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What are the signs / symptoms of slavery?

What are the signs / symptoms of slavery?

Signs of slavery in the UK and elsewhere are often hidden, making it even harder to recognise victims around us.

Slavery is called a hidden crime because it can be difficult to identify a victim.

There have been cases of people escaping and reporting the situation to the police. However, many are physically unable to leave their work sites without an escort and are not free to contact family, friends, or members of the public.

Common signs to look out for:

Physical appearance

  • Is fearful, anxious, depressed, submissive, tense, or nervous/paranoid.
  • Exhibits unusually fearful or anxious behaviour.
  • Appear withdrawn.
  • Avoids eye contact.
  • Reluctant to seek help.
  • Lacks health care/dental care.
  • Appears malnourished.
  • Shows signs of physical and/or sexual abuse, physical restraint, confinement, or torture.


  • Not allowed to travel on their own.
  • Rarely interacts with others.
  • Unfamiliar with their neighbourhood or where they work.
  • Seem under the control of others.

Lack of control

  • Has few or no personal possessions.
  • Is not in control of his/her own money, no financial records, or bank account.
  • Is not in control of his/her own identification documents (ID or passport).
  • Is not allowed or able to speak for themselves (a third party may insist on being present and/or translating).
  • May wear the same clothes day in day out or clothes be inappropriate for the work being done.

Poor living conditions

  • Dirty cramped environment.
  • Over-crowded accommodation.
  • Living and working at the same place.

Unusual travel times

  • Maybe dropped off and collected for work on a regular basis either very early or late at night.

Signs specific to child victims:

Absent parent or legal guardian

  • A child is being cared for by an adult that is not their parent or legal guardian. 
  • The quality of the relationship between the child and their adult carer is poor and a reason for concern.
  • May not be attending school or registered with a GP.

Multiple children

  • A number of unrelated children found at one address.
  • Frequent movement of children from a premises.


  • Children may not always demonstrate outward signs of distress and may have a ‘bond’ with those exploiting them and have been groomed to not disclose their abuse – however, they are likely to be very scared and traumatised.

Identity documents

  • Missing, altered or false documentation is common.

Missing children

  • Children who come into contact with authorities often disappear and are re-trafficked within the UK or out of the country.

If you have any concerns, call the Modern Slavery Helpline on 0800 0121 700 or contact one of the specialist agencies who deal with slavery victims.

Call the Modern Slavery helpline on:

0800 0121 700

(Lines are open 24 hours a day and are free from landlines and most mobile phones)


About Live Fear Free

Live Fear Free is a Welsh Government website, providing information and advice for those suffering with violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence.

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