Human Trafficking Experience: The Lost Victim Voice

Dr Chloe Wilson

Research Assistant

University of Hull

chloe.wilson@hull.ac.uk

Dr Chloe Wilson, recently awarded her doctorate for her investigation of the specific experiences of victims of human trafficking in England, shares some of her key findings.

Considering the treatment of victims by organisations in the United Kingdom [UK], particularly in the immediate aftermath of their initial identification, is key to restoring the victim voice. The very nature of the trafficking experience means that victims ‘lose their voice’, from the moment they are trafficked, to their eventual release (if applicable). Broadly, a lost victim voice relates to the individual inability to express the harm caused by a crime, or a criminal. This may occur due to trauma, which can greatly impact victim confidence. A further consideration (alongside the victim voice) is the disposable nature of individual victims. This is a term coined by Kevin Bales: a disposable person is a new type of victim, targeted as a cheap, replaceable commodity. Both of these concepts are particularly interesting when looking at the ways in which victims interact with organisations in the UK when they have been identified. The whole process relies on a level of cooperation from a victim, without which they cannot progress through the system. A disposable victim with a lost voice may be hard to support as they are often hurt, confused and afraid. These considerations emerge from a fundamental issue: the way victims of human trafficking are treated by organisations in the UK.

Victims have varied experiences, which can be split into two categories:

  1. Physical experiences, such as sexual or physical abuse, pregnancy, abortion, or illness.
  2. Psychological experiences, which affect the victim’s mental state and wellbeing, such as stress, psychological torture, emotional abuse and manipulation.

These two areas are not independent of one another – research shows that there is a significant crossover from one to the other for many victims.

The victim journey itself includes a number of substantial milestones, such as initial contact with a trafficker, arrival in the UK or destination city and exploitation. In the latter stages of their journey, as victims come into contact with the UK authorities or charity services, it is the variability of their experience that is notable.

  • How are they treated?
  • As a victim or as an offender?
  • Do they receive help initially?
  • Is there immediate support available to them?

These considerations are directly linked to government frameworks, which are in place to offer support to victims and to aid practitioners. This should provide an indication of the victim’s on-going treatment and the way the authorities may be able to improve the victim experience, in turn helping their recovery and rehabilitation.

Many external factors contribute to the lost victim voice. Many victims who have been trafficked into the UK are transported from foreign countries, meaning they have been separated from their home, family and culture. Not only have they been exploited and abused in some way, they are also very alone in a foreign place. This is a traumatic experience for the trafficked victim – the loneliness and fear of being so far away from their home and their family. This isolation can often manifest as guilt, with the victims blaming themselves for what has happened. Many feel they could have avoided the situation or that they were wrong to have initially trusted their traffickers. These feelings can be exaggerated by the captors who are likely to reinforce this message, telling the victims that they are to blame and that their families are suffering because of them.

Moving away from the trauma victims experience whilst they are being trafficked, focusing on the initial contact between victim and first-responder, is key to improving the victim experience and empowering them to regain their lost voice. Working with organisations to improve their services and ensure victim treatment is at the forefront of their agenda is a critical first step. Reaching across the globe to consider alternative approaches to victim treatment can also provide insight into best practice. In 2012, Unicef conducted a study of Nordic responses to child trafficking, with particular focus on assisting victims within the destination country. The paper considered the practical issues faced by child victims travelling thousands of miles to a new country and a new culture. Unicef suggests ways in which the experience might be improved for young victims, such as providing budgets, setting up institutions and creating action plans. It acknowledged that the progress made across the United Nations, in aiding victims and ensuring they are not left unprotected, has been slow. In short, this can be attributed to a lack of cooperative working between the organisations that are involved.

My research identifies substantive links between the lost victim voice and a lack of cooperation between organisations, highlighting the need for a more joined-up approach to provide the best possible support for victims of human trafficking. Drawing links with care for children in the UK and the notorious Victoria Climbie Case allowed me to develop an ‘Every Victim Matters’ approach. This idea focuses on multi-agency cooperation through the use of a Modern Slavery Key Worker. It is suggested that increased communication and accountability from organisations, alongside a consistent point of contact for the victim, would substantially improve the victim experience. ‘Every Victim Matters’ would improve the treatment of victims, enhance the victim experience and empower the victim voice.

