‘Working together to help victims of modern slavery’ – University to mark Anti-Slavery Day

Anti-Slavery Day, on Sunday 18 October. provides an opportunity to raise awareness of human trafficking and modern slavery. Here Dr Alicia Kidd, Postdoctoral Researcher at the University’s Wilberforce Institute for the Study of Slavery and Emancipation and Vice Chair of the Humber Modern Slavery Partnership, shares her views and gives insight into how the Institute is helping improve frontline responses to modern slavery. (The article was first published in The Yorkshire Post)

It’s not something that we’d expect to say in the 21st century, but modern slavery is happening in our local communities, even if we perhaps like to reassure ourselves otherwise. Yorkshire isn’t different.

In May, eight people were found in a factory during a police response to the building’s alarm, with three people later arrested on suspicion of modern slavery. The same month, police identified two potential victims of sex trafficking in Leeds. And only a couple of weeks ago, North Yorkshire and Manchester Police Forces arrested 13 people, four of whom were in York, also linked to modern slavery offences related to county lines where young people were being trafficked between Oldham and York to sell drugs. Modern slavery may well be closer to home than we would like to think.

Modern slavery is a term used to cover a range of different forms of exploitation. People can be exploited for their labour – this commonly makes the news in the form of car washes and nail salons, but expands far beyond, most commonly found in working situations that are low paid and low skilled.

Sexual exploitation is a form of modern slavery where a person is sexually abused for the benefit or profit of someone else. Criminal exploitation may involve forcing children to sell drugs in the so-called “county lines”, but could equally relate to other crimes such as shoplifting or benefit fraud that financially benefit the exploiter, while putting the victim at risk of arrest.

Domestic servitude is a form of modern slavery in which a person is coerced into a situation where they usually live on their exploiter’s premises and are expected to undertake all the domestic work. Finally, organ harvesting is a form of modern slavery and, while there are cases of this reported in the UK, it is the least common form of modern slavery identified in the UK.

Each year the number of victims of modern slavery identified in the UK increases. This is not necessarily because there are more victims each year, but more likely because our understanding of what modern slavery is, and our ability to respond is improving. In 2019, over 10,000 individuals were believed to be victims of modern slavery and referred to the National Referral Mechanism. the UK’s system for identifying and supporting victims. Of these, 647 were referred by Yorkshire police forces alone (Humberside plus North, South and West Yorkshire forces). However, as the cases rise, so too does the pressure on front line practitioners to provide a suitable response.

The summary of modern slavery provided above really emphasises how vast the experiences of people who find themselves trapped and exploited can be, and along with the increasing number of people being identified, it is fundamental that responses are well informed, timely and equally unique and tailored to the needs of the victims. A British child trafficked to sell drugs will need vastly different support to a foreign national exploited for their labour, for example.

In response to this need for tailored approaches to the needs of victims, ahead of this year’s Anti-Slavery Day, the Wilberforce Institute at the University has led a project to help improve front line responses to modern slavery. This project, funded by the Modern Slavery and Human Rights Policy and Evidence Centre, a new publicly-funded centre created to transform the effectiveness of laws and policies designed to overcome modern slavery, involves the development of five unique workshops, each tailored to a different audience who might interact with a victim of modern slavery.

Attendees are provided with simulated scenarios which take into account the complex individual factors for the victims, as well as limitations in capacity of those expected and required to intervene. The scenarios have all been developed based on the experiences of victims of modern slavery in the UK and they encourage regional partnerships to come together to identify what their local response should be, highlight best practice and identify and rectify any potential gaps in service in order to develop a response to modern slavery that best meets the need in their region.

These innovative training tools will empower local communities to respond in appropriate ways to complex situations and to improve responses to victim care in the hope that together we can make our region a hostile environment to exploiters and support victims into a meaningful recovery.

We hope that this Anti-Slavery Day is a good opportunity for people to come together in partnership, to recognise the role we all have to play in responding to modern slavery and to begin to develop responses that are in the best interests of those that need support.

For more information on the workshops, please visit

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