Victims of modern slavery trapped by forced drug and alcohol use

published on 27 Jul 2018

Slavery Report

If I get found out I will be killed. I never stop looking out for someone who might recognise me or someone who could tip off those who kept me locked up and addicted. It would be easy to have me lifted, taken back to where they are and inject me with heroin. I’d just be another overdose: no one would know, and no one would care.” – Female victim of sexual exploitation, forced to take drugs in order to work longer hours.

Victims of modern slavery and human trafficking are increasingly coming into support services with drug and alcohol dependency, as their traffickers use substances to make them vulnerable and tie them in, a report released today has revealed.

Commissioned by The Salvation Army and West Midlands charity, Black Country Women’s Aid, the independent research was conducted among support providers across England and Wales.  The report ‘A Few Doors Down – the links between substance misuse and modern slavery’ identified that victims are being forced to take drugs and are sometimes ‘paid’ in alcohol, increasing dependency on their traffickers and compounding the impact of the severe trauma caused by exploitation. It also highlighted a need for stronger coordination from local strategic partnerships to work together, commission services jointly and share information. 

The research has been welcomed as a challenge to agencies trying to grapple with this hidden crime as reported numbers of modern slavery victims with substance misuse problems are increasing. In response to the findings, The Salvation Army and Black Country Women’s Aid are calling on local authorities to take a strategic lead in developing effective pathways for victims to receive substance misuse support.

Ann-Marie Douglas who heads up The Salvation Army’s coordination of specialist support to victims of modern slavery through the Government’s Adult Victims of Modern Slavery Care and Coordination Services Contract said: “We are seeing increasing numbers of people referred to us with complex needs, in particular, drug and alcohol related issues. Currently, across England and Wales, the availability and suitability of local services to treat the complex psychosocial needs of victims of modern slavery is inconsistent. This, coupled with the strict timeframes in which we operate, means the people we support cannot always access the type of treatment they need and deserve at the time they most need it.

We are using evidence from this research to provide the impetus for meaningful, strategic engagement with local authority commissioners and health services to improve the current situation, and with it, outcomes for victims of modern slavery.”

Report author Neil Parkes of Bright Day Consulting Ltd said:  “There is clearly a lot of work going on to support victims of modern slavery, however without more effective coordination of health services the traffickers will always remain three steps ahead. It is vital that everyone is recognised for their vital role in the community and within statutory agencies.”

Sara Ward, Executive Director for Black Country Women’s Aid said: “We have come a long way in the UK towards better recognising and rescuing victims of modern slavery. However, it is what happens next that is vital. Victims who are trying to rebuild their shattered lives still often can’t access the drug and alcohol treatment services they desperately need.  Untreated addiction means that these victims are at risk of being re-trafficked into slavery because exploiters can control them by giving or withholding drugs. We call upon local commissioners of services to reach out to the most vulnerable and for local authorities, law enforcement and charities to work more effectively together to meet the needs of victims.”

The research aimed to explore the extent of forced substance use, after support providers recognised that dependency, particularly on alcohol, was an increasing problem among people being rescued. It found that people who have substance misuse problems can be exploited because of their dependence and vulnerability, while attitudes towards them can often be judgmental and unsupportive.

One victim who had been rescued described how her traffickers increased her drug use forcing her to undertake more illicit sex acts by keeping her awake to work longer hours, make them more money. After being rescued she said:  “If they find me they’ll inject me to kill me and people will think I’m just another junkie off the street.”

The research will be used to inform direct engagement with agencies commissioning and delivering substance misuse services. The Salvation Army will also be rolling out an additional programme of substance misuse training amongst support staff; it will be based on the harm reduction and psychosocial programmes developed through its already widely established specialist addictions service, which supports people experiencing homelessness and people facing complex barriers to employment.

The Salvation Army’s Territorial Addictions Officer, Lee Ball who will coordinate the training programme for support staff, said: “The Salvation Army has worked with women and men with problematic substance use since it was founded in the nineteenth century, and the needs remain as pressing today. The recommendations of this research are wholly in line with our approach to transforming the future for people whose lives have been devastated by drug and alcohol dependency.”

The report highlights the challenges in rescuing victims addicted to substances for fear their supply will be cut off. It also reports the severe trauma experienced by victims who  are scared to seek help for fear of reprisals and feel their only option is to remain in exploitative situations. Without the right support, victims could also be forced back into exploitation.

The research draws on extensive consultation with commissioners of drug and alcohol services, The Salvation Army and its subcontractors across England and Wales, alongside a range of other professionals and agencies in the field. It highlighted the importance of all agencies being aware of potential victims of modern slavery, particularly those in health settings where traffickers force regular health checks in sexual health clinics and maternity services. The research findings will be used to improve outcomes for the victims of modern slavery in England and Wales who receive specialist support from The Salvation Army and its subcontractors, including Black Country Women’s Aid.

Henry’s Story

Henry, a British national dropped out of school at a young age. His father abandoned the family and Henry had a volatile relationship with his mother and sister. Henry struggled to find work and form relationships, often feeling excluded by the community.

Henry met a family who befriended him and offered him work, sometimes paying him with alcohol and illegal substances, leading to his dependency on drugs and alcohol and ultimately the family’s control over him. Read more about Henry's story here.