Spot the signs of modern slavery

If you are concerned about a potential victim, or suspicious about a situation that is potentially exploitative, you can call the Modern Slavery Helpline on 08000 121 700 or submit a report online. The helpline is operated by Unseen, open 24/7 and entirely confidential. Our specially trained advisors can take details of your concerns and pass them on to the most appropriate agency to ensure victims are safeguarded and supported as quickly as possible.

If you believe a person is being trafficked and is in immediate danger, you should call 999 straight away.

You can also report suspicions of trafficking by calling 101 or visiting your local police station.

You can also contact Unseen’s RIO Team for advice about a potential victim and the services available in the South West.

Listed below are some of the signs that might indicate modern slavery and human trafficking.


Physical Appearance

  • Shows signs of physical or psychological abuse, look malnourished or unkempt, anxious/agitated or appear withdrawn and neglected. They may have untreated injuries


  • Rarely be allowed to travel on their own, seem under the control, influence of others, rarely interact or appear unfamiliar with their neighbourhood or where they work
  • Relationships which don't seem right - for example a young teenager appearing to be the boyfriend/girlfriend of a much older adult

Poor Living Conditions

  • Be living in dirty, cramped or overcrowded accommodation, and/or living and working at the same address

Restricted Freedom of Movement

  • Have no identification documents, have few personal possessions and always wear the same clothes day in and day out. What clothes they do wear may not be suitable for their work
  • Have little opportunity to move freely and may have had their travel documents retrained, e.g. passports

Unusual Travel Times

  • Be dropped off/collected for work on a regular basis either very early or late at night
  • Unusual travel arrangements - children being dropped off/picked up in private cars/taxis at unusual times and in places where it isn't clear why they'd be there

Reluctant to Seek Help

  • Avoid eye contact, appear frightened or hesitant to talk to strangers and fear law enforcers for many reasons, such as not knowing who to trust or where to get help, fear of deportation, fear of violence to them or their family

The following signs could indicate a situation of labour exploitation:

  • Individuals may show signs of psychological or physical abuse. They might appear frightened, withdrawn or confused
  • Workers may not have free movement and may always be accompanied
  • Individuals often lack protective equipment or suitable clothing and have not been trained to safely fulfil the requirements of the role
  • The person may not have access to their own documents, such as ID or their passport, with the employer having confiscated them
  • Individuals may not have a contract and may not be paid National Minimum Wage or not paid at all
  • Workers are forced to stay in accommodation provided by the employer. This accommodation could be overcrowded
  • Individuals could live on site
  • Workers could be transported to and from work, potentially with multiple people in one vehicle
  • The person might not accept money or be afraid to accept payment
  • Workers may work particularly long hours

The following signs could indicate a situation of sexual exploitation:

  • Sex workers may appear scared or intimidated
  • The individual may be transported to and from clients
  • Individuals may be closely guarded
  • The person may be 'branded' with a tattoo indicating ownership
  • Sex workers may show signs of physical abuse, including bruising, scarring and cigarette burns
  • The individual may be unable to keep payment and may have restricted or no access to their earnings
  • The person may have a limited English vocabulary, restricted to sexualised words
  • Multiple female foreign nationals may be living at the same address
  • The person may sleep in the premise in which they work, which could indicate a brothel is operating
  • A property might have male callers day and night who only stay for a short time
  • There may be details of sexual activity such as cards and advertisements found nearby

The following signs could indicate a situation of domestic servitude:

  • The individual may be held in their employer's home and forced to carry out domestic tasks such as providing child care, cooking and cleaning
  • The individual may not be able to leave the house on their own, or their movements could be monitored
  • The person may work in excess of normal working hours
  • The individual may not have access to their own belongings, including their ID, but also items such as their mobile phone, which can isolate them
  • The employer may be abusive, both physically and verbally
  • The person may not interact often with the family they are employed by
  • The person may be deprived of their own personal living space, food, water, or medical care
  • The individual may stand our from other family members, noticeable as they may wear poorer quality clothing

The following signs could indicate a situation of criminal exploitation:

  • A large group of adult or children beggars might be moved daily to different locations but return to the same location every night. This could indicate forced begging
  • An individual might be transported to or from the scene of a crime, including shoplifting, pick-pocketing or forced begging
  • An individual may not benefit from the money or items they have obtained through the crimes they have been forced to commit
  • A person may be forced to cultivate cannabis with their freedom of movement restricted; including being locked in a room. It is common that the individual may not be able to speak English, or have a limited vocabulary
  • A vulnerable person may be forced or manipulated out of their home by drug dealers who use the home as a base to sell drugs
  • Young people may be forced to transport and sell drugs across county borders, which is known as County Lines. You can read more about this here.

The following signs could indicate a situation of child exploitation:

  • The child may have mood swings, including being angry, upset or withdrawn
  • The child may show signs of inappropriate sexual behaviour
  • They may be dressed inappropriately for their age
  • The child may go missing at night or weekends and may not be clear about their whereabouts
  • They may not attend school
  • The child may have gifts, presents or expensive items which they cannot explain

You can read more about young people at risk of exploitation, including the forms of child exploitation, the signs to look for and what you can do to prevent it on the Modern Slavery Helpline website's specific child exploitation page.