As a child growing up in Newcastle, Harriet suffered domestic violence at the hands of her brother. She started spending as much time as possible away from home and missed a lot of school. She developed friendships with older teens and was exposed to alcohol and drugs, which eventually led to the start of an addiction.
Harriet was approached by a member of a local gang. She was offered money and free drugs and alcohol in return for picking up drugs and dropping them off. It wasn’t long before Harriet’s addiction grew. She was forced into prostitution alongside drug-running, none of which she was paid for.
She became one of the thousands of British children in this country exploited through County Lines drug trafficking.
This abuse continued for a number of years until she was eventually arrested, recognised as a victim, and referred to the Unseen Women’s Safehouse.
Caseworkers at the safehouse quickly took care of her immediate health needs and ensured she had access to medical care, sexual health clinic and drug and alcohol services.
She also received support to get counselling to help her start to come to terms with what she had been through.
Harriet has her whole life ahead of her and is determined to rebuild it.
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.