Partners and volunteers share about the amazing work they are involved in and what motivates them to partner towards a slavery-free community.
Ellie: SAMS Survivor Care Coordinator (Jan 2023)
I joined SAMS almost two years ago to set up our Survivor Care Project, which aims to fill the gap in long term specialist support to survivors of modern slavery and human trafficking. Background wise, I spent many years working as a Legal Aid Caseworker with the Refugee Legal Centre advising and representing asylum seekers and refugees, including victims of trafficking. Locally I have worked supporting homeless women with complex needs, as well as supporting victims and witnesses of crime through the criminal justice system.
The Survivor Care Project is for anyone in Southend with lived experience of modern slavery. Modern Slavery is an umbrella term incorporating many different forms of exploitation, including sexual exploitation, labour exploitation, domestic servitude and criminal exploitation. It is a terrible crime that can have enduring long term impacts for survivors. Survivors often need to access a range of specialist services, including housing, social care, health, criminal justice and legal. Survivors also have a number of complex needs that make accessing support more challenging, for example high levels of trauma, psychological and physical health issues, fear of reprisals from exploiters, mistrust of authorities, insecure immigration status, poor housing and poverty.
SAMS aims to utilise our local knowledge to help survivors navigate complex systems, integrate better into our community and lower their vulnerability to prevent exploitation happening again. We provide wrap-around support that is trauma-informed and tailored to survivors interests, needs and aspirations. Each survivor’s journey to recovery will look different depending on their background and the type/severity/length of exploitation they experienced. Overall we aim to empower survivors, improve confidence and long-term outcomes through:
Casework: advice, advocacy, referrals, safety planning and partnership work.
Befriending: regular meetings with volunteers in the community reducing isolation.
Mentoring: regular goals focussed meeting increasing confidence, skills and resilience.
Practical help and emergency support: food, clothing, well-being hampers, DIY. gardening projects and bike packages.
Support is delivered by our fantastic volunteers who bring a wide range of skills and experience to SAMS. Befrienders and mentors meet regularly in the community with survivors providing encouragement and help to connect to a range of well-being activities such as volunteering, sports, art and yoga. Survivors feedback that this long-term support makes a huge difference to their well-being and confidence. They feel safe, cared for, more trusting to meet new people and more part of our local community. If you think you might like to get involved, then it would be lovely to hear from you so please do get in touch at email@example.com.
Stephen: Essex University (Oct 2022)
In 2016 the University of Essex held its first conference aimed at raising awareness of the issue of modern-day slavery and what we can do about it, here in Southend and across South East Essex. As a practicing former social worker and social work lecturer I was conscious that slavery had not disappeared when it was made illegal, and there were reports suggesting that slavery was more prevalent today than it was. The UN’s International Labour Organization (ILO) and the Walk Free Foundation calculated that 13 million people were captured and sold as slaves between the 15th and 19th centuries. However an estimated 40.3 million people are now living in “modern day” slavery more than three times the figure during the transatlantic slave trade (Global Findings | Global Slavery Index).
As a result, myself and colleagues felt we needed a conference on modern day slavery to highlight the continued abuse and mistreatment of people. Soon after that initial conference Southend Against Modern Slavery was born, with the hard work of many. In many respects as poverty and wealth inequality has become more extreme, not only in the UK, but across the globe, we see young people exploited to trade and carry drugs (in so called county lines activities), women and children traded for sexual exploitation and many cases of forced labour.
As we face a cost of living and energy crises, sadly there no limits to the cruelty humans can inflict on one another, often for financial gain. However, the Southend Against modern Slavery Partnership, of me has been a key organisation in responding to that cruelty and abuse and a beacon of light in the darkness which is modern day slavery.
Jackie: Chair of the SAMS Steering Group (Aug 2022)
In 2022, there are an estimated 40 million victims of modern slavery (MS) worldwide
· One in four of these are children.
· Almost five million are in forced sexual exploitation.
