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Blogs and Opinion Interviews from the United Kingdom: risks after exploitation for women and girls

Interviews from the United Kingdom: risks after exploitation for women and girls

To mark International Women’s Day, we have interviewed our team on the ground in the United Kingdom to find out about the specific barriers that women and girls face to re-entering society after being exploited. Staff who work directly with survivors of modern slavery and human trafficking have shared their experiences with us.

In the United Kingdom, UK Advocacy Manager Ellie and Child Trafficking Transitional Specialist Elle outlined the barriers to re-entry into society after exploitation in the UK. They identified how the shame and guilt that come from exploitation can be very isolating. This can be heightened depending on culture, religion, and community values.

“Community can be crucial to help reduce the risk of re-exploitation. A lack of community can be a real danger to victims. For long-term recovery, it [community] is one of the most vital things.”

– Ellie, UK Advocacy Manager

They also outlined how children who have had their childhood taken away by exploitation can have long-term trauma, and this can cause behavioural issues as an adult. Professionals can be quick to judge these behaviours without understanding the context which causes them and recognising the layers underneath. Young survivors may not have been given the chance, opportunity or time to develop these skills, which then as an adult, would put them in a position of not being able to engage well with different support services.

In contrast, sometimes there can be an infantilisation of victims, especially women and girls, meaning they are not taken seriously when they come forward about their exploitation. Or if they are, they are treated like children without autonomy. This was what happened to Joanna*. Joanna had become pregnant as a result of her exploitation. When a police raid helped her to leave the exploitative situation, instead of being recognised as a victim of trafficking, she was instead seen as a vulnerable mother who couldn’t look after her child and miscategorised as a victim of domestic abuse, despite there being no evidence to suggest that. False assumptions can be made, and this can have real-world consequences for survivors.

“I think sometimes services, like the local authorities for example, often lack a complete and thorough understanding of trafficking in the way we do, so they can tend to try to fill the gaps themselves. This can cause a lot of misconceptions and I think that can be really detrimental. It happens to many survivors, but I think for women there’s that added stereotype or that added assumption about what has happened or why something has happened.”

Elle, Child Trafficking Transitional Specialist

Female survivors often face multiple exploitation types and experience multiple types of abuse while in exploitation. This is what happened to Alice*. Alice was initially exploited for forced labour, but then faced sexual abuse during her exploitation, and also had to carry out domestic tasks in the homes of her exploiters, making her also a victim of domestic servitude. This is why the approach to reducing barriers and helping survivors must be intersectional and holistic.

“Not to say that can’t be true of male survivors, but I think it’s something that we do see a lot with the female clients that we work with, is that often it’s not just one period of abuse or exploitation, it’s often multiple or it’s prolonged, and that can obviously impact hugely on mental health. Also, in terms of trust, if you’ve continually been abused or harmed by lots of different people, then how do you know the next person that offers you help is actually offering you help or wants something else from you as well.”

– Ellie, UK Advocacy Manager

Regaining the trust of authorities can be a challenging barrier for survivors to overcome after exploitation, especially if miscategorised. Take Charlotte*, who was being exploited through sex trafficking. She met a man who told her that he could get her out of her exploitative situation, however, she soon found herself in a situation of domestic violence. When she was able to get out, she was first identified as a victim of domestic abuse, meaning she wasn’t immediately able to access the appropriate services for survivors of human trafficking, until it was eventually discovered that she was also a victim of sexual exploitation. Due to her experiencing multiple types of abuse, she wasn’t taken seriously at first when reporting, which hindered her from accessing the appropriate care process.

From interviewing our program specialists in the United Kingdom, we’ve been able to delve into the barriers that exist for survivors of modern slavery, especially those that exist for women and girls.

Learn more about trafficking in the UK with our free e-learning course.

Learn more about what improvements are needed to help survivors overcome these barriers: How to reduce barriers for women and girls after exploitation

*Name changed to protect survivor’s identity.

young girl