Human trafficking victims – no longer just found handcuffed to a bed in a brothel..

The common misconception is that a victim of human trafficking will be identifiable as they will either be found in the back of a lorry entering a UK port, or tied to a bed in a brothel.  

While there are still many cases such as those described, the traffickers have become much more sophisticated and are prepared to go to much greater lengths to ensure that their victims ‘blend in’ and are not so easily identifiable as victims. Labour trafficking is much more prevalent around the World than sex trafficking, although sex trafficking reflects the majority of media reporting as it is much more headline grabbing.  Whether it is labour or sex trafficking, it is all slavery…..  And in order to combat it effectively, all first responders need to be able to identify a victim when they meet one or hear about one. 

Examples of recent trafficking victims identified include:

  • teenagers working on cannabis farms, males working on farms in East Anglia;
  • young women being forced to attend the benefits office and claim benefits for themselves and their family;
  • young girls picked up from homeless shelters and then forced into prostitution and made to ‘work’ inside a van which travels around the Midlands;
  • males forced to sleep in a tent in the middle of winter and pick cockles;
  • women working as housekeepers in hotels and guesthouses.

While many of the trafficking victims come from Eastern Europe and East Asia, the pattern is clear, it is not the nationality that makes a person a victim of trafficking it is the fact they are either forced or coerced into work – they are being exploited.  While some trafficking victims may want to be rescued as they are being treated despicably and in many cases are being abused and tortured.  Others may be quite happy with the work they are undertaking.  It is these people in particular who do not consider themselves to be victims of trafficking.  A victim who works 60 hours a week, and receives only a roof over his head, food, alcohol and cigarettes in return may not consider himself to be a victim, and in many cases may be very resentful of the person or organization which takes away this way of life – hence the reason many people who are identified during a police raid as trafficking victims may not want the stigma of the ‘victim’ title and may refuse to work with the police or the other organisations which assist such victims.

Hence, identifying a trafficking victim is often not an easy task, they may be afraid of the authorities, will probably have been told not to talk to the police or anyone official looking for fear of being arrested and imprisoned.  They may consider (and in many cases, quite rightly so) that their family will be in danger if they speak to the authorities.  They may have total distrust of the authorities, having previously made a compliant which was not believed (due to the fact they were not chained to a bed in a brothel!), or may not want to lose their bed, albeit it often nothing more than a shed or tent, it may be all they have and want to cling on to.

The trafficking gangs use many ways to keep tabs on their chattels (victims), ranging from a tattoo on their arm, shaving of their eyebrows, and making them wear certain clothes.  In many cases the victims will be allowed out in the public arena, so as not to cause too much suspicion of people locked in a house, but there may be an enforcer close by, keeping an eye on the victims, or alternatively the enforcers may have taken something from the victim (such as their child) to ensure their return.  In extreme case, the victim will form a bond with their trafficker or enforcer – this is reported in many young girls who have been sex trafficked, and will refuse to accept that the enforcer is doing anything wrong, and may even recruit other young people into the brothel for the enforcers.

In summary, identifying victims of human trafficking is not an easy task.  Those most likely to come not contact with the victims are not the specialised law enforcement or Government funded units.  While these units investigate incidents of human trafficking, it is the first responders who usually have the first contact with a human trafficking victims and it is these first responders who need to be able to identify a trafficking victim.  For example, paramedics, midwives and A&E staff, neighborhood police officers, local council housing officers and enforcement officers.  It is estimated there are many victims of trafficking in prison, too afraid to say why they were working on the cannabis farm, or why they were in possession of a false passport or driving license.  Prison officers and counsellors may be the first people that a trafficking victim is able to talk to in safety.  Criminal lawyers and police station representatives are likely to have come across a victim without recognising them as a victim, such as the woman who is advised to plead guilty to running a brothel, but who was actually trafficked into the UK at the age of 13 and forced to work in the brothel, and who then formed a bond with her trafficker  and recruited other girls, as it was the only way she could get out of being sold for sex.

Unless these First Responders are able to make these identifications, the specialist human trafficking teams are able to do nothing more than touch the surface with regard to identifying human trafficking rings and putting an end to this modern day slavery. 

Are you a First Responder?  Come to a free 2 hour training session 15/1/14 Euston, 11-1pm on identifying and assisting human trafficking victims.  The course is run jointly by Migrant Help and 1 Grays Inn Square Chambers and funded by a charitable grant.

To Book:  contact  or via 1 Grays Inn Square chambers 0207 405 0001


About gurdena

Social Justice Barrister, interested in all things contentious & anything criminal justice related including prisoners and complaints against the police. Specialising in criminal law - mainly sex, violence, and football fans (not necessarily all 3 at the same time!). Represents people facing death penalty in the USA. Associate Member at Drystone Chambers

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