Spotting the signs of modern slavery: key advice for social workers

Human trafficking, forced labour and debt bondage are all forms of modern slavery. Social workers need to be aware of the potential signs

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A placard at the 2016 Walk for Freedom event in London, organised by A21, which aims to raise awareness of modern-day slavery. Credit: Matthew Chattle/REX/Shutterstock

Could you identify the signs that a person is being trafficked, enslaved or exploited? Would you know how to support a potential victim? Modern slavery is a growing international crime; it is estimated that there were as many as 13,000 victims in the UK in 2013. But identifying and helping victims is only possible if social workers and other frontline professionals are adequately trained to understand this complex and fast-moving crime.

Kate Garbers, managing director of anti-slavery charity Unseen, has written Community Care Inform’s guide to modern slavery, covering what modern slavery is, the legal frameworks around it and the National Referral Mechanism. Subscribers can read the full guide on Community Care Inform Adults and Inform Children. Here, we present some of the key facts and pieces of advice for social workers.

  1. Poverty, war and limited opportunities at home are some of the key drivers which can make someone vulnerable to being trafficked and exploited. But there is no typical victim of slavery; they can be men, women or children of all ages.
  2. There are several different types of modern slavery, which all involve violating a person’s human rights and freedoms and are in some way exploitative. In the UK, these are prohibited under the 2015 Modern Slavery Act. These types of slavery include domestic servitude, human trafficking, forced labour and debt bondage.
  3. Modern slavery is defined as a category of abuse in the Care Act’s statutory guidance, which means it can trigger the duty to enquire under section 42. So social care practitioners working with vulnerable adults need to understand the signs that can indicate someone is a victim of modern slavery.
  4. Victims may be reluctant to come forward with information or tell their stories with obvious errors. It is not a social worker’s role to interrogate the person on this. Traffickers can sometimes give victims stories they have to tell if approached by the authorities, or victims’ accounts can be affected by the trauma they have experienced.
  5. It isn’t necessary for someone to have been moved across an international country border for them to be a victim of human trafficking, a form of modern slavery. They can have been moved, harboured and transported within the UK, and this would still constitute trafficking.

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