From jazz to sculpture: Without any money to pay for another night in the youth hostel, I found myself sitting on a wooden bench outside Euston station, sobbing into the sleeve of my sweater. My tears fell harder, and it started to rain. I only looked up when he walked over and crouched down next to me, one knee in a puddle. I shook my head.
It was like he was my knight in shining armour. His name was Michael, he said. It just takes a bit of time to get used to. I watched the streets and the tall white buildings whizz past the windows, and I felt myself relax for the first time in three days. Stopping outside a particularly posh-looking house, he opened the door for me and we walked down the garden path.
It took a plate of chicken, rice and peas for me to open up. As I recounted my story, I noticed a few other girls coming in and out, taking plates of food back to their rooms. These were good people. They were helping people in need. By 11pm, I was exhausted. Mike led me downstairs to a basement bedroom, and kissed me goodnight. Instead, there was a dressing gown on the chair by my bed. Confused, I put it on, and padded upstairs to ask for my jeans back. Mike was sitting at the table when I approached.
Mike glowered at me. I wrapped the dressing gown tighter around my body, suddenly awkward. Three hours later, and the washing machine had stopped spinning, but nobody had made any move to get the clothes out. As I started fiddling with the dial at the top, I felt something hard and heavy hit the back of my head, and I was sent flying across the room.
How dare you insult us! With a final smack to the face, I passed out. When I woke up again, I was back in the basement bedroom. Shaken and scared, I saw my trainers were still by the door, so I pulled them on and crept up the stairs. Fuck the clothes, I thought. I just need to get out of here. But the front door was locked. Blood draining from my face and suddenly desperate, I shook the handle and looked around for a key.
The woman came out of the kitchen and stared at me. Can I have the key? Sometimes when I look back on what happened to me, I still wonder whether I could have fought back harder. She was in her 50s, and I was definitely fitter than she was. But as the blows rained down on my body, I found myself cowering and in tears.
I ran to the window, but it was locked with bars across the outside. My bag with my phone was gone, and I was trapped. Nauseous and hurting, I collapsed onto the bed. I was 15 years old.
I just wanted to go home. As evening drew near and my tears began to run out, the woman opened the door again. Inside were four or five sets of used, dirty lingerie. My peripheral vision began to cloud, and I felt suddenly sick. I only remember the first one. I was sitting on the bed when the door opened, and a massive, something stone guy loomed in the doorway, with the woman standing behind him.
He looked me up and down, then handed her the money and she left. Half an hour later, there was somebody else. Over the course of that evening, I realised that all of the men were all paying to live out a fantasy where resistance turned them on.
The more I screamed, the more they seemed to enjoy raping me. If I pleaded with them to help me, they ignored me. In between each assault, the woman would come in to change the towel on the bed because it would be covered in blood.
Over the course of two years, I bled every single time I was raped. On one occasion, I accidentally got blood on the sheets, and she beat me up so hard I passed out. When one man punched me in the face, my face swelled up and I wondered if my jaw had been broken. As I sobbed, the woman came down with a small cup of what looked like green medicine. I swallowed it immediately — desperate for pain relief. Methadone was soon supplemented with crack cocaine, and the constant rape and endless beatings was accompanied by manipulation and death threats.
When Mike went on to find out my home address, I felt sick. His whispered words followed me everywhere — breathing down my neck and reminding me that if I tried to escape, my family would be the ones paying the price.
I was imprisoned — a slave behind the walls of a whitewashed house in London — and within a few months, I collapsed inwards and lost my fight. When I climbed the stairs to the kitchen, I saw one of the others was dressed up too. Together we were driven to a posh hotel, where Mike told us to get out.
Led through a ballroom, no one blinked in our direction. There were businessmen from all over the world with beautiful women in expensive dresses hanging off their arms, but nobody seemed to think we were out of place. As the other girl was handed over to a group of young men, Mike pushed me towards an elderly man from Saudi Arabia.
But the warmth left his eyes. With Mike waiting outside in the corridor, I left the room, crushed. But I still consider that night a lucky escape. As I pleaded with the Sheikh to save me, the other girl from our house was being gang-raped and infected with HIV. So he forced her into domestic servitude instead. Every day, she cleaned the house, cooked the food and did the laundry.
Every night, the woman made her sleep in a dog basket on the kitchen floor. After a couple of years, I was thin and sick and weak. When one man pulled my leg back while raping me, he dislocated my knee and Mike had to take me to the hospital. Surrounded by doctors and nurses, he was twitchy, so sat by my bed all the way through visiting hours, the weight of his hand pressing hard against my arm. Then — when he was kicked out and I was working up the courage to tell somebody I needed help — he waited an hour before coming back.
Soon my knee would dislocate whenever anyone tried to have sex with me, so Mike drove us to another flat in the Midlands and made me his servant — getting up at the first ray of dawn to clean and cook for him, and punching me in the face if there was a speck of dust left anywhere.
Men would pull up in their cars, one after another — husbands and fathers, businessmen and creeps. Then Mike would step forward to negotiate: He controlled everything; even my periods — for the four years that I was his prisoner, he made me take back-to-back contraceptives for months at a time so that I never, ever bled. We can get you out of this, if you want. Nobody would ever save me. But she was determined. If Mike went out, he locked the door. If I went to the toilet, I was timed: Exceeding those time frames warranted a fist to the face.
But something stirred in me. The next morning when I was cleaning the kitchen, I poured two pints of milk down the sink. Then, with my best blank expression, I put my head round the living room. In the newsagents, I headed to the fridge. Staring at the semi-skimmed, I felt a hand fall on my arm. She led me out of the shop and into a car outside.
Mike was still in touch with my sisters and my grandparents. He knew how to find them. I got out of the car and walked back to the house. He was still raping me every night too, and when I fell pregnant, some deep, sickening instinct let me know the baby was his. So I just carried on putting one foot in front of another, while my stomach grew round and huge against my bones. I was damaged now.