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Modern Slavery

Human trafficking is the movement of people by means such as force, fraud, coercion or deception, with the aim of exploiting them. It is a form of modern slavery.

Human trafficking is a crime. It does not always involve international transportation. Trafficking in the UK includes commercial, sexual and bonded labour. Trafficked people have little choice in what happens to them and often suffer abuse due to violence and threats made against them or their families. In effect, they become commodities owned by traffickers, used for profit.

These three elements all form part of trafficking:

  • the act: recruiting, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons
  • the means: force, fraud, coercion, deception
  • the purpose: exploitation

A quarter of all victims found in the UK last year were British.

Indicators of Modern Slavery can include:

  • appears malnourished or unkempt; for example, they wear the same clothes every day
  • seems withdrawn, avoids eye contact or appears hesitant or frightened of others
  • is isolated, rarely being allowed on their own or seemingly being under the control and influence of others
  • has few, or no, personal possessions
  • lacks identification documents
  • lives in poor conditions, such as dirty, cramped, or overcrowded places
  • fears law enforcement officers
  • shows signs of physical and psychological abuse


Cuckooing is a form of crime, termed by the police, in which drug dealers take over the home of a vulnerable person in order to use it as a base for county lines drug trafficking. The crime is named after the bird whereby the cuckoo's practice of taking over other birds' nests for its young.

These criminals are very selective about who they target as ‘cuckoo’ victims and are often entrepreneurial.

Victims of ‘cuckooing’ are often drug users but can include older people, those suffering from mental or physical health problems, female sex workers, single mums and those living in poverty. Victims may suffer from other forms of addiction, such as alcoholism, and are often already known to the police. Dealers often approach the victim offering free drugs to use their home for dealing.

Once they gain control, gangs move in with the risk of domestic abuse, sexual exploitation and violence. Children as well as adults are used as drug runners.

It is common for gangs to have access to several addresses. They move quickly between vulnerable people’s homes for just a few hours, a couple of days or sometimes longer. This helps gangs evade detection. By ‘cuckooing’ the criminals can operate from a discreet property, which is out of sight, making it an attractive option. They can then use the premises to deal and manufacture drugs in an environment under the police radar.

These gangs may also use accommodation in;

  • rural areas
  • including serviced apartments, holiday lets, budget hotels and caravan parks

When the criminals use the victim’s property for criminal enterprises, the inhabitants become terrified of going to the police for fear of being suspected of involvement in drug dealing or being identified as a member of the group, which would result in their eviction from the property. Some vulnerable adults may be forced to leave their homes, making themselves homeless and leaving the gangs free to sell drugs in their absence.

Case Study - Martin's Story

Martin called the Modern Slavery Helpline anxious about his friend Paul. Paul had previously had a good job as an engineer, but had been tricked into handing over his property and was now living in squalid conditions in the factory where he was forced to work, with no washing or toilet facilities.

He was given little food or pay and was physically beaten if he spoke out. His exploiter told him he had links with the police, making him fearful of going to them.

Helpline Advisor gently reassured Martin that what this employer was doing was illegal and that agencies could help his friend escape to safety.

It took several calls for Martin to admit the abuse was in fact happening to him, and to find the courage to break free.

Over several weeks of support with the helpline and Police working together Martin decided when the time to leave was right and safe. Once Martin had made the decision the Police removed Martin to a safe place and referred Martin to specialist agencies so he could start accessing support he needed to re-build his life and enable his recovery.