For survivors of modern slavery, the biggest challenge is how to move on, and it's my job to help them

Posted by Unseen Team on the 22nd July 2019 in Slavery, Survivors, Unseen

by Clara, a Keyworker in the Unseen Women's Safehouse

Most survivors I've worked with have been betrayed by someone they thought loved them - their new boyfriend, their trusted employer or friend, even their own parents.

How can you learn to trust again when the last person you believed in was the one who sold you?

This is what we work on with the women who come to us, as without this they can't make friends or relationships, access services, or move on with their lives. Providing a safe and supportive environment is a good starting point. As a team, we are welcoming, friendly and interested in our what our women have to say. We build their confidence and we invest in listening, and we start to see the women open up.

Women can come into the safe house from a variety of situations, but generally either they have managed to escape an exploitative situation or have been taken out of one by a police raid. Within 24 hours they could find themselves being driven to us. It’s an incredibly difficult and confusing time for them.

Generally after about two weeks is when we see the real issues come forward. That’s when the relief of being away from the abusive situation starts to give way to confusion and fear about the future.

So that is the critical time for us as Unseen staff. We have to be really supportive then, and help the women we work with to understand their options and see a way to rebuild their lives.

One of the hardest parts of the job is when somebody is facing deportation, and you have to prepare them for that.

When you consider this alongside issues around physical and mental health it can feel complex and overwhelming. It is emotionally draining work.

The level of trauma is huge, you can feel the intensity of someone’s emotions. The women put this out there, and we pick up on this. It’s difficult to deal with and takes a lot of energy and work to process.

This is all outweighed by my desire to support our survivors and a strong empathy for what they have experienced. This is what brings me back to the house each day.

I have recently seen one of the women I have been supporting for six months move on from the house. She arrived at the house very depressed, struggling with her health, no understanding of her options and with very little hope for the future.

I spent time with her, and slowly took her through her situation. I learnt a lot about what she had been through. Over time I learnt about her interests and strengths. I was able to give her options on accessing health services, connecting with her peers and community and how she could be challenged through education.

She built up her autonomy, started volunteering and taking part in activities that interested her. To see her go from not being able to leave her room to publicly singing in a choir was a special moment for us all.

She left the house feeling as though she could be vocal on what she wants and what she doesn’t want, confident that she could find her own solutions. I was so impressed by her strength and what she had achieved during the time she was with us.

We just see the tip of the iceberg. There are so many more women — and men, and children — out there who are still being exploited.

Unseen has just launched the Unseen App, which provides a quick guide to spotting the signs of modern slavery and calling the Helpline with any suspicions. The more people that use it, the more victims can be identified and helped.

I work day to day with survivors in a safe house, but we all have a part to play in the fight against this horrific crime.

This blog first appeared on The Metro in July 2018