Slavery is when an individual is exploited by others, for personal or commercial gain, resulting in losing their freedom.

Modern slavery is real and it’s happening in our Merseyside neighbourhoods. It is estimated that 100,000 people living in the UK are in modern slavery. It can affect all men, women and children and take many forms including:

  • Human traffickingSpot the signs of modern slavery
  • Forced labour
  • Child exploitation
  • Forced and early marriage

You can play a part in stamping out exploitation by learning to spot the signs.

General signs of modern slavery


  • They’re rarely allowed to travel on their own
  • Appear to be under the control of others
  • Tend not to interact with other people
  • Seem unfamiliar with their neighbourhood or where they work
  • Have relationships which don’t seem right – for example, a young teenager appearing to be the boyfriend/girlfriend of a much older adult.

Restricted freedom of movement

  • They don’t have documents that would allow them to travel – passports, ID, etc.
  • Limited opportunities to move freely
  • Few personal possessions
  • Wear the same clothes day-in day-out.

Reluctance to seek help

  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Appearing frightened, or hesitant to talk to strangers
  • Fear of law enforcers
  • Fear of deportation
  • Unsure who to trust or where to get help
  • Fear of violence to them or their family.

Physical appearance

  • Signs of physical or psychological abuse, such as untreated injuries, anxiety, agitation, or appearing to be withdrawn and neglected
  • They look malnourished or unkempt
    Wear clothes that are unsuitable for their work.

Poor living conditions 

  • They’re living in dirty, cramped or overcrowded accommodation
  • Working and living at the same address.

Unusual travel arrangements

  • They’re always dropped off at/ collected from work; and very early in the morning or late at night
  • Children dropped off/ picked up in private cars or taxis at unusual times and in places where it isn’t clear why they’d be there.

Most common types of modern slavery

Labour exploitation

All work or services which is exacted from any person under the threat of a penalty and for which the person has not offered himself/herself voluntarily.

Spot the signs:
  • Signs of psychological or physical abuse
  • Appearing frightened, withdrawn or confused
  • They appear to not be free to move and/or are always accompanied
  • They’re transported to and from work, perhaps with a number of people in one vehicle
  • Lack protective equipment, suitable clothing or training to safely do their job
  • Lack access to their own documents, such as ID or passport; an employer may have confiscated them
  • Working unusually long hours
  • They do not have a contract, are paid less than the National Minimum Wage, or not paid at all
  • Forced to stay in accommodation provided by their employer; this may be overcrowded
  • Afraid to accept money or payment
  • Their legitimate wages may be taken by an exploiter who is outside of the business or work place.

Read Frank’s story

Sexual exploitation

When victims are forced to perform sexual acts.

Spot the signs: 
  • They may appear scared or intimidated
  • Appearing frightened, withdrawn or confused
  • They’re closely guarded
  • "Branded" with a tattoo indicating ownership
  • Signs of physical abuse, including bruising, scarring and cigarette burns
  • Are unable to keep payment and have restricted or no access to their earnings
  • Have limited English vocabulary, restricted to sexualised words
  • Male visitors call day and night and who only stay for a short time
  • There are signs of sexual activity, such as cards and advertisements nearby
  • A number of female foreign nationals living at the same address
  • Sleeping at the premises where they work could indicate a brothel is operating.

Child exploitation

When a child is exploited for someone else’s gain. This can include being trafficked, being forced to become a solider or marry, or being kept in domestic servitude.                                           

Spot the signs:
  • Mood swings, including being angry, upset or withdrawn
  • Inappropriate sexual behaviour
  • Dressing inappropriately for their age
  • Going missing at night or weekends and not being clear about their whereabouts
  • Failing to attend school
  • Having gifts, presents or expensive items which they can’t explain.

Domestic Servitude

When someone is forced to work in someone else’s home, perhaps cooking and looking after children, with little freedom or pay.

Spot the signs:
  • They’re held in their employer’s home and forced to carry out domestic tasks such as child care, cooking and cleaning
  • Unable to leave the house on their own; their movements are monitored
  • Work unusually long hours
  • Don’t have access to their own belongings, including things like ID or mobile phone, which can isolate them
  • Employer is physically and/or verbally abusive
  • They rarely interact with the family they work for
  • Deprived of their own living space, food, water or medical care
  • Stand out from other family members, for example because they wear poorer-quality clothes.

Read Priscilla’s story

Criminal exploitation

When someone is forced into crime such as carrying drugs, forced begging, theft or fraud.

Spot the signs:
  • A large group of adult or child beggars being moved daily to different locations but returned to the same one at night could indicate forced begging
  • Being transported to or from the scene of a crime, including shoplifting, pick-pocketing or forced begging
  • Not benefiting from money or items obtained through crimes they’ve been forced to commit
  • Being forced to cultivate cannabis; their freedom of movement may be restricted, including being locked in a room; commonly they don’t speak English, or have limited vocabulary
  • Being forced or manipulated out of their home by drug dealers, who use the home as a base to sell drugs
  • Some young people are forced to carry and sell drugs across county borders.

Read Beth’s story

What to do if you spot the signs

If you suspect someone is a victim of exploitation or if you’re unsure and have concerns, here’s what you can do:

  • Report your concern to national charity Unseen via their app
  • Call the Modern Slavery & Exploitation helpline free on 08000 121 700. They are open 24/7 and are totally confidential                                                  
  • Fill out an online form

For more information on Modern Slavery please click here.