· Over fifteen million are in forced marriages
· In second quarter of 2021 in UK ,3140 potential MS victims were referred to Home Office. 47% were children
How do you feel now? Most days in the news you can find a report of slavery or abuse such as the recent news of Mo Farah being trafficked to the UK as a child. We can’t fail to be aware of the human misery of refugees coming across the channel, each one a potential vulnerable victim of gangs once they arrive. If, like me, when you first became aware of the fact that slavery still existed in the 21stCentury, and not just in developing countries, but here, in the UK, maybe you felt angry? Sad? Compassionate? Ashamed? Whatever our response, what we can’t be is indifferent.
I have worked for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) for some time. About 10 years ago the fact of modern slavery in society was becoming all too real. Specialist teams were conducting more investigations into organised criminality against the benefits system, and started to uncover the seedier side of human nature. You may have seen cases on your TV screens. Individuals kept in appalling conditions, little access to food or sanitation, no means of escape, no money, and most noticeably used as forced labour in variety of industries – some open, some hidden, all defying any of the norms of employment law. The actions of these colleagues helped lead to some changes in how DWP responded to these vulnerable individuals. Those who may have been claiming benefits whilst engaged in some form of work were recognised as victims of their criminal masters. As well as giving understanding and compassion towards everyone who needs its help, DWP looked particularly at how it improved support services for these ‘modern day slaves’; joining up responses across all public and private agencies who had resources to help; to access safe housing, to find work, in short, to help victims become survivors. And in contrast, the investigations honed in on the perpetrators trading in human lives, on the organised gangs preying on the vulnerable, on the traffickers.
Hearing first hand from my colleagues about what they were uncovering on an increasing basis had a significant impact on me. So when about 4 years ago in my home town of Southend-on-Sea, a local anti-slavery partnership SAMS (Southend Against Modern Slavery) Partnership was set up, a coming together of churches and faith groups, statutory authorities, Police, and local charities, I got involved. Firstly through my local church, bringing my work insight and helping increase awareness of what the DWP were doing to both target offenders and support victims. It wasn’t long before I was asked to become a local modern slavery awareness trainer…then a member of the Partnership Steering Group…. then it’s Chair. We now have over 30 organisations involved who come together with the stated aim of making Southend a slavery free town. We receive tremendous support from local Police and our LA, and we are linked up with the local Job Centre MS point of contact.
COVID drove MS out of sight for a while – no more pop up brothels or car washes to be found. But where were the victims? Still hidden, with their controllers having even less money, they became more of a liability. In 2021 SAMS launched a ‘Befriender’ service. Local vetted volunteers provide counsel, friendship and practical help to survivors and their families, particularly those who do not wish to engage with authorities, due to their experiences. SAMS are currently supporting nine individuals, including four families and their children, with help to find accommodation, work, and providing items like a bike for a child, or tickets for a local funfair. To try and show that people care, that there is compassion in the world, and that they can be a survivor.
Last year I also became a Trustee of SAMS founding charity, Together Free. Our work is expanding, with hope of setting up other partnerships across Essex, using our model. Our partnership continues to flourish despite the ongoing concerns over future funding (all based on donations and bids for resources such as Lottery), we support one full time and one part time worker.
I am so pleased that after all the work over many years, every member of staff in DWP has recently had opportunity to see the a presentation on modern slavery, using much of the Home Office material. Everyone can now ‘Spot the Signs’ – not just for DWP customers, but also where they live - in their town, in their street.
I’ve been partially retired for a couple of years now. Whilst not only the preserve of the retired, having time to do some voluntary work is a good place to be. Maybe there are more ‘enjoyable’ things to get involved in, areas where you can meet the beneficiaries, have some fun, where there is plenty of public support and funding. The fact that SAMS, and organisations like it, is needed at all in 21st century in the UK, nearly 200 years after the Abolition of Slavery Act received Royal Assent, should shame us as a country, but also resolve us as individual to do something, however little, to make a difference.