Police officers, religious leaders and politicians converge on Vatican for conference on ending human trafficking

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Top police officers have attended a conference in the Vatican on ending human trafficking. Photo: ITV News

Sitting in the splendour of Academy of the Sciences, deep within the private Vatican gardens, top police officers, religious leaders and politicians from around the world have gathered together.

They are here for one reason – to eradicate the crime against humanity that is people trafficking.

As the conference gets underway, we hear testimony from some of those who have been trafficked and we are immediately transported from the tranquil surroundings into the very private hell of women that have been trafficked across borders.

They are called sex workers, but as their testimony shows they aren't workers, they are slaves, forced by violence to sell their bodies.

Women are forced by violence to sell their bodies. Credit: ITV News

It is brutal, raw and hard to listen to but as a way of concentrating the mind it is perfect.

The stories we hear are all too familiar to me having spoken to several victims of this terrible crime. Away from the conference ITV News spoke to Maria Grazia.

Maria Grazia, who did not want her face to be shown, spoke to ITV News. Credit: ITV News

She was tricked into coming to Italy from her native Albania on the promise of a job, a better life, but instead she was drugged, beaten, raped and forced into prostitution.

Like many of the victims she looks younger than her real age – something that increases her value to her masters.

I tried to rebel, but they told me I had no rights, that they could do what they wanted with me. You are their property.

At one point, I couldn't stand it anymore – it would have been better not to have been born.

– Maria Grazia

Thankfully, Maria managed to escape and is now being cared for by a Catholic charity called Giovanni XXIII, run by a young energetic priest Don Aldo Buonainto.

He and his team go onto the streets of Rome to rescue women, give them sanctuary far away from those who would enslave them.

Priest Don Aldo Buonainto speaking to Julie Etchingham. Credit: ITV News

They are surprised, when men come up to them they usually ask them 'how much?', but instead we ask how are they suffering.

– Don Aldo Buonainto

The conference has been the work of newly installed UK Cardinal Vincent Nichols, who reminds the room why we are here.

For the victims, to put them at the centre of all the work that is done and to target not the victims sold into slavery, but the gangmasters, pimps and thugs that terrorise their every waking moment.

Humans are often trafficked into other countries on a boat.

All the speeches, all the good intentions, will come to naught, if concrete steps aren't taken but Met police commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan Howe is determined that with the help of Pope Francis, real change can be brought about.

If the Pope explains that these are people who need help, that we are not going to judge them then who's going to gainsay that? Who's going to say he's wrong? Because he is right. We're here to help the victims, we're not going to judge.

Tomorrow the conference will hear in person from more victims of trafficking. And again we will get a glimpse into their world, their suffering.

And once again the men and women sat around the table in the Vatican will know they must turn their words into action.