In the favelas of Rio de Janeiro 80% live below the poverty line and the average monthly income in one, Campo Grande, is just $134 a month. So it is not surprising that many people – especially women – jump at the chance of lucrative work abroad. But the reality can be horrific.
By Chris Summers 1 September 2021
“It was too good an opportunity to turn down,” said Fernanda.
She was married to a bus driver in Rio but the couple had very little money and one day in 2019 she heard from a taxi driver there was a possibility of working in England and making very good money.
“I was attracted by the prospect of a better life,” Fernanda later recalled.
The taxi driver’s contacts arranged for passport and bought her a one-way ticket to Manchester, where she was met by a friendly and attractive young woman, called Olivia, who signed her up for an English language course.
But a week later “Olivia” brought her down to London and they went shopping for clothes.
It was then that Fernanda started to become suspicious.
“It was December, but instead of shopping for functional clothes she bought lingerie and dresses, which made me suspicious,” recalled Fernanda.
“I was told I was here for sex work and I’d have to pay back the debt. It was a disgusting idea but I had no other option. I can’t describe the sense of imprisonment,” she said later in a victim impact statement.
Fernanda was moved into a miserable flat in Wembley, north-west London, and was put to work as a prostitute.
She had up to 20 clients a day and was told to hand over £500 a day and was given a weekly wage of £250.
Fernanda was later told there was a hidden camera in the bedroom and was warned by “Olivia” the footage would be released online and shown to her family in Brazil.
Fernanda was not alone. “Olivia” controlled two other Brazilian women and a British law student, who had been tricked into sex work after applying for what she thought was a modelling job.
One of the women suffered a miscarriage, another was beaten by a client and a third contracted syphilis as a result of the work.
Then on 22 March 2020 – just as the pandemic hit Britain – police were called to a flat in south Harrow after one of the women said she was being kept as a “slave” and wanted to go home to Brazil.
“Olivia” made the woman end the call, took all her money and told her she had just “signed her own death warrant.”
But the Brazilian managed to take a couple of furtive photographs of “Olivia” and then called police back.
The Metropolitan Police’s Modern Slavery and Child Exploitation Team became involved and three weeks later the cops raided flats in Harrow and Wembley.
“Olivia” was identified as Shana Stanley, (pictured), an unemployed model who had herself worked as an escort. Stanley’s business partner and boss was Hussain Edani, an Iraqi-born convicted robber.
Both were arrested and in August 2021 the pair went on trial charged with a number of charges related to prostitution and people trafficking.
On the sixth day of the trial, just as one of the victims was about to give evidence remotely from Brazil, Stanley and Edani (pictured below) both changed their plea to guilty of four counts of controlling prostitution.
Edani, 29, also pleaded guilty to three counts of arranging/facilitating travel for the purpose of exploitation and Stanley, 28, pleaded guilty to two counts of the same charge.
On 27 August the pair appeared for a day-long sentencing hearing at Harrow Crown Court.
I was the only journalist in court.
Prosecutor Barnaby Shaw explained that Edani’s role was to liaise with a contact in Brazil, called Andre, who sought out vulnerable women in the favelas of Rio and offered them well-paid but unspecified work in England.
Edani paid for their flights to Manchester and for them to be enrolled on an English course but he then moved them to London and set them up as sex workers in flats in the north-west suburbs which he had rented.
Mr Shaw said Stanley’s role was to control the women on a day-to-day basis, collect their earnings and monitor them using a GPS tracking device on the phones they had been giving on their arrival.
Victim impact statements written by the four women were read out.
Fernanda said: “I felt these people were capable of anything and they knew where my family lived in Brazil.”
She said after being rescued by the police she had no money or way of returning to Brazil and had no choice but to continue for a while as a sex worker.
“My marriage broken down and I am divorced. There were lots of rows because my husband blamed me for what happened. We had been married for 10 years,” Fernanda recalled sadly.
She said: “I had to tell my mother and sister what had happened. It was the most shameful day of my life.”
“I want to rebuild my life back in Brazil,” Fernanda concluded.
Another Brazilian victim, Marcia, told police: “When I was working for them I felt desperate, dirty and alone. I cried all day. I felt dirty, used and exhausted. Some clients would beat me and some would force me to have anal sex.”
Marcia contracted syphilis and it was her that called the police.
“When I called the police I was terrified. I thought I was going to be killed by a gang,” she said.
The police relocated her to Bradford, in northern England, for several months but while she was there she slept under the bed and was unable to eat or drink.
“I imagined dying in England, as a pauper, and being buried in a grave without my family knowing what happened to me. My hair fell out because of the stress,” added Marcia.
Judge Vanessa Francis told Edani he was the “controlling mind” behind the operation, preyed on vulnerable women and made “promises of a better life.”
She said Stanley (pictured in one of her modelling poses below) “manipulated their isolation and vulnerability” and took advantage of the language barrier.
Edani’s wife and mother wept in court as he was sentenced to 98 months – nine years minus a 10 percent discount for his late guilty plea.
Stanley – whose barrister told the court she had since joined a community church and was aiming to turn her life around – was jailed for 43 months – four years, minus a 10% discount.
Daniela Bado, a retired teacher in Brazil, told Totalcrime that attitudes towards women there were appalling.
She said: “Child marriage is widely accepted in Brazil, where girls seek older husbands to escape from sexual and other violence in the home, or because of teenage pregnancies or the lack of job opportunities…and little has been done to tackle it.”
She said: “Conservative men here see us as baby-making machines while progressive men see us as fuck machines.”
Brazil had a female president – Dilma Rousseff – from 2011 until 2016 but Ms Bado said: “The patriarchal mentality was unfazed by a woman president, so much so that she suffered a coup. We have achieved some advances including in the area of mental health treatment, but in a short time under the Bolsonaro government everything was dismantled.”