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Modern Slavery: The UK’s Hidden Injustices

Sexual exploitation. Organ harvesting. Child abuse. Recent statistics reveal that these horrors are on the rise as victims and activists speak out against this throbbing thorn in the UK’s side: modern slavery.

“Awareness can be raised by more journalists highlighting it [modern slavery],” said Sharon Hendry, investigative journalist and modern slavery activist.

Hendry began getting involved in modern slavery activism in 2009, when she was asked to join a trip to Nepal by Joanna Lumley. Hendry said: “Right at the end of our trip, Joanna asked if anyone would be interested in going to a refuge for trafficked women and their children.”

Upon visiting the refuge and meeting the woman and children, Hendry wanted to support the Nepalese shelter.

“I immediately wanted to help and offered to raise money and raise awareness of the work that was going on there [the refuge].”, she said.

“It [slavery] is re-emerging, as one of the biggest crimes of the twenty-first century.”, she added.

In the UK it is estimated that there are between 10,000 to 13,000 potential victims of slavery, according to the Home Office.

Hendry said: “Poverty, limited opportunities at home, lack of education, unable social and political conditions, economic imbalances and war are the driving forces that contribute to the tracking of victims.

“None of these factors are the victim’s fault. The only difference between them and us is the way the dice was rolled at birth.

“I certainly want to do all I can to give these people voices in the media.”

In 2018, UK nationals had the highest number of reported modern slavery referrals, followed by residents from Albania and Vietnam, with referrals regarding UK nationals increasing by 98% from 2017 (from 819 to 1,625 referrals).

Other countries with high numbers of potential victims of modern slavery include nationals from China, Romania, Nigeria and Sudan.

Organisations such as Unseen UK, Modern Slavery Helpline and Ecpat UK work to raise awareness about modern slavery and provide support for vulnerable survivors.

Kate Garbers, Director at Unseen UK, said: “Modern slavery remains a heart-breaking and ever prevalent issue here in the United Kingdom, however I do not believe it is being brought to the public’s attention near enough.

“It is an issue that is becoming increasing widespread, yet because of its unseen nature, most people are oblivious to the negative consequences it is having on our society.

“At Unseen UK, we have both a men’s and a women’s

where we are able to take in survivors and help them build up self-esteem and resilience in order to avoid potential re-exploitation.”

Garbers said that in 2018, Unseen UK opened “The Unseen Children’s Home” which was the first specialised safehouse for children who have been trafficked in the UK.

She added: “The Children’s Home project was opened to tackle the shocking statistic that a quarter of trafficked children disappear from care [nationally].

“While the financial implications of modern slavery are severe, the psychological impact these experiences have on survivors is tragic.

“Survivors are often left emotionally scared, which means a lot of work has to go into helping these people recover for these traumatic experiences.”

Unseen UK has helped thousands of modern slavery survivors across the UK. One of those survivors is Jason*.

As a young child growing up in Manchester, Jason* became of victim of domestic abuse at the hands of his father.

He said: “I didn’t want to spend time at home and I also avoided going to school.

“Eventually, I fell in with the wrong crowd, one thing led to another and before long I was picking-up and dropping off drugs.”

Jason* had become one of the thousands of children exploited through county lines drug trafficking.

He added: “It was only through the care workers from Unseen UK that I was able to get back on my feet and start to build a life for myself.

“I’m now looking forward to the rest of my life and am happy that those dark days are behind me.”

The Home Office claims that modern slavery is costing the UK between £3.3 to £4.3 billion.

Victims of modern slavery are most commonly abused through labour exploitation, followed by sexual exploitation and organ harvesting.

The gender of potential victims of modern slavery sees a 50/50 split between males and females, while 88% of victims are adults (18-years and older), with only 7% being children (anyone under 18 years-old).

Written in the foreword of the 2019 UK Annual Report on Modern Slavery, Priti Patel (Con. Witham), Secretary of State, said: “Modern slavery has absolutely no place in our society. It destroys lives – victimising, brutalising and exploiting the most vulnerable in this country and around the world.”

She continued: “The shadow of modern slavery can fall across any aspect of our lives – the clothes we wear, the food we eat, and the services we pay for. We have made great strides in tackling it, but victims continue to endure unthinkable horrors.”

From 2012 to 2019, there has been a continuous increase in NRM (National Referral Mechanism - the system by which victims of modern slavery are identified and supported) referrals, increasing from 1,186 referrals in 2012 to 7,284+ referrals in 2019.

Part of this steady increase is due to the increase in recorded incidents of county lines drug trafficking, which sees drug gangs from major cities expand their operations to smaller towns where they target and exploit vulnerable individuals.

Amid the rapid rise in referrals related to slavery, it is important to continue to work on highlighting these atrocities by removing the shadows which hide these acts through shining a light on this ever-prevalent crime.

The Modern Slavery Helpline can be contacted on 0800 0121 700, or a report can be filed on their website, where additional advice and information can be accessed.

*name changed to protect identity*

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