understanding of what it means to move beyond being a victim of this heinous crime. She speaks honest, inspirational hope into the lives of others.
She has inspired others to bravely come forward and speak out about their experiences. They are able to access support and mentoring, free to use their experience to join in the fight to stop the world of human trafficking and empowered to use their experience turning it into their strength. Voices of survivors must be heard, not just for media sound-bites or to illustrate points in academic articles, but as legitimate stakeholders in the fight against trafficking.
A note from Sophie
I didn't know about trafficking until it happened to me.
Since being back in the UK I found that I am not alone. Myself and the foundation have travelled all over the UK and parts of Central America and Europe and found that there are millions who share a similar story. The psychological prison that this crime relies on to operate means that it goes unnoticed.
We have an opportunity to create change preventing this from happening to others and transforming the lives of those who have been affected. But we cannot do this alone. Working together is the only way to combat this global issue and survivor voices are key, their voices must be heard.
Together we can make a difference very simply by seeing hope, speaking hope, being hope.