“Life became very hard for my family without my father,” says Beth, “and after a while, I discovered that my mother had got involved in drug smuggling to try and pay the bills.”
Beth’s mother was arrested and then the drug dealers started putting pressure on Beth.
They said her mother owed them money. They tried to force Beth into drug smuggling too. With increasing threats of violence against her, Beth began to fear for her life. So, she fled Nigeria, heading to the UK.
Just after Beth arrived, however, the Covid-19 pandemic took hold, and she got stuck in lockdown.
She was trapped, desperately trying to survive until she was trafficked into a criminal network. The criminals threatened physical and sexual violence in order to make her do what she was told.
Fearing for her safety once more, Beth did as she was told. She had become a victim of criminal exploitation (which can include drugs-related activity, forced shoplifting, and forced begging): “I just had to do what I could to survive,” she says.
During an attempted scam, Beth was arrested. The police recognised she was a victim of modern slavery and brought her to Unseen’s women’s safehouse. With our support, she has been able to get healthcare and at the time of writing was keen to begin some counselling.
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Beth has big dreams about her future and wants to enter formal education here in the UK. “I am a very ambitious person. I am ready to contribute whatever I have learnt. In five years’ time, I hope to be a financial analyst with a job in a big company.”
For now, Beth is waiting for a decision on her claim for asylum. “Every day I wake up with the fear – what if they send me back and I have to start all over again and feel all the pain again?”
But her stay at Unseen’s safehouse has given her some stability among all of the uncertainty of her situation and the Covid-19 pandemic.
“There is a little bit of sunshine visible here, being in this house,” she says. “I feel like I have been saved.”
As I came to understand more about the issue, including through a visit to an Unseen safehouse, I knew I needed to do more to stop this abuse and exploitation.
For the last five years of my Civil Service career, I was the Modern Slavery Senior Policy Advisor in the Home Office and led on development of the Modern Slavery Act, including the transparency in supply chains provision and business guidance.
I joined Unseen to lead the development of the Modern Slavery & Exploitation Helpline, and Unseen’s work with businesses. I am regularly called upon to present at national and international conferences and use my experience of working with Ministers to influence other governments internationally to take action to address modern slavery and, in particular, business supply chain issues.
In my spare time I enjoy keeping fit, music, reading and travelling.
What ultimately compelled me to act was a report on how people from Eastern Europe were being trafficked through Bristol airport to the USA. Kate Garbers, who went on to be an Unseen Director, and I wrote to all the city councillors, MPs and the Police Chief Constable challenging them on the issue. The challenge came back to us: this city needs safe housing for trafficked women. And so Unseen began.
But we never wanted Unseen to be just about safe housing. We wanted to end slavery once and for all, and that remains our driving focus.
I chaired the working group for the Centre for Social Justice’s landmark report “It Happens Here: Equipping the United Kingdom to Fight Modern Slavery”. This is now acknowledged as the catalyst behind the UK’s Modern Slavery Act of 2015. It was a great honour to be awarded an OBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours that year. On the other hand, I’ve also been described as “the loveliest disrupter you could ever hope to meet”.
This job has taken me from building flat-pack furniture for safehouses, to working with businesses to address slavery in supply chains, to delivering training, raising awareness and advising governments around the world.
When not at work, I enjoy travelling, spending time with my dog Harley, cooking, supporting Liverpool and Yorkshire CC, music (I’m a former DJ) and endurance events such as the Three Peaks Challenge and Tribe Freedom Runs – which I vow never to do again. Until the next time.