Almost 21 million people fall victim to forced labour globally, and there are thought to be up to 13,000 people trapped in slavery in the UK alone. In 2015, UK authorities identified 3,266 potential human trafficking victims.
However, social workers need a better understanding of the dynamics of trafficking – and especially the way it is linked to migration – to help them identify those affected or at risk, according to Hlín Sæþórsdóttir of the State University of New York.
“One of the biggest problems is that there is such a dichotomy in all the discourse,” says Sæþórsdóttir, a PhD student from Iceland with an interest in human trafficking and migration. “It’s all about forced versus voluntary migration, legal or illegal migrants. But human trafficking isn’t black or white – it’s everything in between.”
A common misconception is that victims are always kidnapped, she explains. “Of course, kidnapping does happen, but you could also decide to migrate on your own and then end up in a situation where you are trafficked. You might have nothing, and then someone offers you a job as an au pair or a model, for instance. But when you arrive in the host country, you’re told that you have to pay for your transportation and documents, and need to work as a prostitute to pay the debt.