There are an estimated 136,000 people living on conditions of modern slavery in the United Kingdom (Global Slavery Index 2018). According to the 2017 annual figures provided by the National Crime Agency, 5, 145 potential victims of modern slavery were referred through the National Referral Mechanism in 2017, of whom 2,454 were female, 2688 were male and 3 were transgender, with 41% of all referrals being children at the time of exploitation. People are subjected to slavery in the UK in the form of domestic servitude, labour exploitation, organ harvesting and sexual exploitation, with the largest number of potential victims originating from Albania, China, Vietnam and Nigeria. This data however does not consider the unknown numbers of victims that are not reported.
Witness A was trafficked for commercial sexual exploitation in the UK as a minor. Witness A tells of the numerous organisations and agencies who failed to recognise that she had been trafficked, resulting in her continued exploitation. Subjected to sexual and physical violence, Witness A often found herself in contact with A&E, the police and child services who did not help her escape her exploiters and, on occasion, placed the blame upon herself. Witness A states that it was not until she reached out to the Salvation Army that she was able to escape her exploitation and was placed in a safehouse. However, Witness A talks about the lack of support available even after she was rescued from her traffickers.
For me, there were big gaps in the aftercare. The Salvation Army and the 45 days was helpful, but it wasn’t enough. After the experiences, the aftercare for medical stuff wasn’t helpful. We were only helped informally
Prior to going into the NRM, there were a lot of missed opportunities. Before the Salvation Army, there were a lot of opportunities for various agencies to identify the trafficking and they hadn’t identified it from a young age. It was only when I got to the Salvation Army that they identified it as trafficking. Once I left the Salvation Army, I was to have surgery for some of the injuries from the experiences, and in the hospital, with the doctors and the care received, there was nothing tailored for survivors.
Even though the injuries were as a result of human trafficking, the way it was done was quite re-traumatising and there wasn’t any emotional support for any of those things. The only thing I could do was contact the Salvation Army back and say that even though I was out of their system, could they help me. There were no services; it was only because they had stepped up to do that. There were no services you could contact, or if people haven’t got the support of their families, someone to advocate on your behalf.
[did the Salvation Army then provide follow-on support after that?]
Yes. It was through emailing Witness E and saying, “This is the situation that I am in. I was in hospital for six months after the surgery and this is what the doctors are saying.” When you are in that situation, you are having to repeat to each different doctor why you are there and the symptoms, or when you see your notes, the language used could oppress you further. It was, “Injury as a result of being a sex worker,” but you are saying, “I wasn’t”. Also, because of the fact that I was British, they would often say, “So where were you trafficked?”. So straight away you would think that they are not understanding. Also, with things like counselling, yes there is counselling, but it is six sessions
Your first question is, “How can those six or 12 sessions undo [5-15 years] of being trafficked?”. There is not anything tailored specifically for survivors of modern slavery and if there is, it is ridiculously expensive and isn’t realistic.
[Are there organisations of agencies that could have spotted it earlier?]
In my case specifically, it was children’s services and the police and also trips to A&E. There were obvious signs: for example, waiting in triage, being under the age of 18, with older men. There were people who were already on the sex offenders register. [***], there were injuries to the face, to the body. It wasn’t until an off-duty police officer had found me doused in petrol that they said, “Okay, something’s wrong.”
On one occasion the police found me naked and said, “Are you a prostitute? Get in the back of the van. Here’s a jacket and we’ll drop you back,”—back to the hands of the perpetrators. I was put in domestic violence refuges and then told that I did not fit the criteria because there was more than one perpetrator. I had given up thinking that there was any—I didn’t understand. I wasn’t fitting any criteria. As soon as I reached 18, it was no longer CSE or trafficking. There’s notes that clearly stated, “This person’s been trafficked,” but nothing was done. When I turned 18, I was told by the police that it was a lifestyle choice because I had access to a mobile phone.
Each time you’d go in and get different surgery for your face, and because I wasn’t given a statement you’re then labelled as not wanting to engage with the police. It wasn’t until I’d called the Salvation Army—I just thought that they played instruments—and after I’d explained and they got the referral and I was taken to the safehouse that they said, “Yes, this is tailored for this person.” My only complaint was that 45 days was not enough. It’s been [number] years and even now support is still needed for ongoing medical stuff.
If I hadn’t had the informal relationships—they can’t do that for every person. I would say I was one of the lucky ones, because I can still say, “I have had disappointment and this is what the doctor’s saying. Can you help? Can you advise me on what this means and some of the procedures?”. If I hadn’t had that in the six-month stay in hospital,[***]—people would say, “Why do victims end up back in the hands of the traffickers?”—I would probably be either dead or back in trafficking.
[What sort of support are you getting now?]
Again, there isn’t an organisation that is supporting. I was desperate to work, I didn’t have references, and again it was through the Salvation Army, who said that I could go into their offices and do some admin work so that I could just get a reference, rather than going for a job interview and saying, “Actually, I haven’t got a reference.” “Why haven’t you got a reference?” Because the only references would have been from my traffickers. I know that isn’t for everyone, and that was done through the relationships that had been built on. That was an informal thing. If it hadn’t been for that, I wouldn’t have been able to find work. There isn’t support now, but again, with the medical stuff and with counselling, it is through the Salvation Army.
There’s a focus on statistics. What you often read about modern slavery is the hype and it’s all about statistics and how many people they’ve rescued. When you’re rescued, that is only the start of the journey to freedom. I didn’t know I was being trafficked. I didn’t know that trafficking happened here, and even up to this day people are saying, “Which country were you trafficked from? How can you be a British citizen and be trafficked?”. The only organisation that I felt understood that was the Salvation Army. I would say to focus more on the aftercare and knowing that that is the start for that survivor, once they are identified, rather than to focus on ticking boxes.
We really hope the Government take aftercare seriously and that services such as the Salvation Army can expand in terms of the aftercare. Even though it might have been four, five or six years after that person has been identified, there is not a time period for the repercussions fo what they have gone through.
Narrative as told to Home Affairs Committee, Oral evidence: Modern Slavery, HC 1460, 6th November 2018.