A Channel 4 News investigation has uncovered serious allegations of homophobia and untrained staff at a government funded charity which deals with victims of trafficking and abuse.
Dozens of people who were referred to the City Hearts Charity in Sheffield have been speaking out about the homophobic attitudes of some senior staff, controlling behaviour from management and receiving counselling from people without training.
The charity is run by the Hope City Church and receives government-funding via the Salvation Army as part of the UK’s human trafficking contract (the Adult Human Trafficking Victim Care and Co-ordination Contract to offer specialist support services to adult victims of Human Trafficking in England and Wales), which it was awarded in 2011.
Channel 4 News’ exclusive report features two former residents of the City Hearts charity in Sheffield. One of those interviewed is Ameila – which is not her real name. She was trafficked to the UK from Eastern Europe but having escaped she ended up in one of the charity’s safe houses. She says that as a gay woman she was subjected to homophobia by some senior staff; “One of the staff said like you have the devil in you and you have to change that. They would ban any physical contact for me with people in the congregation well women. I found it quite humiliating as I’m not doing anything I’m not spreading disease. I’m not going to infect them. I’m not going to make them be gay”. She felt like she was in “some sort of weird cult”.
Another of the women is Holly. She’d previously been abused and controlled before being rescued by the police and taken to the City Hearts charity during 2011 to receive help. But instead Holly says that she was “completely controlled,” and claims:
“Although I’ve been abused by abusers in my past, this touches a different spot and is more painful.”
"Within the refuge you’ve got no control they completely control you from your finances to what you eat to your decisions and your communication with the outside world. If you did watch TV it’s monitored but any mail coming in they would open your mail and if they didn’t want you to receive it then it would be discarded"
The investigation has also heard from several former employees who talk about being untrained for their roles. One who features in the programme is Kat, a former lead pastor of Hope City Church and project manager of City Hearts charity. She explains how aged 20 she was put in charge of a safe house caring for vulnerable people, with no training or guidance other than prayer and worship.
She says: “As a shift leader, the person in charge of the whole shift, I remember I once walked into a room and one of the clients had self-harmed so horrifically. You’re walking into a situation where someone’s lying on the floor and you don’t know if they’re alive or not.”
“There is blood everywhere and you also have a group of ten other women you’re also trying to look after, with one other volunteer.”
"I had to do one to one sessions with them give them advice give them pointers put plans together for them for their progression but with absolutely no training with absolutely no professional kind of guidance in that sense. It was just always thrown on and put in a way of like we'll pray use god or use a bible scripture or something like that." When asked for comment David Gilpin – the senior pastor at Hope City Church - declined to be interviewed but said he's sorry to hear about the allegations and that the charity is investigating. In a statement the charity said: "We seek to uphold the highest standards of excellence and diversity, and have been very disappointed to hear the allegations.” “We are of course investigating these matters and in the meantime it would be inappropriate for us to comment publicly.” “We will in any event review our policies and procedures."
A Charity Commission spokesperson said: “These are deeply distressing allegations which raise serious regulatory concerns and may point to failings on the part of the trustees of the charities in question.” “We are assessing Channel 4’s findings as a matter of urgency and require the trustees to respond to our questions. We will also be engaging with the charity’s funder, the Salvation Army, to ensure it is carrying out appropriate due diligence checks on the partners it works with.”
A Home Office spokesperson said:
“We are deeply concerned by the allegations and are working with the Salvation Army to urgently look into what happened at City Hearts. This includes seeking immediate assurances from the Salvation Army that all those receiving support as victims of modern day slavery are receiving the right standard of care”.
A Salvation Army spokesperson said:
“The support provided to the individuals identified to us by Channel 4 was given outside the specialist support subcontracted to City Hearts by the Salvation Army. However, in light of these allegations we are looking into this situation including bringing forward a regular safeguarding inspection of City Hearts.”
TX: Tuesday 14th March 2018 at 7pm on Channel 4 News.
Watch the news piece here: https://www.channel4.com/news/exclusive-investigation-uncovers-alleged-homophobia-and-untrained-staff-at-government-funded-charity