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OPINION: It’s time to listen to people who’ve experienced modern slavery

by Anonymous | Modern Slavery and Human Rights Policy and Evidence Centre
Monday, 18 October 2021 15:15 GMT

The Victoria Tower, part of the Houses of Parliament, is seen in the distance as a person walks past Westminster Abbey, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in London, Britain, March 16, 2021. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

There are many more people like me, who could provide their perspective and expertise in the work addressing modern slavery. We should listen to them.

By a person with a lived experience of modern slavery who is working with the Modern Slavery and Human Rights Policy and Evidence Centre, advising it on the award of funding and other key decisions of the Centre. The author has remained anonymous for fear of stigma and ease of comfort in sharing their story.

We like to think about ourselves as humane, open minded, compassionate, kind, selfless, generous. As a person who was affected by modern slavery here in the UK, I met many individuals who accepted people coming to the UK from abroad looking for a better life.

People would know little or nothing about your culture and traditions prior to coming here who perhaps struggled to communicate in English, but who now might need support after becoming trapped and exploited. It takes guts to be generous, to treat others the way you would like to be treated.

I’m writing about this because today is Anti-Slavery Day, and the theme of the day is listening to people who went through the experience of modern slavery. I think listening is one of the most important elements of any response to modern slavery and day-to-day support to people who are affected by it. But, listening to people like me is not yet embedded in the policy and programmes designed to address the problem.

We do have a problem with modern slavery in the UK. There are around 10,000 individuals referred to authorities as “potential victims” each year, but the real scale is thought to be much higher, with some estimating the number of people affected at over 100,000. Yet, in 2019, only 239 people were charged for modern slavery, and the support for survivors is full of problems. Much remains to be done.

Yet, people with lived experience are still largely absent from the debate around modern slavery, especially when it comes to developing policy and legislative solutions to address it and support survivors in appropriate ways that fulfils their needs.

How much more effective would these policies and programmes be if the views of those most affected were included in their formulation? When the voices of the very people that the policies are trying to protect are not heard, how can these policies be effective?

It is time to start listening to people with lived experience of human trafficking and modern-day slavery. Let’s get them involved in decisions and policymaking because they are experts through experience. That’s what meaningful inclusion would mean: listening to us as experts, rather than asking us to re-tell our stories of exploitation to pull people’s heart strings and catch their attention.

From the individual perspective, meaningful inclusion would foster acceptance, bring speed into healing and recovery from our scary past. It would enhance a healthy transition from being a victim to a survivor. It would give us a sense of giving back to the community, being a part of a just course and empowerment.

Including people with lived experiences would also enhance and improve the outcomes of research on modern slavery, which provides the evidence and feeds the conversation on policymaking. I say that because I’m working with the Modern Slavery and Human Rights Policy and Evidence Centre (Modern Slavery PEC), advising it on survivor inclusion in its research and policy work. I take part in research funding reviews, panellist meetings reviewing research projects for grant awards and other work-related meetings.

I watch myself growing in confidence and self-worth as I thrive in this opportunity to make a difference and give back to the community, as well as earning a decent wage. All the members of staff I have worked with have not treated me differently in any way, I feel accepted, valued and included. I am not pushed to take up any role or responsibility that I don’t want to or don’t feel ready for.

There are many more people like me, who could provide their perspective and expertise in the work addressing modern slavery. We should use them.

Meaningful inclusion of people with lived experience of modern slavery would require rethinking the way we do things. From research, allowing survivors lead on design and implementation of projects, to policy and practice, putting mechanisms in place to always include them at the decision-making tables. But it comes down to really listening.

So today, on Anti-Slavery Day, we should stop, take stock and think how to do it meaningfully and effectively. It is #TimetoListen.