'Hidden in plain sight’ is a term that describes human trafficking and slavery well – it is a crime which is all around us and often right in front of us, but one that is famously hard to identifyWe look, but often we do not see. The problem is twofold: we might fail to identify a victim because the signs are not well-known, and the victims themselves may not be trying to make themselves known due to the numerous barriers they face. 


Why don’t some victims of slavery actively seek help? 

This is a little hard to comprehend – why wouldn’t you seek help if you were enslaved and trafficked? There are many reasons for this, not least the fact that some victims are not able to self-identify. They may, for example, believe they are working to pay off a ‘debt’ and therefore not see that they are being treated as slaves. What’s more, many victims have fled persecution, conflict and other dangers in their homeland. Relatively, their current situation may seem an improvement and they may fear being sent back to danger should they make the authorities aware of their plight.  

As with many crimes, the fear of retaliation can be a significant driving force in keeping victims silent. There may also be a lot of shame and other negative feelings tied up in their experience that makes them fear their story being uncovered. 

Then there is the fact, of course, that victims may not be able to communicate their situation; language barriers may mean that their attempts to gain help are unsuccessful, or the risk of this being the case enough to deter them from the attempt. Not to mention, even if language is no issue, that victims likely won’t know what services and support are available to them and may even mistrust them. In some countries, for instance, the police are not trusted by civilians, which may mean that a victim is fearful of police involvement. 

For other victims, there is the pure fact that they are kept out of sight and have no way of reaching help. They may be locked in a house, unable to escape and, even if there were able to free themselvesthey may be without any transport or money. It’s a terrifying situation to imagine.  


Why is it so difficult for us to identify victims? 

Though they often lurk in plain sight, human trafficking and slavery are hidden crimes which are difficult to identify from the outside. Largely, this comes down to a lack of awareness and training on the subject. Most of us aren’t aware of the issue of modern slavery, let alone the indicators that may point to a victim. We tend to think of slavery as a thing of the past, and this means that we aren’t constantly on our guard against it, though we ought to be. 

Just as it is a barrier for victims in seeking help, language barriers can also hinder us in helping victims. We might not fully understand or realise an attempt to get help.  

There are some incredible organisations working in the field to try to tackle the issue of human trafficking and modern slavery, but sadly there may still be a lack of adequate resources and services in some areas, making tackling the issue much more difficult.  


How can victims be identified 

You, yes YOU, can help to tackle modern slavery. When you have your car washed or nails painted (very common businesses that traffickers use slaves to run), are you coming face to face with a victim of modern day slavery? 

Of course, for most of the businesses you interact with this will absolutely not be the case but forced labour is one of the most prevalent types of modern slavery, so we must all remain vigilant and keep a look out for the signs 

Here are some of the key indicators that someone might be a victim (Gov.uk): 

  • Showing signs that their movements are being controlled and they cannot leave their home or work environment. They may also not know their home or work address. 
  • Displaying fear or anxiety and appearing to be unable to communicate freely with others. They might, for instance, avoid eye contactbe fearful of a colleague or boss, allow others to speak for them and be fearful of authorities.  
  • Having injuries that could be the result of a physical assault or of negligence in the workplace (e.g. a lack of health and safety measures). 
  • Having false or no travel and identification documents. These documents may be held by someone else. 
  • Believing that they must work against their will, perhaps under the perception that they must do so in order to pay back a debt, and receiving little to no earnings or having no access to those earnings. 
  • Working excessively long hours, perhaps also over long periods, with very limited (if any) days off. 
  • Living in substandard accommodation with no access to medical care. 
  • Being subjected to threats of violence against them or their loved ones. 

If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. It is always better to flag a potential issue than to let it pass – innocent parties will be no worse off, but you could be saving the life of a victim by raising your concerns. Don’t take matters into your own hands – if you think someone is a victim then you can contact one of the organisations below. If you believe that the individual is in immediate danger, call 999.