Slaves Among Us: Modern Day Slavery in the United Kingdom

Modern day slavery affects at least 3,000 to 5,000 people in the UK today. This issue takes the form of domestic servitude, forced labour, and sexual exploitation. The British Empire abolished slavery in July 1833. The act did not take effect immediately. At the time, planters were still to be compensated with 20 million pounds for their loss and former slaves were forced to be “apprentices” for 6 years following their enslavement. Now, nearly two centuries later, the scourge of slavery still mars the face of the United Kingdom.

Pavel, a former forced labourer who preferred to remain anonymous, described his time of exploitation: “It’s somehow impossible to describe, feeling worthlessness, losing my confidence, losing my pride – you feel abused and they treat you like a thing, without any feelings.” His testimony is indicative of the loss of agency that all exploited workers experience. Pavel was forced to live on one meal a day and to work without any pay. Because slaves are unable to generate income, they have no way to travel and no way to pay for phone calls. Until you have been truly without money, it is difficult to understand how necessary money is to function in our society. Moreover, language difficulties and lack of knowledge of surroundings can further hinder attempts at freedom. Slaves are completely dependent on their captors. It is not necessary to pose physical barriers to freedom in order to keep someone enslaved, it is only necessary to remove their resources and they are confined just the same.

Modern day slavery is an extremely lucrative business. Ben Cooley, CEO of Hope for Justice, an anti-trafficking charity, explains that they have rescued victims that have generated £15,000 of profit in a matter of months.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation conducted a study on the trafficking of people for forced labour. In the report, they included recommendations on how businesses could combat trafficking in their workplaces. They suggested: requiring detailed and formal service level agreements with labour providers, scrutinizing labour providers terms and conditions, increasing familiarity with the supply chain, and conducting further research to reveal information that internal audits may not have covered. Ultimately, the Foundation concluded that in order to effectively fight modern day slavery, the government would have to take a strong stance.

In June 2014, the government actively engaged with this issue by introducing the Modern Slavery Bill. The two major provisions of the bill are the establishment of an Anti-Slavery Commissioner and two civil orders to prevent modern slavery.

Sexual exploitation is one of the most manipulative forms of modern day slavery. In the majority of cases, women and girls are made to feel safe. Their soon-to-be abusers lure them in with promises of security. Their abusers, at first, are charming and articulate. They bring them gifts and give them money. Makela was trafficked from her village in Africa. She met a young Briton in a hospital after she had been tortured by her community following being accused of witchcraft. He lured Makela to Britain where she was forced to have sex with ten men a day in order to pay her captor for the money he had spent to bring her here. When he threatened to subjugate Makela’s daughter to rape as well, she fled with her daughter to the Salvation Army.

Some abusers even go through the ruse of dating their future victims and convincing their victims that they have fallen in love. These relationships can be so ingrained that they are difficult to dislodge. Claire, at the age of 13, was forced into prostitution. She described the relationship she had with her abuser prior to being taken advantage of, “He filled the gap in my life and made me feel loved”. After the abuse she said, “I still loved him. I found it hard to see he was an abuser”. Systematic rape has a history in the UK. In the Rotherham case, it was discovered that between 1997 and 2013 1,400 girls had been abused.

Despite efforts by charities and the government, modern day slavery continues. In order to effectively deal with human rights violations, it is necessary to look at demand as well as supply. This is a lucrative business because people are buying and raping slaves. One of the reasons traffickers continue their criminal activity is due to insufficient punishment. Ilyas and Tallat Ashar abducted a 10 year-old deaf girl from Pakistan and then proceeded to rape her repeatedly for a decade, all while keeping her locked in a cellar. Having stolen 10 years of a girl’s life and inflicting untold psychological damage, the husband received a 13 year sentence and his wife just 5 years. The wife was to serve only half the time that she had spent torturing the young girl in prison. Such short sentences cannot be an effective deterrent for abusers who gain the advantage of dominating another person’s life however they wish and as long as they wish.

Under the Modern Slavery Bill, abusers could face life imprisonment for their crimes. While this provision is a major step in combatting trafficking, its efficacy has yet to be determined.

In addition, even though the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has specified guidelines for employers to prevent trafficking, many employers will ultimately not implement them. Taking the time to investigate the origin and treatment of employees can be an arduous, and more importantly, expensive undertaking. This reality is enough to prevent employers from implementing these steps. In order to ensure the success of these measures, employers should be given some form of incentive to invest in the prevention of this crime.

Extensive research has been done on the reality of modern day slavery. It is easy to find statistics on the number and demographics of slaves today. However, it would be beneficial to conduct research on the psychology of an abuser to uncover what factors lead them to rape, imprison, and exploit other human beings. If current strategies are proving ineffective at stifling this crime, it is necessary to look at alternative approaches, even if these approaches are unconventional.

University students are well aware of human rights violations across the globe. Students are not ignorant of systematic rape, chemical warfare, coups, and genocide. It is easy in a nation as developed as the United Kingdom to fail to notice the human rights violations happening within our own borders. As citizens and inhabitants of the United Kingdom, we must be sure to make ourselves aware of and seek to free the slaves among us.

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