Caritas Bakhita House is ‘victim-centred, not time-centred’, Karen Anstiss tells Peter Stanford in The Telegraph Magazine.
Opened in 2015, Bakhita House, the refuge in the Diocese of Westminster for victims of modern slavery, has given shelter to 158 women from 46 countries. With space for up to 12 women at a time, the home offers them safety and support to begin the healing process.
Unlike other refuges for victims of trafficking, there are no limits as to how long guests can stay at Bakhita House as they recover from their experience and try to rebuild their shattered lives.
The holistic approach taken focuses on the needs of each guest to provide her with the support she needs for her physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual wellbeing. Each guest is offered counselling and a range of therapies to help her in her healing process and to rediscover ‘an inner freedom’ to enable her to rebuild their lives.
Some of the guests were exploited by people who took away their passports and forced them into lives of slavery. Without access to documents, money or a recourse to English, it became difficult for them to seek help. One guest, who was featured in the article, attempted to seek help from a policeman, but as she could not speak English, she was arrested instead for ‘her erratic behaviour’.
Guests are accompanied during their time of healing by the staff, volunteers, and the other guests offering friendship, compassion and companionship. When they are ready, they are also offered education and training opportunities. And, when they are ready to move on, whether that is to return to their home country or to move into independent accommodation, they are supported in taking the next steps.
The care that the staff provide is best summed up by another guest, who taking Karen’s hands, said in the interview: ‘These are the hands that have taken my hands so I can swim. I was drowning. They have taken hold of me and held me safe, like a life-belt.’
Cardinal Vincent Nichols was entrusted by Pope Francis with leading the Santa Marta Group, the Church’s response to the scourge of human trafficking and modern slavery. It was the Cardinal’s wish that there should be a practical expression of this work in the Diocese of Westminster, which led to the opening of Caritas Bakhita House as a refuge from women rescued from modern slavery.