Names have been changed to protect the privacy of the individual survivor.
Sebastian is a European National and he was deceived into coming to the UK on a false promise of an offer of work and accommodation. When he arrived he was threatened, forced to live in squalid conditions, sleep on the floor and forced to work long hours for no pay. He was given so little food that he was forced to steal food to survive.
Sebastian was referred to the anti-slavery charity Hope for Justice when Sebastian approached a local church for help. Hope for Justice assisted Sebastian to be referred into the National Referral Mechanism for identifying and supporting victims of modern slavery. Although he was frightened of his traffickers Sebastian explained he wanted to cooperate with the police.
Sebastian was looked after in a safe house while the National Referral Mechanism assessed whether he was a victim. But he was told that this assistance was for 45 days and after that due to changes to welfare benefits he either had to return home or face homelessness on the streets in the UK. He decided he would rather be homeless because his exploiters were already trying to find him in his country of origin and he was terrified of returning home. At that point Sebastian became anxious about cooperating with the police. When Hope for Justice’s advocates met Sebastian he was physically shaking because of the uncertainty of his situation. He was offered very short extensions in the safe house but these were insufficient to sort out the issues he was facing and the uncertainty increased the stress he was under. This also left him in a state of limbo unable to psychologically move forward from his experience and this affected his mental health. Sebastian commented himself on the NRM support – “45 days is too little, it’s difficult to get over a bad dream in 45 days let alone human trafficking, you need more time.”
Hope for Justice was able to help Sebastian by advocating on his behalf, repeatedly challenging poor welfare decisions and working with other agencies to secure long term housing, welfare and support. Sebastian now speaks good English, he has his own house, he is working, contributing to society and pursuing a legal claim for compensation from his exploiters. We talked to Sebastian about Lord McColl’s Modern Slavery (Victim Support) Bill and asked him what he would say to members of parliament. He said:
“This is an excellent piece of initiative….I do think a longer period of time would be beneficial to victims….I believe housing (shelter) and language development is a priority, if you walk into an [employment] agency and don’t speak English they will show you the door.” He also explained “I believe rehabilitation is best through work, security comes with a safe home and a safe haven so people should be offered jobs as part of rehabilitation.”
He also said “The number one thing that should be provided for victims of trafficking is stable housing. I don’t think they should have to work for three months because you need time to adjust to your new circumstances, reintegrate into normal society, recover and learn how to trust people”
What Sebastian is describing simply cannot be achieved without giving victims clear immigration status and a right to basic support provisions as Lord McColl’s Bill does.
Maya’s story in her own words
I am fortunate enough to say that I am a survivor and no longer a victim to modern slavery, however from the age of 12- 19 I was a slave to sex trafficking.
Through this crime everything was taken from me, my control, my dignity, my future, my voice. I became hidden, from the years of 2005- 2013 I was a statistic, a number within the figure of "potential victims of trafficking within the UK".
Nobody should ever become a victim of trafficking, I should never have been trafficked for that many years undetected. I was not only a child but I was a child in a school. A child with a GP, a child with foster parents and social workers, all which failed throughout 7 years to identify that I was being tricked, controlled, tortured and sold everyday.
I spent years accepting that what my life had become couldn't and wouldn't ever change. It was impossible for me to speak out and nobody around me took any notice of the signs right in front of them.
However, I was extremely lucky to have been rescued 4 years ago, and all it took was one individual police officer not to dismiss the signs and to look further than what you see on the surface. I then spent the standard 45 days in a safe house. Although I am extremely grateful to have been in a safe house, 45 days isn't enough time to establish the needs in each individual case let alone recover from them.
Long term support is crucial for any survivor’s recovery, without it you may as well not have been rescued at all. I spent the first 2 years of my recovery moving to 4 different places, all which claimed to support survivors of trafficking. Unfortunately they did not have the knowledge and training so there was no recovery. Those 2 years were unbearable and as a result my mental health and physical health suffered hugely.
In July 2015 I hit the jackpot! The Snowdrop Project. The first charity to provide adequate and trained long term support. Having a support worker, counsellor and supportive community has changed my life drastically.
Being a victim of trafficking leaves its mark mentally and physically, 4 years on and I am still dealing with the effects of this crime but I have not had to do it alone.
I found trusting anybody a challenge but Snowdrop never gave up. No matter what I was facing, feeling or doing they always stuck by my side and helped empower me to make the best decisions for myself. I cannot begin to tell you the impact and difference long term support has, but I can guarantee you that if I hadn't had Snowdrop, I would not be here today.
Each survivor should be as lucky as me to have long term support. The effects and obstacles that you are faced with when rescued should never be faced alone.
It is also vitally important when working with vulnerable people who have been through such a high level of trauma that you have the right training or knowledge. From my own experiences I found the places I lived that didn't have it were more detrimental to my long term recovery compared to Snowdrop where because of their knowledge and training I have been able to grow in independence, confidence and strength with the ability to now make choices for the future I have back.
Although I have been lucky enough to be rescued and to then have long term support, I shouldn't have had to be because I shouldn't have been a slave. I shouldn't have been forgotten and hidden. I along with every other woman, man and child that have been at the hands of the disgraceful crime should have been seen and should have been heard.
I count it an honour to use my experiences and my voice to speak out on behalf of those who don't have a voice to help make the necessary changes to survivor care and the movement to eradicate Modern Slavery.
Maya’s story highlights how important it is for victims to receive specialist support after they leave the initial 45 days in a safe house that is provided while the national referral mechanism is assessing whether they are a victim or not. Maya’s experience shows that even as a British person after she left the safe house she really needed care from a well-trained specialist support worker who could help her to access other services and begin the process of recovery, but this was not provided to her. She also reminds us just how challenging it can be for victims to overcome their traumatic experiences and rebuild their lives. Lord McColl’s Bill will ensure that victims like Maya will receive a support worker and a care plan for 12 months immediately following their formal recognition as a victim to help them make that journey to survivor and a life that is free for good.