Knowing I’m making a difference gets me through my job working with victims of modern slavery

Amelie is a Resettlement, Integration and Outreach Worker.

There are two main parts to my job: accompanying police on operations where we visit brothels, car washes, nail bars or other high-risk locations for modern slavery; and supporting survivors of slavery in the community.

In the year that I've been with Unseen, I've been with police to three brothels, one car wash, one nail bar and two house visits. My role on a police operation is to represent an independent organisation not affiliated to the police, to talk to potential victims about their situation and their options and support available to them if they choose to leave.

There were a handful of women in each of the brothels, mostly from Eastern Europe In two of them, the women said they were ‘only doing massage’ - but then you look around and the room is empty except for a bed and two shelves with nothing on them but sex toys.

If someone decides to leave the brothel that day, that’s great and I can support them in that. If they can’t leave for whatever reason, maybe because they don’t see themselves as a victim even if in a particular case it might seem to me that lots of the indicators are there – such as being controlled, moved around, or not paid – or perhaps because they’re scared, then we leave them the Modern Slavery Helpline phone number and some information, and we have to walk away. That can be hard.

The nail bar was probably the most dramatic visit I've done. The woman who ran the nail bar denied that anyone worked for her, but upstairs the police found a makeshift bed and lots of passports. Then a Vietnamese girl was apprehended at the train station without a ticket, and linked to the nail bar. As I spoke to her, her story started to suggest that she had been trafficked She was visibly upset and scared of the police, but I explained to her about the law and what she was entitled to, and she did decide to enter the National Referral Mechanism, which is the UK’s system for identifying and supporting victims of slavery. I can’t say for sure, but maybe my being there on that day made a difference to her decision.

In terms of my work with survivors living in the community, I give them support and help connect them with services such as counselling, education or legal advice. In theory I have just 45 days to work with someone while they are going through the NRM as the Home Office decide whether they are indeed a victim of modern slavery. In reality these decisions take much longer – one woman has been supported by our team for three years. If that decision comes back positive, I’ll be working with them for a further six months to help them rebuild their lives. If the decision is negative, unfortunately we can’t continue to support, even if that person is in real need of our help. That’s another of the challenging parts of the job.

I have to be pretty good at separating work and my private life, but there’s one story that stays with me, an 18-year-old girl from Romania who had been trafficked and sold to a brothel by her own father when she was only 15. It’s hard to imagine that level of betrayal of trust, but people’s resilience is amazing. She now just wants to get on with her life, despite everything she’s been through.

Many of my clients blame themselves for their own exploitation, and in a strange way this can help them as it can make them feel that they can avoid being exploited again. So although I might want to say to someone ‘it’s not your fault’, in training we learn to say that, yes you were a victim of a tactic, but now you have choices, you can defend yourself. We do lots of things to help people feel safe again – we’re even planning self-defense classes.

It can be horrible when you hear some of the stories, but it’s great when you feel you have made a difference. I love working with people at their own pace and helping them find hope for the future. It’s a horrific issue, but given that it exists, I'm glad I'm working on it.