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If we keep our eyes open and our wits about us, we can help beat the scourge of human trafficking

Shan Saba, director at Brightwork

In an age when terror can strike out of the blue, without warning or reason, we are justifiably encouraged to stay on the look-out for tell-tale signs and alert the authorities if we think something suspicious is going on.

To a greater or lesser extent, we have become conditioned to this state of affairs and accept it as another part of our civic duty, an obligation we owe to other members of our society in the interests of us all.

But around the world this month (18th October) another call echoed loudly, another appeal to every individual to be aware of and alert to a burgeoning blot on all current civilisations – Modern Day Slavery.

It may surprise people that we even have to consider such a concept. Surely, it might reasonably be supposed, slavery was consigned to the history books in the 1800s.

However, as Anti-Slavery Day demonstrated with another effective campaign to raise awareness of the misery of human trafficking, human bondage and human misery, this is sadly not the case.

In the UK alone, the Government estimates that there are tens of thousands of people in slavery, though accurate figures are, of course, hard to come by. What we do know is that more than 5,000 people were referred last year as potential victims.

This number is up one third from 2016, and 46% of those referred were in a situation of labour exploitation, while 34% were in sexual exploitation.

Disturbingly, 2118 suspected child trafficking victims were reported to the UK authorities in 2017, 66% up on the year before. British children make up the biggest group of suspected victims, with 677 children from the UK referred to the authorities – a massive 265% spike.

Given these numbers, it is clearly a problem which is hiding in plain sight, but that is an even greater incentive for people to be vigilant as they go about their daily business and be ready to report suspicions straight away.

In Scotland, the numbers to contact are Migrant Help – 0141 884 7900 (daytime), 0141 212 8553 (out of hours) – and TARA – 0141 276 7724 (anytime). TARA supports people trafficked for sexual exploitation and Migrant Help provides support to all other adult victims.

Brightwork has been in partnership with Migrant Help since March this year, helping to guarantee employment opportunities for victims of human trafficking. We stand by these victims and we want to help offer them a future.

But what can people in the ordinary run of things do to help identify people who are being forced to work under threats of, or actual, mental or physical abuse? How can they assist people who are having restrictions placed on their freedom?

There are several giveaway signs, including:

  • Physical or psychological abuse, appearing malnourished, unkempt, anxious, perhaps with untreated injuries.
  • Isolation, rarely allowed to travel alone and appearing to be under the control of others.
  • Poor living conditions, for example being kept in dirty, cramped or overcrowded accommodation and/or living and working at the same address.
  • Having no ID documents, few personal possessions and wearing the same clothes every day.
  • Unusual travel times – being dropped or collected very early or very late at night.

Those caught up in modern slavery may be reluctant to seek help, avoid eye contact and appear frightened. They may also be reluctant to speak to strangers and fear law enforcers.

Employers can take the lead in this kind of vigilance, and at Brightwork we actively encourage them to do so, but the wider public must keep their eyes open and their wits about them as well. We owe it to these victims as a simple human duty.

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