I’ll never forget the first time I met a survivor of trafficking in the UK. I was pretty nervous, trying hard not to show it. Although I’d worked in a safe house in Asia, when you’re on home turf it’s different somehow.
There are so many numbers and statistics at play around modern-day slavery. Sometimes it feels a bit removed, a bit abstract.
But when you meet a survivor, the statistics grow skin and the numbers become names. What you once heard, you now know to be true.
What do I mean when I talk about a modern day slave; a survivor of human trafficking?
A survivor of human trafficking is someone who has been exploited through forced labour, sex, forced crime, forced begging, domestic servitude, forced marriage, warfare or through having their organs removed and sold. It’s a lucrative business for the perpetrators, a $32 Billion industry1.
When we talk about approximately 30 million2 slaves in the world, the number is so sickeningly high it’s hard to imagine.
You can quantify it by picturing half of the United Kingdom in slavery, or Ireland, six times over. And then I can tell you that our portion of this, present right now in the UK, is around 130003 modern day slaves.
It means that wherever you are reading this from, you’re probably not too far away from a slave, especially if you are in a city. There’s the obvious places, like nail bars, sex clubs and marijuana farms. And then there’s the less obvious places, like the house next door, a building site, or a bedroom in an apartment down the road.
Just last year, 3,266 victims, primarily from Albania, Romania, Poland, Vietnam, Nigeria, and yes, even the UK itself, were identified here. 40% more than the year before.
But I want to take that number closer to home.
Two eyes. One big smile. That smile was her most distinctive feature. With bright eyes, Sahar* jumped up to greet us as we walked into the safe house. Eager to learn, eager to connect, eager to move forward.
We were there for the purpose of running our Day 46 Programme – an employability workshop – and she was ready. Ready to leave the past behind and to create a new future.
She’d ended up in slavery from a very young age, sold by her uncle into prostitution after her father died. She was uneducated, unsupported and alone. She was powerless. Her story was like so many others I’ve since heard.
The path into slavery is paved far before the crime – traffickers are trained to spot vulnerability a mile off. What struck me though, is that despite this great injustice and trauma, she still believed that a good outcome and a good future could come. She had hope.
And I’ve seen this same emotion mirrored in so many other survivors of trafficking I’ve worked with since. I’ve come to the conclusion that those who carry this hope are those who overcome. They rebuild their lives, seeing themselves as more than a statistic; more than a number.
Instead, they see themselves as a unique story. A story of a life enslaved, but transforming to a life that’s free. And having been enslaved, survivors know the value of freedom in a way that we forget.
In our founder’s book Trafficked, Sophie Hayes wrote about her experience of being trafficked from the UK. Her story has led to many other stories of hope pulling pain into possibility.
Today is Anti-Slavery Day and we hope like us, you are inspired and challenged to really make your story count in response. If you haven’t read the stories from the last few days, read them here to find out more.