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Case Studies Viktor’s story: Escaping his traffickers after four years in forced labour

Viktor’s story: Escaping his traffickers after four years in forced labour

Slavery still exists. It hasn’t gone away; it has just evolved. New global estimates show that forced labour – a form of modern slavery – is generating £185bn in profits. This illegal money is going to traffickers, people who are exploiting and controlling other human beings for their own gain. 

Below we tell the story of a survivor of human trafficking who is only able to tell his story now because he took the brave decision to escape out of a window, before Hope for Justice and other organisations managed to get involved to help him. 

Viktor* was one of five people being held against their will at a property in West Yorkshire, UK. He was forced to work multiple jobs, at a car wash and in factories. He worked for long hours, but received only £5-10 for an entire week for his labour. The traffickers pocketed his wages. 

Viktor was emotional as he described how he was treated. He told our team:

“I felt like I was a slave. There was no respect for us, no mercy. They humiliated us. They were cruel and expected us to work and do everything they wanted, while they were laughing at us and having fun.”

Viktor*, a survivor of human trafficking

Taking away a person’s right to freedom

When a person is being controlled by another, their human rights and freedoms are often restricted. Control can be physical, financial or psychological, or any combination of these. 

In UK law, Article 4 of The Human Rights Act 1998 protects a person’s right not to be held in slavery or servitude, or made to do forced or compulsory labour. 

In reality, though, we know that this ‘absolute’ right to be protected against slavery and servitude does not prevent it from happening. 

There are now more than 27 million people around the world trapped in forms of modern slavery like forced labour and forced sexual exploitation, and another 22 million in forced marriages – just under 50 million overall.  

New figures from the International Labour Organization (ILO) show that the annual global profits from forced labour have risen to $236bn (£185bn). 

The UN agency’s new estimates show a 37% rise since 2014 when the last set of figures were released. 

The ILO said this is “a dramatic increase that has been fuelled by both a growth in the number of people forced into labour, as well as higher profits generated from the exploitation of victims”. 

How Hope for Justice got involved in Viktor’s case

This cruel misuse of power was at play in Viktor’s case. He was initially exploited for forced labour and later held in domestic servitude after multiple injuries prevented him from working. Viktor was controlled by traffickers for more than four years, as they took his earnings for themselves. He worked to feed their greed. 

Our team first met Viktor in a hospital bed where he lay with serious injuries suffered at the hands of the traffickers. He had been found on the street, malnourished and bearing physical wounds because of the abuse. Hospital staff identified that he was a potential victim of human trafficking and raised the red flag. Viktor was referred to Hope for Justice by the local NHS Community Healthcare Trust.

Hospital bed, stock image

Hope for Justice provides training to people and organisations who may come into contact with victims and survivors of modern slavery.  

One of our Independent Modern Slavery Advocates (IMSAs), who has worked alongside Viktor, said: “This case shows how vital it is for frontline workers, such as NHS staff, to be trained to spot the signs of modern slavery. The survivor agreed to speak with Hope for Justice and our team arranged to visit him to provide advice and support. Viktor was in a very delicate state medically, awaiting life-changing surgery. He was experiencing a lot of pain and on antibiotics. He was very emotional and traumatised by the exploitation.” 

Viktor’s story

Viktor was trafficked from the Czech Republic to the UK on the promise of a well-paid job and accommodation. His travel would be paid for. He was told not to worry about anything. But when he arrived in the UK, these dreams quickly faded. Viktor was handed over to another trafficker, who took his ID documents away from him. He was then taken to a house where he lived with approximately 10 people. Viktor was put in a room with five others and forced to sleep on the floor, without even a mattress, just a yoga mat and blanket. 

Viktor worked long hours. His movements were controlled and monitored by the traffickers. If he refused to work and do what he was told, he was threatened and beaten, which left him with several bruises and scars. 

Our IMSA said: “Viktor felt like he was in an impossible situation where he had no chance to leave. As a result of the exploitation and due to a lack of appropriate protective equipment at work, Viktor sustained serious injuries that prevented him from working. Following this, the traffickers forced him to do all their housework, such as cleaning and cooking. He did this every day for no pay. Until one night he found courage and escaped through a window.” 

Multi-agency approach

Hope for Justice worked alongside Viktor, hospital staff and other professionals to address his immediate needs and provide essentials such as clothing, food and a SIM card so he was contactable. 

The survivor agreed to enter the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) – the UK Government’s process for formally identifying and supporting potential victims of modern slavery – and to report his experiences to the police. 

As a ‘first responder’, West Yorkshire Police made the NRM referral for the survivor, which would give him access to support such as counselling, legal advice and housing. 

Police, stock image

Hope for Justice supported the NRM referral, gathered information and evidence, and worked across agencies to ensure the survivor’s short- and long-term security and safety. 

Viktor received a positive ‘reasonable grounds’ decision via the NRM, which means there were reasonable grounds to believe he was a victim of modern slavery. Hope for Justice then advocated for the survivor to be contacted by The Salvation Army so that support could be initiated. 

After several weeks, Viktor was finally given access to outreach support, a support worker and in receipt of subsistence pay. He has since received a back-pay in subsistence from The Salvation Army for the delay he experienced. 

Our team has also gathered additional information to support the survivor’s case for a ‘conclusive grounds’ NRM decision. 

Empowering survivors

A member of our team who has been working alongside Viktor said: “This was a very complex case where police initially failed to identify the survivor as a victim of human trafficking and where the local authority refused to provide any support due to the survivor’s immigration status and him having ‘no recourse to public funds’, as it is called.  

“The survivor was disregarded. He had slipped through the system and was left without support. However, our team believed Viktor’s story, we advocated for his rights and entitlements as a survivor of trafficking, and we supported him throughout the whole process until he finally received support. 

“Viktor has been through the most horrific trafficking experiences, which left him facing life-changing physical and psychological trauma and complex needs. But his story shows that when an organisation like Hope for Justice intervenes, empowers survivors to have a voice and helps them to access the right support, victims can have their freedom again, have the chance to begin a journey of recovery and ultimately have their lives restored. They are given hope for the future – something every person deserves. 

“This survivor’s story is powerful and unique. I chose his pseudonym name Viktor (which means ‘conqueror’ or ‘winner’, ‘victory over death’), because I believe it reflects his journey. I hope that by sharing his story we will encourage people to act and to support the incredible mission of ending slavery.” 

The survivor told our team: “Thank you very much for all your help, I appreciate it so much. I am better now, and I look forward to the future and the worst being behind.” 

*Name changed to protect identity of the survivor 

young girl