How Slavery Happens

How do people become trapped in exploitation?

There are thousands of victims of modern slavery, so there are thousands of stories. And while a common factor for becoming exploited is vulnerability, it is fear that keeps people in exploitation. Criminals will often control their victims through extreme violence, the threat of violence, or manipulation. They will also instil a fear of deportation or arrest in their victims to prevent them from seeking help.

Here are some examples of how people can become exploited in the UK

Example one. Some people who come to the UK, do so after being approached by ‘agents’ in their home countries who promise them work. They are offered good jobs in Britain, and a chance to escape poverty or lack of opportunities in their home countries. Once they arrive in the UK, they have their documents removed, and told they owe their agent fees which must be paid back quickly. They are often unfamiliar with English, don’t know where they’ve been taken to, don’t know anybody, and are told that if they are found by the UK authorities they will be arrested or deported. They are forced to work long hours in sectors such as agriculture or construction, but are paid nothing.

Example two. Online adverts target foreign nationals, specifically women, and encourage them to come to the UK for work. But when they arrive, the ‘job’ turns out to be in the sex industry, and they are forced to work as prostitutes. They are controlled through violence and fear, and moved around the country from brothel to brothel, where they are forced to sleep with countless men, and unable to escape.

Example three. Someone recruited from abroad to work in a British factory, car wash or brothel, may be being ‘paid’ a small amount by their employer, but the majority of their earnings or benefits will be being diverted to a criminal gang. They will be pressurised into working extremely long hours in poor conditions, but their lack of familiarity with the British employment system or knowledge of what they’re actually earning, makes them unaware of the extent of their exploitation.

Example four: A family or person living in Britain may encourage a relative or acquaintance from abroad to come to the UK for marriage, or with promises of help to find work or education. Once they arrive they are kept isolated in the family home, treated badly, and forced to work long hours for free as the family’s domestic help. 

Example five. In the UK there is a country-wide problem with criminal gangs targeting vulnerable teenagers or young people and recruiting them for drug dealing, fraud, or prostitution. As well as using violence or blackmail to recruit people, they may also play on vulnerable people’s need for connection, or their desire for status or security. As well as promising money or gifts, they offer a feeling of belonging, and what begins as a ‘friendship’ quickly descends into a life of violence, exploitation and abuse, which they feel powerless to escape from.