Last week the Prime Minister Theresa May announced the establishment of the first modern slavery taskforce to oversee government action to end modern slavery. This announcement is commendable and a welcome indication of the Government’s on-going commitment in the fight against modern slavery. Support for victims of trafficking should be at the heart of the UK anti-trafficking response, particularly access to safe, secure and appropriate accommodation, clear provision of information on rights and entitlements and on-going provision of psychosocial support for both male and female victims of trafficking.
Protecting victims of trafficking and providing long term support is critical to enable those trafficked for labour exploitation to recover, to access justice and to avoid re-trafficking. In the UK, access to support services for victims of trafficking is provided through the UK National Referral Mechanism. Victims who enter into the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) are entitled to a range of support services including: accommodation, financial assistance, counselling and help accessing legal advice, for a period of 45 days or until a conclusive grounds decision is made. However, the lack of support for victims of trafficking after this period is problematic and on-going support is either limited or non-existent.
A review of the NRM in 2014 recommended that support should be provided based on an assessment of the victim’s individual needs, and highlighted the need for on-going support following a conclusive identification. FLEX research also found that lack of post-NRM support and move-on assistance means that victims who have exited the NRM have difficulty accessing basic services and are left vulnerable to further exploitation.
Information on Support Services
The NRM review found that awareness of trafficking and of the National Referral Mechanism is less well established than it should be amongst frontline staff. Findings from FLEXs Pro-Act project1 also indicate that victims and front line support workers are frequently unaware of the rights of trafficked persons. This acts as a barrier to service provision, including information on a victim’s rights and entitlements. In order to inform victims of trafficking about their rights in the UK, FLEX recently developed two illustrated guides to NRM support and legal options for victims, in 12 languages. Clear straightforward information in the victim’s own language is crucial to ensure that those who have been trafficked are able to make informed choices about the support they receive.
Housing is one of the most basic needs of victims of trafficking. In the UK housing provision is provided through the UK NRM. However, the standard varies considerably throughout the UK on the basis of geographical location and type of exploitation. Victims prioritise accommodation that feels safe and secure, to enable to them to recover from their experiences. However, some victims and support providers FLEX spoke to reported poor standards of accommodation, particularly for those housed in asylum accommodation. Housing should be tailored to the needs of trafficked persons regardless of immigration status, and all housing provision should seek to empower trafficked persons.
FLEX’s research shows that some service providers have a poor understanding of how human trafficking affects male victims, and their emotional and psychological needs are often overlooked. Early access to psychological support is key to good long-term outcomes. Victims of trafficking often report feeling depressed, anxious or have upset sleeping patterns before they access counselling. Male victims are less likely to enter into psychological assistance programmes and are viewed as having less need for such assistance than female victims. In addition, language barriers can prevent victims from accessing counselling services, especially where interpreters are not provided. This increases feelings of isolation for victims. Interpretation should be offered as standard to trafficked persons for whom English is not a first language. Further research is needed to understand psychological support needs of those trafficked for labour exploitation and to ensure that psychological assistance is tailored to meet these needs.
Where victims of trafficking remain in destination countries on-going support can facilitate integration. However, weak service provision adds to the anxiety and isolation of victims after the experience of being trafficked. If the Government is serious about fighting modern slavery and protecting its victims, these issues need to be urgently addressed.
 The Pro-act project is an EU/ISEC funded project examining the proactive identification and support of victims of trafficking for labour exploitation in three EU countries: The Netherlands, the UK and Romania.