The UK is both a country of destination, with thousands of victims arriving from other countries only to be exploited by criminals; and a source country with increasing numbers of British victims identified. Slavery takes many different forms and affects adults and children, males and females.
Those who are enslaved are exploited for the financial gain of their captors. The vulnerable are made to work in cruel conditions for long hours without pay. Examples include women and girls forced into prostitution for profit, young boys made to commit criminal acts against their will and men kept in slave-like conditions in factories.
Last year 10,627 potential victims of modern slavery were referred to the National Referral Mechanism; a 52% increase from 2018. The most common type of exploitation for both adults and minors was labour exploitation. Potential victims from the UK, Albania and Vietnam were the three most common nationalities to be referred in the NRM.
Human traffickers in the UK will coerce and control their victims, keeping them in slavery for weeks, months or years at a time. Individuals are often deceived into working in slave-like conditions, and then threatened in order to keep them there. Victims are moved from abuser to abuser and they are usually too afraid of their captors to risk escape, making slavery a hidden, complex crime.
For those victims who do escape or are rescued the UK has an established system of support, namely, the National Referral Mechanism (NRM). This was introduced in 2009. The NRM provides accommodation and other vital services for victims for a minimum of 45 days. The NRM exists outside statute, and many organisations also support victims of modern slavery before, during and after exiting the NRM.
Although modern slavery can involve the movement of people across an international border, it is also possible to be a victim within one’s own country.