The issue of modern slavery has become increasingly high profile in the 7 years since the Adavu project was first founded. This is a really positive step forward. Most people, we have found, now have at least some idea about the kind of exploitation and abuse that victims and survivors have endured. Many have learnt this from excellent awareness raising resources by organisations such as the Clewer Initiative, or Stop the Traffik, which aim to help people to spot the signs of modern slavery in their communities, and to know how to respond. Both have got excellent online resources on their websites if you’d like to learn more.
But what happens afterwards: once there has been an intervention which enables victims of this crime to be identified?
This part of the story is one which is less often told.
Our experience of offering long term support to adult survivors of modern slavery is that adjusting to life post-slavery is a complex and slow process.
In the last two years, we have worked with over 60 survivors, many of whom have children or other dependent family members.
Most have accessed some short term support via the Home Office funded National Referral System. Typically, we get referrals from a range of partner agencies, to support people after, or as they are preparing to leave, the wrap around support which local sub-contractors offer. This is usually because their case has been considered, and they have been given a ‘positive decision’; meaning that on the balance of evidence, they are considered to be survivors of modern slavery.
In an ideal world, this would mean a chance for a fresh start; an opportunity to move into their own flat, to think about going to college or finding a job, and settling in to a new community. The reality, however, is often very different.
For around 50 % of survivors we have supported, their immigration status is still undecided. If they are seeking asylum, often because they are still at risk from their traffickers if they return home, then their case is usually still ongoing, with survivors facing the very real prospect of being told their claim has been denied and they must return to their country of origin.
Another 19% of survivors are given leave to remain for a fixed amount of time; leaving them in a state of limbo as they try to plan for an uncertain future.
All of the survivors we support, including those who are UK citizens or who have a legal right to reside in the UK, face complex issues relating to their housing, benefits, and access to benefits and employment. Once settled, it’s not uncommon for people to experience a mental health crisis; after having fought to survive for so long, this is the point at which they have time to stop, to process what has happened, when there is energy to look back and a fear about moving forward. Even seemingly small decisions like thinking about what they want to eat, or how they want to dress seem overwhelming.
And on top of this, is the reality that many will have been moved to a neighbourhood with which they are completely unfamiliar, and where they have no friends or social connections. Feelings Isolation and loneliness are raised again and again by survivors, who find that the stress of learning to navigate unfamiliar systems of housing, benefits, etc is compounded by having no-one to share their worries or concerns with.
Modern slavery continues to impact the lives of survivors for many years; freedom from exploitation is just the first step.
Survivors can easily become overwhelmed, and so, too can those who seek to offer them support, particularly when the issues faced can’t easily or quickly be resolved.
At those times, our motto, ‘small steps, transforming lives’ becomes a daily reminder that each little step forward is a significant one. Sometimes, that means celebrating with someone who has been accepted on to a college course, or who has learnt how to use an ATM. Some weeks, that simply means saying, at the end of very day ‘For today, everyone we support has a roof over their heads. For today, everyone we support has food on the table. Tomorrow, we can take another step.’
Deacon K Scarlett