Understanding modern slavery – and how to spot the signs

Understanding modern slavery – and how to spot the signs

Slavery in the 21st century is often enforced by threats to the individual, coercion, through mental or physical abuse, or the threat of abuse, abduction, fraud and deception. Modern slavery is an international crime that affects an estimated 29.8 million slaves around the world, with an estimated 13,000 people held in slavery in the UK today. In 2015 there were 3,266 potential victims identified and referred to the National Crime Agency.


Modern slavery takes a number of forms including sexual exploitation, forced labour, domestic servitude and criminal exploitation. Often the person is forced or compelled to work and they are often controlled by an ’employer’, usually through mental or physical abuse or the threat of abuse, both to them and their families.

Signs that someone might be a victim of modern slavery include:

  • Showing signs of injury, abuse and malnourishment
  • They look unkempt, are often in the same clothing and have poor hygiene
  • Appearing to be under the control and influence of others
  • Living in cramped, dirty, overcrowded accommodation
  • They have no access or control of their passport or identity documents
  • Appearing scared, avoiding eye contact, and being untrusting
  • They may allow others to speak for them when addressed directly, rather than speak for themselves.
  • They’re collected very early and/or returned late at night on a regular basis
  • May have inappropriate clothing for the work they are performing, and/or a lack of safety equipment
  • May be isolated from the local community and their family
  • They travel only with other workers

It can include victims that have been brought from overseas, and vulnerable people in the UK, being forced to illegally work against their will in many different sectors, including brothels, nail bars, factories, car washes, construction and agriculture.

What’s the difference between modern slavery and human trafficking?

The terms ‘modern slavery’ and ‘human trafficking’ are often used interchangeably. They can be taken to mean the same thing on most occasions, but human trafficking may also refer to the movement of people from one place to another. Human trafficking often involves threat, force and coercion, and people may be trafficked into modern slavery as a result of abduction or deception.

What to do if you suspect modern slavery


If you have information on the criminals operating modern slavery networks you can talk to CrimeStoppers, as an independent charity, 100% anonymously – your identity will never be revealed. If you are already in the UK, call free on 0800 555 111 or report details online here on their website.

What to do if you are a victim of modern slavery


Due to their anonymity guarantee, CrimeStoppers can’t take information from victims of crime. If think you may be a victim of modern slavery you can contact the charity Salvation Army by calling their 24-hour confidential helpline on 0300 038151.

The UK Modern Slavery Helpline is available 24/7 to offer confidential, advice and support for any victim, statutory agency, business, or member of the public regarding modern slavery suspicions or concerns.

Trained Helpline Advisers are available to discuss potential signs of modern slavery and options for callers or victims in need. Call free on 08000 121 700.

Originally published by CrimeStoppers.

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