A young Romanian woman was abducted on the streets of London in broad daylight. She was then trafficked to Ireland and taken between a series of "pop up brothels" across the country to be used as a sex slave. This is Ana’s* story. Horrifyingly, her experience is shared by many women.
Last year, almost five million women and girls worldwide were forced to endure sexual exploitation. BBC Two’s new fact-based drama Doing Money documents Ana’s story, shedding light on the reality of this type of modern slavery in Britain today. The type that often happens in plain sight.
Ana was studying to be a nurse before her life was upturned. She was taken by Romanian men who threatened the lives of her loved ones back home should she disobey them. In a troubling, eye-opening scene where Ana has just been taken, she sits in the back of her new handlers’ car, shocked, disoriented and partially sighted when they take away her glasses (they later give her the nickname "Blind One"). "You are thinking, Why doesn’t she scream like in the movies?" Ana narrates. "Because it is not like it is in the movies. In real life, you have no breath to scream."
Before she knows it, Ana is trapped in a dangerous system and forced to live at the mercy of her pimps. Her initial refusal to have sex with the paying men of Ireland is met with violence, withholding food and sexual abuse. Glimmers of hope come when the police manage to track down the illegal operation and raid one of the brothels where she and two other young women are kept as slaves. However, it's then that the gravity of how the women are systematically controlled by fear really sets in. One of the investigating officers sits the women down in the living room and asks if they're being kept and forced to perform sex acts against their will. Their female handler lingers in earshot – a reminder of the threat to their families should they fall out of line and unsurprisingly, none of the imprisoned women is able to say anything.
And so the cycle continues. The women are moved to set up shop in a new town and Ana's life continues to deteriorate. Her hair starts to fall out, some of her teeth are broken and much of her body is bruised by men who pay to have violent sex with her. This is what "doing money" – being a sex slave at the mercy of cash-hungry pimps and willingly ignorant punters – looks like. It's devastating to watch as the pattern of abuse spirals throughout the feature, but it couldn't be more important that we sit up and pay attention to what's going on.
"Sometimes I think that every man in the city understands I was doing money." Ana's narration runs over a clip of her walking through a shopping centre. Men who recognise her shudder and avoid eye contact.
Ana eventually told her story to parliament in Belfast which, in turn, went on to help secure the passing of the Human Trafficking and Exploitation Act – the first new law against slavery in the UK for almost 200 years. Nevertheless, stories of women like Ana remain common in the UK and sharing her experience with the world will hopefully give voice and support to other women who feel as trapped and invisible as she did.
*Names were changed for the purposes of the film.
If you have experienced sexual violence of any kind, please visit Rape Crisis or call 0808 802 9999.