Modern-Day Slavery in Britain

Slavery died out two hundred years ago, didn’t it? Eradicated. The world saw the error of its ways and freed all the slaves. The trouble is, evils that we think we have eradicated have a habit of insidiously creeping back 

There are more slaves in the world today than there ever were in the centuries leading up to its ‘abolition’. Incredible, isn’t it? But sadly all too true. Why? The same old reason – it’s a great money spinner. Slavery, now called human trafficking, is the world’s third most lucrative illicit trade, after weapons and drugs. It is a trade that is largely hidden, surrounded by the silence of fear of violence and reprisals. And it is happening in a town near you right now.

It can take many forms. Poverty in the third world and less developed countries forces people to leave home in search of a good job, a better life elsewhere and the opportunity to send money home to their families. Nothing new in this, nothing wrong so far. But this is where the trafficker steps in, offers a route to that better life and the slave-to-be is unwittingly hooked and reeled in. Passage, a job and accommodation – what a wonderful opportunity.

But the reality is very different. Here is a typical story: 

“My name is Marta.  I’m going to England.  These good people have got a job for me at a hotel in London. I’m going to be a waitress. I’ll work hard so I can send money home to help my family. I’m so excited! I’ll learn English and make new friends. My family are so happy for me”                                                     

A wonderful opportunity for a girl from a poor country, on the face of it. However a very different Marta picks up her story just a few weeks later.

“My name is Marta. I work 16 hours a day. I am raped by up to 30 men each day. I learn English words – for sale, whore, hurt, sex, and client. This room is my prison. I was beaten again today after I tried to escape. They say they’ll kill my family if I try again.  Or bring my young sister here and make her do the same. I am so alone, so frightened.  I have no hope anymore” 

 And Marta is just one of many girls and women who are tricked into a life of sexual slavery. These girls are not prostitutes. They are the unwilling victims of human traffickers, exploited, enslaved, beaten, threatened and raped.

And it is happening today in towns all over Britain, not just in the cities. Typically the traffickers will legitimately rent a small house in a residential street. It could be in a middle class area, not necessarily in a red light area or one known for drugs. Small and discreet, probably only the one girl enslaved there. No other criminal activity goes on at the address. Not the sort of thing you expect to be happening in your area, so it doesn’t cross your mind that it might be.

Men who have been trafficked into the country are generally forced into labour where they live in appalling conditions, maybe in a barn, fed one meal a day working very long hours.

A recent case in Dorset found a group of men forced to live in and work at a car wash. I drove past that car wash at least once a week and had no idea what was going on under my nose in a very normal, residential part of town. There have been cases where men have to live, again in inhumane conditions, on travellers’ camps and are taken each day to wherever the travellers have got work to do. Long, exhausting hours, meagre rations, discomfort and no hope of anything better. Again it is fear that keeps them there. Did I mention that they don’t really get paid either? The ‘pay’ is clawed back for their keep and their passage to England.

Trafficking for domestic servitude also exists, where again people are brought into the country but end up working as domestic slaves in someone’s home. The same pressures are applied and fear forces them to stay.

Trafficking does not have to be across national borders, it happens within countries too. We hear more and more about young girls being groomed by a ‘boyfriend’ who ‘loves’ them and then passed around and sold for sex. So many cases have come to light in this country, Rotherham, Rochdale and Oxford hitting national headlines. Typically they pick on girls with low self-esteem, very often living in care. Once the girls have been exploited for sex, they are driven back to their foster or care homes, until the next time that the traffickers want to put them to work again.

There are increasing cases of traffickers offering food and shelter to men who are newly homeless and not yet street-wise. They become victims of forced labour and stay because they don’t have anywhere else to go. A recent case found a man who had stayed with his traffickers for 15 years, initially because he did not have anywhere else to go but as time went on, he got so used to it, despite the poor conditions, that it effectively institutionalised him and he had no desire to get away.

Trafficking takes many forms in this country. In every case someone is being exploited for gain. It is a trade, a highly profitable business and it is shameful.

There are safe houses in different parts of the country which house and rehabilitate rescued victims until they move on, maybe into education and an independent life, maybe to return to their home country. The Purple Teardrop Campaign aims to make people more aware of human trafficking and to raise money to support and extend the work done at the safe houses with freed victims of trafficking.

If you have any suspicion at all of somewhere that trafficking victims may be kept, then ring Crimestoppers on 0800 555111. You do not have to give your name.  You could be saving someone from a life of slavery without any hope for the future.


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