Dr Alicia Kidd, from the University of Hull’s Wilberforce Institute for the study of Slavery and Emancipation, highlights that there is no ‘typical victim’ of modern slavery – but that fear is a compelling factor.
More and more TV programmes are starting to incorporate situations of modern slavery and human trafficking into their storylines. We saw county lines in The Bay and Line of Duty, where children were used to deliver and sell drugs. The BBC’s show, Shetland, portrayed a scenario of men and women being trafficked onto fishing vessels and then transported into labour or sexual exploitation in Scotland. Line of Duty also showed a storyline of sex trafficking in the most recent series, where a group of women believed that they had been successful in a job application, but were deceived, locked in a house and sexually exploited.
More recently, we are seeing a storyline progress on ITV’s Coronation Street between Seb and Alina. Alina has been working in a nail salon and a relationship has been developing between her and Seb. However, it becomes clear to Seb that Alina is afraid of her boss and she acts strangely around him. As the storyline unfolds, we see that Alina is being controlled and is being forced to work against her will. Even though she has the freedom to come and go from the nail salon, she is afraid of repercussions if she were to try and leave.
This fear is something commonly described by victims of modern slavery and human trafficking. It is rare that victims will be held under lock and key or monitored 24 hours a day. However, the fear of their traffickers helps to keep them compliant, with victims reporting that they are worried that their lives, or the lives of their friends and family, would be in danger if they were to try and escape.
Nail salons are commonly brought up in the media as sites of modern slavery, human trafficking, or labour exploitation. They are just one example of a place where people can be held in exploitative labour, however they are not the only locations in which these issues occur. Low skilled, low paid areas of work such as car washes, construction, cleaning, factory work and agriculture, tend to be the most often reported areas. However, no business is impenetrable to this crime.
The National Referral Mechanism is the UK government’s system for identifying and supporting victims of modern slavery and human trafficking. Last year, in 2018, 6,993 people believed to be victims of modern slavery or human trafficking were referred into the National Referral Mechanism. While labour exploitation (which includes situations of criminal exploitation, such as county lines, forced begging or cannabis cultivation) was the most common form of modern slavery experienced by the victims, there were also people who had been held in sexual exploitation, domestic servitude, or trafficked for their organs.
There is no ‘typical victim’ of modern slavery, and people of any age, any gender, and any nationality can be exploited. In 2018, UK nationals were the most commonly identified nationality of potential victims in the UK.
If you are anxious about a potential situation of modern slavery, you can contact the Modern Slavery Helpline for advice or to report a concern: 08000 121 700 or via the website at https://www.modernslaveryhelpline.org/ If you believe someone is in immediate danger, you should contact the police on 999.
The University of Hull’s Wilberforce Institute is a group of specialist researchers whose work focuses on slavery – both historic and contemporary. For more information on their work, visit their website.