Talking Life’s specialist trainer Karen Livesey on Modern Slavery & Human Trafficking:


“Having heard all of this you may choose to look the other way, but you can never say again that you did not know.”

These were the closing words of William Wilberforce  in his famous speech on slavery to the House of Commons in 1791. Slavery was subsequently ‘abolished’ in 1833, only to be replaced by what we now know as ‘Modern Slavery’.

Many people in the UK think of modern slavery as something that occurs ‘in other countries’, never here, or that it is neatly confined to history books. It is an alarming but truthful fact that there are more slaves today than ever before in human history. Figures from the International Labour Organisation suggests there are more than 40 million people in modern slavery across the world, with nearly 25 million in forced labour; but it is important to remember that in addition to forced labour, modern slavery encompasses human trafficking, slavery, and servitude.

In human trafficking cases, exploitation can take many forms, including sexual exploitation, forced labour, slavery, servitude, forced criminality and removal of organs. These are not easy subjects to deal with, but it is crucial for all front line professionals to understand the specific vulnerability of victims, (both adults and children) and to be able to offer identification, protection, care, and support for victims of modern slavery which is at the heart of the Government statutory guidance January 2021.

As the Home Secretary has said:

“We have made great strides in tackling it, but victims continue to endure unthinkable horrors. Victims of human trafficking, forced labour, sexual exploitation and domestic exploitation cower in plain sight in our towns, businesses, and communities.”

Modern Slavery Unit (for advice & clarification re NRM) click here:

First responders and staff in other organisations need to understand the signs of modern-day slavery and be able to recognise indicators of abuse and exploitation which can include physical, psychological, situational, and environmental. This is particularly evident when considering child sexual exploitation, child criminal exploitation and County Lines.

It can be challenging to identify potential victims of modern slavery who may be reluctant to come forward or may not recognise themselves as having been trafficked or enslaved. There are likely to be barriers that prevent victims from disclosing or engaging with services. It is a disturbing truth that perpetrators and organised criminal gangs use coercive, controlling, and abusive means to dominate and abuse both adults and children.

Modern slavery training is for First Responders and anyone within public authorities who may encounter potential victims of modern slavery and who are involved in supporting victims. This includes certain public authorities, Police forces, the National Crime Agency and some organisations that are not public authorities as well as those working in the front line of health and social care.  Collaborative partnerships, multi-disciplinary and multi-agency working are fundamental to ensure that victims are identified, protected, and safeguarded. Individuals and organisations must have regard to the Modern Slavery Statutory Guidance for England and Wales, Jan 2021, which incorporates a view to developing a more consistent response to modern day slavery victims to ensure they are identified and receive the available and appropriate support.

Modern Slavery: Statutory Guidance for England and Wales

(under s49 of the Modern Slavery Act 2015) and Non-Statutory Guidance for Scotland and Northern Ireland. Version 2 Home Office January 2021. Click to view

When I was first asked to deliver Modern Slavery training many years ago the focus was on adults becoming victims of exploitation, forced labour and domestic servitude. In more recent years, the Government investigations into Modern Slavery now reveal a wider scope of concern which includes human trafficking with particular emphasis on the needs and support of children and young people who can be trafficked as part of sexual exploitation and child criminal exploitation which includes County Lines. I think, one of the most significant issues in Modern Slavery is the spiderweb-like network of connections between the different forms of exploitation, vulnerabilities of innocent people and the offensive perpetrators who seek to control, coerce, and abuse adults and children.

Participants on this training, who have included social workers, probation officers, housing association managers, early intervention workers, modern  slavery specialists, and diverse local authority workers are often surprised about the wide ranging signs and indicators of exploitation. Why is someone unable to give details of their accommodation? Does a person have money deducted from their salary for food or accommodation? Why does that individual have limited social contact and is dependent upon other people?  All of these- and many more – are potential ‘flags’ to some kind of exploitation.   Often participants in the training express shock and disbelief at the nature of the crimes being committed and the realisation that Modern Slavery and human trafficking are serious concerns in the heart of communities. “How can this be happening in today’s society?” is a frequent question and more importantly “what can we do about it?”

It is heartening to know the Government is taking significant steps to deal with Modern Slavery and human trafficking. We all have a part to play in recognising indicators of abuse and reporting appropriately to ensure we contribute towards an intolerant approach to perpetrators and ensure potential victims are safe and given positive strategies for recovery and support.

Karen Livesey,  February, 2021