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Identifying and Safeguarding Victims

Identifying and then safeguarding and protecting victims are our priorities in responding to potential cases of modern slavery and human trafficking.


Identifying and then safeguarding and protecting victims are our priorities in responding to potential cases of modern slavery and human trafficking. When police encounter a person who is a potential victim of modern slavery or human trafficking and they may have committed an Immigration offence, they will be dealt with them as a victim before considering the immigration offence. 

If you encounter a potential victim, consider they -

  • may be extremely traumatised from their treatment.
  • will not necessarily think they are victims. 
  • will through fear, control, or coercion not necessarily say they are victims. 
  • or their family will almost certainly be in debt to their exploiter.
  • may potentially be carrying communicable diseases and or have poor hygiene related issues.

Victims may have been travelling a long time, be mentally and physically exhausted, have been physically and sexually assaulted and or exploited. Those who have assaulted and or exploited the victims may be nearby.

Victims may have been coached what to say when questioned. They may come from a country where they fear the authorities. Treat victims with patience, kindness and consideration from the outset.

Deciding whether a person may be a victim of modern slavery it is important to consider all the information available and not rely solely on what potential victims may say. This is because potential victims may either not identify themselves as such or may have been schooled by their exploiters to provide prepared answers.

Consider the nature and type of services that a victim is expected to provide; whether that be provision of labour, sexual services, or in being expected to commit other crimes. Consider whether the victim is providing those services of their own free will, or whether the person may be acting as a result of physical threat or result having been deceived, tricked or coerced. 

If you have any thoughts that the person may be a victim then you must contact police. If you believe someone is at immediate risk of being harmed or is in the process of being trafficked for the purposes of exploitation, call the police on 999, otherwise call 101.If you suspect that people are being exploited or are in some way the victim of modern slavery, and you do not want to call police then contact the Modern Slavery Helpline or Crimestoppers.

Modern slavery – signs and indicators

A table of signs and indicators that are explained below.

Illegal entrant

Unexplained injuries

Vulnerable person i.e. homeless, substance dependent

No passport or ID

Lack of access to medical care

Dependent on others

Being controlled by another

Limited social contact

Poor accommodation

Working in location likely to be involved inexploitation

Threats of being handled over to authorities

Bonded by debt

Money deducted from salary for food or acommodation

Poor language skills

Unable or reluctant to give details of accommodation

There is no single sign that determines whether an individual, or a group of people, is in the process of being exploited. Instead it’s been described as a general feeling that “things aren’t quite right”.

Physical Appearance - Victims may show signs of physical or psychological abuse, look malnourished or unkempt, anxious/ agitated or appear withdrawn. They may have few personal possessions and always wear the same clothes day in day out. What clothes they do wear may not be suitable for their work.

Finances – They will have little or no money and no control over their bank accounts.

Isolation - Victims may rarely be allowed to travel on their own, seem under the control or influence of others, rarely interact or appear unfamiliar with their neighbourhood or where they work.

Restricted freedom of movement - Victims may have little opportunity to move freely and may have had their travel and identification documents taken from them.

Reluctant to seek help - Victims may avoid eye contact, appear frightened or hesitant to talk to strangers and fear law enforcement agencies for many reasons, such as not knowing who to trust or where to get help, fear of deportation, fear of violence to them or their family.

Look out for locations where exploitation may be taking place:

Overcrowded and poor accommodation: Victims can be found living in poor housing conditions with multiple individuals living in one room. Sanitary, heating, lighting and washing facilities may be poor or non-existent. Windows may be boarded up or curtains always drawn. Accommodation may be at or near the location where the exploitation is taking place, sometimes also in temporary facilities like a caravan, container or agricultural buildings.

Comings and goings - and at unusual time of the day: Locations where exploitation is taking place or where victims may be living can be indicated by frequent comings and goings; or by the regular collection and drop off of groups of people often very early in the morning/and or very late at night.

Unregulated business premises and cash-only transactions: Businesses that are potentially exploiting workers may be indicated by premises that appear unregulated, unprofessional and are not well organised. Prices may be exceptionally low for the services offered. Businesses that only accept cash in hand payments for services, where there is no receipt issued and where payments are handled by a single person may also be potentially exploiting their workers.

Where are some of the locations that victims are encountered?

Victims can be encountered in a variety of locations, some of the most common being:


Massage Parlours

Vegetable picking

Fishing industry


Public Places


Private dwellings

Building sites

Traveller sites

Nail bars

Care Homes

Cannabis farms


Car washes


There is no single sign that determines whether an individual, or a group of people, is in the process of being exploited. Instead it’s been described as a general feeling that “things aren’t quite right”.

Initial safeguarding of Victims

The immediate consideration must be to ensure that a victim is either in or is moved to a place of safety and that any medical or welfare issues are attended to. They may need basic essentials such as accommodation, food, clothing and toiletries.

Local Authority Housing and Adult Social Care will be able to initially assist with this. Longer term support for victims is provided under the National Referral Mechanism (NRM).

Victim Safeguarding Initial Actions for Police and Law Enforcement can be found on in the document below.

Human Trafficking Foundation

The Human Trafficking Foundation (HTF), in partnership with the Anti Trafficking and Labour Exploitation Unit (ATLEU) and the Modern Slavery Police Transformation Unit, produced and continues to develop an interactive national map of support services available for survivors in the UK.

Last Updated on July 10, 2024

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