Today is International Women’s Day, a holiday celebrated all over the world, and a chance to recognize the contributions of women in society, be they housewives or head of state. Unfortunately there is a group of women that are not celebrated in society. Here in Europe, sex trafficking is the second biggest illegal industry as thousands of women every year are stolen or sold from their homes, and coerced, beaten, and tortured into submission by people who view them as mere commodities.
Since their inception over thirty years ago in India, Project Rescue (www.projectrescue.com) has worked diligently to rescue tens of thousands of women from the industry. When Madrid was identified as a major hub for traffickers bringing women into Europe, Fiona Bellshaw, a Scottish woman residing in the city opened Project Rescue’s first regional office. She works with the national government to identify victims of trafficking, bring them to a safe house for rehabilitation, and provide them with legal papers and training to give them a new start.
The mission of Project Rescue is to locate women who have been sex trafficked. They work with women on the streets as well as women found in the government detention centers. Those in the detention centers were arrested for not having legal entry papers and were thrown in jail for up to 60 days. Project Rescue works with the government to change their immigration status from that of an illegal immigrant to a victim of trafficking. They offer protection through a safe house from the pimps and mafia pursuing them as they attempt to regain control of their lives. Project Rescue provides legal assistance, as well as career counseling.
Fiona’s heart for this project stems from her first interaction with a victim of trafficking fourteen years ago. When she began researching the sex trade, it became apparent that women on the streets were just the tip of the iceberg. Most trafficked women are found in apartments, clubs, and massage parlors over the city. Though initially intimidated by the size of the task before her, she came to realize that “Inadequacy is a selfish feeling, is a selfish issue. It’s not about you.”
She opened the Madrid office three years ago, and two years ago she was able to acquire the safe house. Fiona’s work brought her to the attention of the national government, and Project Rescue is now an official organization in the Spanish social services system. With the influx of referrals, the safe house is no longer big enough to meet the need.
Over the next week, Project Rescue will be putting in an offer for a new property. If accepted, this new safe house will triple their current capacity with fourteen bedrooms and five kitchens.
Convoy of Hope Europe has been proud to partner with Project Rescue over the past three years. On this International Women’s Day, we want to thank Fiona and the entire organization for what they have done for the rights of women, and what they will continue to do!