Spotting the signs of domestic slavery

Written by: Phil Knight | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Modern slavery is a growing problem in the UK and schools can play a part in spotting the signs and raising awareness. Phil Knight explains how

A new pilot campaign has launched to help tackle modern slavery in the UK.

It focuses on helping those trapped in domestic slavery, a form of modern slavery where victims are often kept against their will to carry out exhausting tasks including cooking, cleaning and childcare for 10 to 16-hours-a-day with no pay.

The practice is often, but not always, linked to child fostering, with young people being promised a “better life”. This may involve better pay or access to education in return for working as a “househelp” for a family with links to their own.

However, when the relationship is taken advantage of, young people can end up isolated from their families, working exhausting hours for little or no pay without access to education or healthcare and facing daily abuse.

At Just Enough, we’re running workshops in Manchester and Dagenham to educate children in schools on how to identify domestic slavery at home.

However, there are also steps that teachers can take themselves to help tackle modern slavery. Although it is rare for victims to be allowed to attend school, cases have been documented, and teachers may be in a position to spot potential victims dropping off and collecting pupils at the school gates, as they often have childcare responsibilities.

Important questions to ask yourself if you suspect someone is living in domestic slavery are:

  • What conditions are they living in?
  • Does their appearance suggest they are in need of sleep, food or medical care?
  • Do the younger children seem overly confident in telling them what to do?
  • Can they freely contact their friends or family?
  • Do they seem reluctant to speak to the teacher about the children?
  • Have their passport or documents been taken away?
  • Do they work in excess of normal working hours? Or seem to be responsible for the children 24-hours-a-day?

Any concerns or suspicions should be reported to the Modern Slavery Helpline – a 24-hour confidential service which provides victims and the public with access to support and information concerning situations of modern day slavery, free of charge.

Teachers are also in a unique position to educate the next generation on why domestic slavery is wrong and how to look out for it. Pupils can take this message back home, to where it might even be happening, and stress that it is illegal to keep people in these conditions.

A useful tool to encourage greater understanding in the classroom is a short film, Spot the Signs, produced by award-winning Nigerian film-maker Ogo Okpue, in partnership with the Salvation Army and child protection charity AFRUCA.

The film drives home the importance of everyone looking out for signs of domestic slavery, which so often happens behind closed doors – from teachers to healthcare professionals and from shopkeepers to community leaders.

To tell the story from the victim’s perspective, Spot the Signs, shows how “Theresa” was promised a better life in the UK, but when she arrived the family she was working for took her passport away, denied her an education and subjected her to abuse. She is rescued when a church member was able to spot the signs that she was being held as a domestic slave.

Children should not be overlooked as a powerful force in tackling domestic slavery. They can bring to light cases of slavery that might be hidden from everyone else because they happen behind closed doors in people’s homes.

By helping students to understand what domestic slavery is, and by looking out for the signs themselves, teachers can play a part in bringing an end to this exploitative practice.

  • Phil Knight is the founder and CEO of Just Enough, a charity which delivers school workshops tackling issues of modern slavery and radicalisation. To find out more about the charity and the workshops they can run, visit

What is modern slavery?

Slavery is an umbrella term for activities involved when one person obtains or holds another person in compelled service. Someone is in slavery if they are:

  • Forced to work through mental or physical threat.
  • Owned or controlled by an “employer”, usually through mental or physical abuse or the threat of abuse.
  • Dehumanised, treated as a commodity or bought and sold as “property”.
  • Physically constrained or with restrictions placed on his/her freedom.

The following definitions are encompassed within the term “modern slavery” for the purposes of the Modern Slavery Act 2015. These are:

  • “Slavery” is where ownership is exercised over a person.
  • “Servitude” involves the obligation to provide services imposed by coercion.
  • “Forced or compulsory labour” involves work or service extracted from any person under the menace of a penalty and for which the person has not offered himself voluntarily.
  • “Human trafficking” concerns arranging or facilitating the travel of another with a view to exploiting them.

Modern slavery: The statistics

  • Between October 2016 and March 2017, there were 1,047 calls to the helpline (08000 121 700) and 125 online reports. A total of 866 cases were opened with 372 confirmed cases of modern slavery. A total of 1,365 potential victims of modern slavery were indicated with 575 referrals and signposts, including 247 to law enforcement services.
  • Almost 21 million people worldwide are victims of forced labour – 11.4 million women and girls and 9.5 million men and boys.
  • Of those exploited by individuals or enterprises, 4.5 million are victims of forced sexual exploitation.
  • In the UK in 2015, 3,266 people were identified as potential victims of trafficking. This is a 40 per cent increase on 2014 figures. Of the 3,266 potential victims of trafficking identified in 2015, 982 were children.
  • There is no typical victim of slavery. Victims are men, women and children of all ages, ethnicities and nationalities and cut across the population. However, it’s normally more prevalent among the most vulnerable or within minority or socially excluded groups. Child victims are victims of child abuse and should therefore be treated as such using existing child protection procedures and statutory protocols.
  • Poverty, limited opportunities at home, lack of education, unstable social and political conditions, economic imbalances and war are some of the key drivers that contribute to someone’s vulnerability in becoming a victim of modern slavery. Victims can often face more than one type of abuse, such as being sold on to another trafficker and then forced into another form of exploitation.
  • Potential victims have been reported from 103 different countries of origin in 2015. The top six most common countries of origin for potential victims of trafficking in 2015 were Albania, Vietnam, Nigeria, Romania, the UK and Poland. From 2014, the UK has seen a 40 per cent increase in the number of potential victims of trafficking referred.


Further information


Please view our Terms and Conditions before leaving a comment.

Change the CAPTCHA codeSpeak the CAPTCHA code
Sign up SecEd Bulletin