What it’s like to seek support as a U.K. trafficking survivor

What it’s like to seek support as a U.K. trafficking survivor

  • Published on
    March 9, 2022
  • Written by:
    Monica Burns
  • Category:
    Child Slavery, Survivor Stories
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Despite the 2019 launch of the Recovery Needs Assessment (RNA), the U.K. Home Office’s specialised support system for trafficking survivors, people still struggle to receive the assistance they require to recover. A feature story from Al Jazeera explores Emily’s* experience with the system that leaves survivors feeling drained and ignored.  

“I felt like there was nothing for me” 

Emily was just 11 years old when a neighbor began using her to smuggle drugs around Wales and northern England. The man would drive her around with packages of cocaine, heroin and weed tucked under her clothing.  

As she grew older, he demanded sexual favors from her. In exchange, he gave her pills.  

At school, her classmates bullied her, leading her to skip class regularly. Once, she was expelled for fighting. She felt her trafficker was her only friend: “When I was with him, I felt important, like I was really doing something,” she told Al Jazeera.  

At age 14, three men gang-raped her and left her at the side of the road. This experience sent her spiraling further into substance abuse and depression. “I felt like there was nothing for me,” she explained to Al Jazeera. 

In the years that followed, she was sexually exploited and trafficked regularly. She estimates that throughout her teenage years, she was raped approximately 1,560 times. Her traffickers took advantage of her addiction and exerted psychological control over her.  

The struggle for adequate support 

It was only when Emily got pregnant in her early 20s that she was able to cut ties with her traffickers. It took her more than ten more years until she felt ready to go to the police.  

Still dealing with the psychological and financial consequences of her experiences, Emily looked to the government for support. But she quickly began to encounter the many hurdles in the road to justice and assistance for trafficking survivors in the U.K. 

As her solicitor, Silvia Nicolaou Garcia, explains, the RNA system relies on repeated assessments to “prove” survivors’ needs, meaning that support is often withheld or terminated before the needs are fully met.   

Emily has to fill in the same forms every few weeks to continue to receive assistance, and her access has been limited and interrupted. For example, the Home Office rejected her request to continue remote psychotherapy sessions after only three sessions as they no longer considered them necessary.  

“I’m really worried about how traumatising it is for survivors to undergo these assessments just to get their most basic of needs covered,” says Nicolaou Garcia.  

An assessment of the RNA found that the volume of documentation required was stressful and overwhelming for survivors. Al Jazeera quotes Beth Mullan-Feroze, a policy officer involved in the assessment: 

“The general feedback is that not only is this incredibly draining, but also leads to a feeling that they’re not believed. The stress just feeds into their previous experience of trafficking and exploitation.” 

Mullan-Feroze also commented on how the requirement for survivors to repeatedly submit evidence was counter-productive for their recovery. Al Jazeera reports: 

“With these small, short bursts of support, survivors can’t really take steps towards recovery because they don’t know if they’re able to have their needs met in the next four weeks.” 

Stand with U.K. trafficking survivors  

Adequate support and dignified treatment from authorities are fundamental pillars for the recovery of trafficking survivors. That’s why the Freedom United community is calling for the U.K. government to provide a statutory secure pathway of support. Transparent and legal entitlements for victims must be set out in England and Wales, as in Scotland and Northern Ireland.  

Stand with survivors today. Together we can pressure the government to take action. Sign the petition. 

*This name has been changed to protect the person’s privacy.   

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