Living with the consequences of slavery

Isabel Arce Zelada

PhD student on the ‘Living with the consequences of slavery’ cluster

Wilberforce Institute, University of Hull

i.d.arce-zelada-2020@hull.ac.uk

Jen Nghishitende

PhD student on the ‘Living with the consequences of slavery’ cluster

Wilberforce Institute, University of Hull

n.j.nghishitende-2020@hull.ac.uk

Mavuto K. Banda

PhD student on the ‘Living with the consequences of slavery’ cluster

Wilberforce Institute, University of Hull

m.k.banda-2020@hull.ac.uk

Five months in, our three newest PhD students, Isabel Arce Zelada, Jen Nghishitende and Mavuto Banda, reflect on their collective agenda and their individual research projects so far.

We started our PhDs in the midst of a pandemic and as a cluster we have had little opportunity to work together and understand how our projects interlink. However, through various zoom calls and physically distant interactions we are beginning to understand where we belong in this cluster as a team as well as individually. As a cohesive unit we found that we each speak about the way various institutions constantly ask groups of people with different experiences of exploitation to present themselves as victims. This establishes a uniform ‘humanitarian’ response to problems that involve a multiplicity of experiences, and in the process creates and recreates the model of what a victim is and what they need. At the core of all our projects are individuals who constantly have to prove themselves to be victims in order to get some level of assistance. As such, we are, as a collective, critically investigating what we mean when we say ‘victim’ and what solutions we need to achieve to assist this group of individuals. 

Isabel

In asylum processes the idea that the nation-state is providing safety to a person seeking persecution has a long and complicated history. As an institution asylum has always led to wide networks of power in which many other institutions are involved. In the UK, the rise of nationalistic sentiments, detention centres and hostile environments have led to an awkward paradox in which the UK saves the asylum seeker, yet also condemns them for a role in the demise of the British nation. At the same time, the asylum system keeps its humanitarian role by supposedly saving the true refugee. I am therefore researching the many violent tactics of distrust and retraumatization that are present in the UK asylum process. 

Jen

My research deals with women and children who have survived modern slavery in the UK and as such, I will be focusing on those people who have already either been accepted or rejected as ‘victims’ by the UK Home Office. In recent years, the spotlight has been placed on survivors’ accounts, their tales of slavery and their eventual escape or rescue; scant attention has been placed on what happens to survivors after slavery, especially in the long term. My research will therefore examine the long term trajectories of survivors in the UK, all the while looking at the laws, policies, and processes that are in place to assist them with rehabilitation and reintegration into society in order to  regain their rights and dignity.

Mavuto

My research looks from a different perspective at the children that have become the victims of modern slavery. In adhering to Fairtrade standards and safeguarding their corporate image, Malawi’s commercial agriculture has banned the employment of under-18 year olds in its plantations, as it seeks to prevent and rescue children from the evils of ‘child labour’. Once the work of under-18 year olds in commercial tea and tobacco plantations had been defined as ‘child labour’ this ban became necessary. My study therefore aims at exploring the impact of ‘child labour’ bans in commercial tea and tobacco estates with respect to youth employment and livelihoods in rural communities of Malawi. It will try to understand the socio-cultural dynamics of life in Malawi, and how communities view children’s participation in the labour market.

Henry Ford once said, ‘Coming together is the beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.’ Our continual working relationship will therefore lead to the collective success of our cluster as well as our individual successes in our research projects. We also look forward to hopefully meeting and working with everyone soon in person at the Wilberforce Institute. Our shared hope for the future is that victimhood, with the pressures of presenting oneself as the perfect victim, is scrutinized, and the assistance that is needed is given without requesting trauma as payment for it.

Protective medical mask on laptop. https://www.flickr.com/photos/156445661@N02/49799314177

Podcast: Anti-slavery day, 18 October 2020

Cristina Talens

Director of Risk Assessment Services

Wilberforce Institute, University of Hull

c.talens@hull.ac.uk

Andrew Smith

Coordinator of the Humber Modern Slavery Partnership

Wilberforce Institute, University of Hull

a.smith9@hull.ac.uk

Every year since 2010 the 18 October has been designated Anti-Slavery Day. Created by the Anti-Slavery Day Act of that year, a Private Members Bill introduced Anthony Steen CBE, now Chair of the Human Trafficking Foundation, this day provides an annual opportunity to raise awareness of modern slavery and encourage everyone, whether as individuals or as part of their company, local authority, charity or government, to do what they can to root out and address the problem of modern slavery. The purposes of Anti-Slavery Day,  as stated in the Act, are listed here

This year two members of the Wilberforce, Cristina Talens, Director of Risk Assessment Services and Andrew Smith, Coordinator of the Humber Modern Slavery Partnership, were invited to discuss the issue of modern slavery for a Good Enough for Jazz podcast.

