Trafficking is a hidden crime. It can happen in our city, our street, even in the house next door, without us realising.
In 2007/8 we began to realise just how widespread this crime was. Talks with a police officer gave shocking evidence of the scale of the problem in the UK. Meanwhile, voluntary workers in the Ukraine came home with stories of it happening there to children and young women.
It was real. It was happening in our streets. We couldn’t ignore it, we wanted to respond, and so Unseen was formed.
‘How can we help?’ This was the first question we asked Avon and Somerset Police and Bristol City Council. On their feedback, we opened the first 24/7 safe-house in 2011 in the South West for women survivors of human trafficking. In 2013, we developed a resettlement service to provide ongoing care.
We soon realised caring for survivors was only part of the answer. We needed to prevent slavery happening in the first place. This meant working in collaboration with other organisations. We set up the Anti-Slavery Partnership in Bristol, bringing together a number of agencies across Avon and Somerset to share knowledge and work together to better understand issues and identify victims.
Being invited to work with the Home Office and the UK’s Human Trafficking Centre meant we were now helping to develop and shape UK policy. Our CEO chaired the Centre for Social Justice’s investigation into modern slavery, and the landmark report and recommendations resulted in the UK Government acknowledging our work as the catalyst for the Modern Slavery Act and a major policy review.
Working closely with Avon and Somerset police, we’ve chaired the training sub-group for Home Office and advised various agencies on the content of their training. We continue to work with police, social services, local council staff and NGOs, developing specific training modules and practical advice on how to spot and respond to trafficking situations.
Since Unseen started, we’ve proven ourselves as experts in our field and deliverers of excellent service. We are now an award winning charity and our MD and CEO have both been individually recognised, receiving awards for their work in combatting human trafficking.
But we have only just begun. The issues of slavery are far reaching. Our next steps include delivering services to male survivors and children, and working internationally to carry on the fight against slavery.