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Disrupting Modern Slavery across the Humber Region

Disrupting and dismantling modern slavery is now a truly collaborative effort across the Humber region thanks to the work of the Humber Modern Slavery Partnership and the dedication and enthusiasm of its partners. In this week’s blog, Andrew Smith describes the work taking place in the Humber region.

Andrew Smith
Andrew Smith, Justice Hub Manager and Coordinator of the Humber Modern Slavery Partnership

All four local authority areas play an important role in coordinating and developing activity which disrupts organised crime and exploitation. Across the region, we see common issues of child criminal exploitation, labour exploitation of adults and sexual exploitation of adults and children. These crimes are not unique to Humberside of course, but given our geographical location, access to a large port estate and good road links to elsewhere in the country we do experience an element of ‘transient exploitation’. We also import a large amount of county lines activity involving young people, some as young as nine years old, from larger cities such as Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham, and London being trafficked to Humberside to deal drugs. Our large port estate makes a tempting target for criminals who would traffic people into the UK for various forms of exploitation such as labour exploitation in food production and processing and sexual exploitation in pop-up brothels. Often many of these victims do not stay in the region long but are moved onwards to other areas of the country where they are further abused and exploited all while being hidden in plain sight.

The Humber region is home to just under one million people and accounts for 2% of England's population. While we do know the Humber region has a comparatively higher than (UK) average rate of deprivation and children living in low-income families, we do not know how much these factors, and other complex socio-economic factors, help create the ideal environment in which modern slavery can exist and proliferate. What we do know is that children and young people do not self-identify as victims until after they have been removed from an exploitative situation. We also know that vulnerable adults trapped in labour exploitation do not disclose their abuse or try to escape because they either feel that their exploitative situation is better than their previous life, or in overseas trafficking cases, they fear their insecure immigration status may result in their imprisonment, or worse, their removal from the UK. What is also clear is that violence and threats of violence against victims and their families is a common, almost unilateral, control method for exploiters to gain and keep control over their victims. Exploiters and criminal gangs actively ensure that the balance of power is tilted firmly in their favour to maintain dominance over those they exploit for profit. This could be by restricting their victims’ movements, physically or otherwise. Often the removal of ID documents and passports is enough to keep people trapped in a country where they often do not speak the native language and are unaware of their rights and entitlements. Mistreatment, malnutrition, violence, and even spiritual and religious abuse are common methods of control, coercion, and entrapment. The most useful and profitable victim is undoubtedly a victim who lives in constant fear for their own or their family’s safety.

Modern slavery is a complex and multi-faceted crime that is difficult to detect and even harder to prosecute. Victims certainly do not always get the support they require, and many perpetrators never see their day in court. As my colleague Dr Alicia Heys demonstrated in an earlier blog in 2023, conviction rates for modern slavery offences are woefully low in the UK. In 2020, the National Crime Agency estimated there to be at least 6,000-8,000 offenders involved in modern slavery that year. Yet in the same year, there were just 91 prosecutions and 56 convictions.

Helping communities become more informed and resilient is a key component of the work of the Wilberforce Institute and the Humber Modern Slavery Partnership.

Humber Modern Slavery Partnership logo_On White

I believe that developing creative outlets for knowledge exchange with all communities is vital to how we engage with a wide and ever-changing audience of adults and children alike to prevent exploitation from occurring. With this aim in mind, our Uncovering Modern Slavery exhibition is now on display in Grimsby Minster, and will remain there until 16th March 2024. The exhibition, produced in collaboration with Hull Museums, first opened at the Wilberforce House Museum in the spring of 2023 and has since gone on to tour various locations across the Yorkshire and Humber region. This latest stop includes artwork produced by survivors of modern slavery from across Yorkshire and the Humber who describe how art therapy helped them during their recovery process.

Grimsby Minster x 3
Uncovering Modern Slavery Exhibition, Grimsby Minister February - March 2024


Working with partner organisations and those with lived experience of modern slavery is vital to telling real stories of contemporary forms of slavery and human trafficking accurately and justly. Creative outlets for people who have experienced trauma are an effective way to not only share their stories and make sense of their experiences but also to help them find peace and well-being in what is often a long and difficult process of support and recovery. My hope is by showing this exhibition in Grimsby we help dispel some of the myths surrounding modern slavery, inform younger generations of the risks of grooming and exploitation, and give a voice to survivors like Mike through their artwork.

Mike, a survivor of labour exploitation, whose name has been changed to protect his identity, is a spiritual individual who finds peace in his art, inspired by happy memories, including his time in the Amazon rainforest. This Slovakian national was financially exploited by two people he thought were his friends after coming to the UK. The couple stole his ID, prevented him from accessing his bank account and took loans out in his name. Refusing to let him leave their shared property, the unemployed pair used his money for themselves while giving him 'pocket money' and he was physically assaulted multiple times. After escaping from the house, Mike was left homeless. Following four weeks sleeping on a park bench, he asked his employer for help and the police were called. Once they knew they were being investigated by The Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority, the exploiters fled to Slovakia, meaning Mike has been unable to see justice served.

Justice and Care began providing Mike with support in 2022. When his Victim Navigator bought him some art supplies to take his mind off his situation, she was stunned by his incredible talents. Mike has limited painting experience from years ago and learned some of his skills from YouTube. Unfortunately, he is not currently painting because he struggles to find peace in the hostel he is living in as he starts to rebuild his life. He hopes to start again soon and have his own exhibition one day.

Listen to an audio clip of Mike speaking about his artwork, as told to a translator, by scanning the QR code.

Andrew Smith blo
Scan the QR code

Grimsby Minster is open until 3 pm daily. Closed on Mondays.

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