It is estimated that there are approximately 40.3 million people who are in modern slavery around the world, and about 13,000 of those are in the UK. Modern slavery hides away, manifesting in restaurants, nail-bars, hotels, car washes and private homes, an unseen crime that takes place under our very noses. 

Victims of modern slavery have no typical face. Men, women and children of all different ages, ethnicities and nationalities can find themselves subject to it. But those that are most vulnerable in our society, within minority and socially excluded groups, are most at risk. But what exactly is modern slavery? What are the laws against it and how effective are the laws? How can you raise awareness in your organisation or company around this topic and how can you affect change? For some answers to these question, please visit the podcast at:

https://www.buzzsprout.com/1109693/5924176

‘Living with the Consequences of Slavery’ PhD Cluster

Dr Lorena Arocha

Lecturer in Contemporary Slavery, Wilberforce Institute

lorena.arocha@hull.ac.uk

This month we are delighted to welcome three new PhD students to the Wilberforce Institute. They are all part of the ‘Living with the Consequences of Slavery’ PhD Cluster, a strategic investment for the Wilberforce Institute and the University of Hull in this field.

The position we have taken with this PhD Cluster is that it is not evil people that create victims but systems. Criminal justice studies have historically been more concerned with the punishment of the offender, but our new students’ research sits with recent moves to re-centre attention critically on the relational shared experiences of victims/survivors and non-victims. Each of these individual projects therefore explores key questions that go beyond the individual person affected by these practices, examining instead the effects of systematic and rooted processes of exploitation, its relation with processes of victimhood and their intersection with questions of social justice and social rights.

The ‘Living with the Consequences of Slavery’ PhD Cluster examines contemporary forms of slavery from three different angles of critical victimology. The first project is led by Jennifer Nghishitende, who will be looking at what happens after people have experienced exploitation, how people make sense of these experiences and how they then move on with their lives, especially in the longer-term, with an emphasis on questions of dignity and rights.

Jennifer Nghishitende 

‘Living with the Consequences of Slavery’ PhD Research Cluster

n.j.nghishitende-2020@hull.ac.uk

The second project is led by Isabel Arce Zelada, whose investigation centres on testimonies, in asylum courts and beyond, and the extent to which these deliver justice.

Isabel Arce Zelada

‘Living with the Consequences of Slavery’ PhD Research Cluster

i.d.arce-zelada-2020@hull.ac.uk

The third project, led by Mavuto Kambochola Banda, focuses on tea plantations in Malawi. Mavuto will examine the unintended consequences of policy measures which are put in place to tackle contemporary forms of slavery.  Such interventions can adversely affect the lives of those they intend to assist.

Mavuto Kambochola Banda

‘Living with the Consequences of Slavery’ PhD Research Cluster

m.k.banda-2020@hull.ac.uk

The ‘Living with the consequences of slavery’ Cluster will therefore look at these problematics from opposite directions: on the one hand, from the perspective of those who have experienced exploitation and its relation with victimisation processes in contemporary forms of slavery; and, on the other, from the perspective of those who have been disadvantaged as a result of humanitarian anti-slavery measures. This, we believe, offers an exceptional opportunity to gain a more comprehensive picture of the complexity of practices and processes that drive exploitation experiences as well as an in-depth understanding of the impact of these experiences in the long term.

The theme of critical victimology, which marks a new direction for the Wilberforce Institute, is composed of two strands. Alongside our investment in the PhD scholarships we are introducing an MA programme in Contemporary Slavery Studies and Critical Victimology, due to start in February 2021.  The MA offers our new PhD students a platform and a community with whom to share their research. We are hoping they will inspire others to engage in this critical area of study.

We have high expectations for our new PhD students, and are looking forward to guiding and supporting them through their studies. They will be based at the Wilberforce Institute when they are not away on research, working with a team of supervisors across various disciplines, in Human Geography, Social Sciences, Criminology and Law.  We are excited by the prospect of seeing their research projects develop as they grow as scholars.

Oriel Chambers, High Street, Hull – the home of the Wilberforce Institute.