1. Home
  2. Introduction
  3. How can I tell if my client is a victim of modern slavery?

How can I tell if my client is a victim of modern slavery?

Please see our section on what trafficking and slavery is, and how to work with victims. It is always a good idea to go back to the legal definitions if you are ever unsure if your client might be a victim.

Here is a list of some common signs or indicators telling you that someone might be a victim of trafficking, forced labour or slavery.

These lists come from the UK government checklists. They are not exhaustive but they give you an idea of what to be aware of.

If you are based within a local authority, The Human Trafficking Foundation has produced a set of protocols on definitions and indicators.

The South Yorkshire Modern Slavery Partnership has also launched their Curiosity Counts campaign to raise awareness of modern slavery with key workers and groups who continue to work in the community during lockdown restrictions. Watch their two animations here:


General indicators for modern slavery
  • Distrustful of authorities
  • Expression of fear or anxiety
  • Signs of psychological trauma (including post traumatic stress disorder)
  • The person acts as if instructed by another
  • Injuries apparently a result of assault or controlling measures
  • Evidence of control over movement, either as an individual or as a group
  • Found in or connected to a type of location likely to be used for exploitation
  • Restriction of movement and confinement to the workplace or to a limited area
  • Passport or documents held by someone else
  • Lack of access to medical care
  • Limited social contact / isolation
  • Limited contact with family
  • Signs of ritual abuse and witchcraft (juju)
  • Substance misuse
  • Person forced, intimidated or coerced into providing services
  • Doesn’t know home or work address
  • Perception of being bonded by debt
  • Money is deducted from salary for food or accommodation
  • Threat of being handed over to authorities
  • Threats against the individual or their family members
  • Being placed in a dependency situation
  • No or limited access to bathroom or hygiene facilities
  • Self identifies as a victim.
Forced labour
  • No or limited access to earnings or labour contract
  • Excessive wage reductions, withholding wages, or financial penalties
  • Dependence on employer for a number of services for example work, transport and accommodation
  • Any evidence workers are required to pay for tools, food or accommodation via deductions from their pay
  • Imposed place of accommodation
  • Found in poor living conditions
  • Evidence of excessive working days or hours
  • Deceived about the nature of the job, location, or employer
  • Employer or manager unable to produce documents required when employing migrant labour
  • Employer or manager unable to provide record of wages paid to workers
  • Poor or non-existent health and safety equipment or no health and safety notices.
Domestic service
  • Living with and working for a family in a private home or place of accommodation
  • Not eating with the rest of the family or being given only leftovers, or inadequate food
  • No private sleeping place or sleeping in shared space for example the living room
  • No private space
  • Forced to work in excess of normal working hours or being ‘on-call’ 24 hours per day
  • Employer reports them as a missing person
  • Employer accuses person of theft or other crime related to the escape
  • Never leaving the house without permission from the employer.
Sexual exploitation
  • Adverts for sexual services offering individuals from particular ethnic or national groups
  • Sleeping on work premises
  • Movement of individuals between brothels or working in alternate locations
  • Individuals with very limited amounts of clothing or a large proportion of their clothing is ‘sexual’
  • Only being able to speak sexual words in local language or language of client group
  • Having tattoos or other marks indicating ‘ownership’ by their exploiters
  • Person forced, intimidated or coerced into providing services of a sexual nature
  • Person subjected to crimes such as abduction, assault or rape
  • Someone other than the potential victim receives the money from clients
  • Health symptoms (including sexual health issues).


The child’s development
  • Claims to have been exploited through sexual exploitation, criminality, labour, exploitation or domestic servitude by another person
  • Physical symptoms of exploitative abuse (For example sexual or physical)
  • Underage marriage
  • Physical indications of working (For example overly tired in school, indications of manual labour – condition of hands/skin, backaches)
  • Sexually transmitted infection or unwanted pregnancy
  • Story very similar to those given by others, perhaps hinting they have been coached
  • Significantly older partner
  • Harbours excessive fears / anxieties (for instance about an individual, of deportation, disclosing information)
  • Movement into, within or out of the UK
  • Returning after missing, looking well cared for despite no known base
  • Claims to have been in the UK for years but hasn’t learnt local language or culture.

Other risk factors

  • Withdrawn and refuses to talk / appears afraid to talk to a person in authority
  • Shows signs of physical neglect – basic care, malnourishment, lack of attention to health needs
  • Shows signs of emotional neglect
  • Socially isolated – lack of positive, meaningful relationships in child’s life
  • Behavioural – poor concentration or memory, irritable / unsociable / aggressive behaviour
  • Psychological – indications of trauma or numbing
  • Exhibits self assurance, maturity and self confidence not expected in
    a child of such age
  • Evidence of drug, alcohol or substance misuse
  • Low self image, low self esteem, self harming behaviour including cutting, overdosing, eating disorder, promiscuity
  • Sexually active
  • Not registered with or attended a GP practice
  • Not enrolled in school
  • Has money, expensive clothes, mobile phones or other possessions without plausible explanation.
Parenting /adult care
  • Required to earn a minimum amount of money every day
  • Involved in criminality highlighting involvement of adults (for example recovered from cannabis farm / factory, street crime, petty theft, pick pocketing, begging)
  • Performs excessive housework chores and rarely leaves the residence
  • Reports from reliable sources suggest likelihood of sexual exploitation, including being seen in places known to be used for sexual exploitation
  • Unusual hours / regular patterns of child leaving or returning to placement which indicates probable working
  • Accompanied by an adult who may not be the legal guardian and insists on remaining with the child at all times
  • Limited freedom of movement
  • Movement into, within or out of the UK
  • Gone missing from local authority care
  • Unable to confirm name or address of person meeting them on arrival
  • Accompanying adult previously made multiple visa applications for other children / acted as the guarantor for other children’s visa applications
  • Accompanying adult known to have acted as guarantor on visa applications for other visitors who have not returned to their countries of origin on visa expiry
  • History with missing links or unexplained moves
  • Pattern of street homelessness.

Other risk factors

  • Unregistered private fostering arrangement
  • Cared for by adult/s who are not their parents and quality of relationship is not good
  • Placement breakdown
  • Persistently missing, staying out overnight or returning late with no plausible explanation
  • Truancy / disengagement with education
  • Appropriate adult is not an immediate family member (parent / sibling)
  • Appropriate adult cannot provide photographic identification for the child.
  • Located / recovered from a place of exploitation (for example brothel, cannabis farm, involved in criminality)
  • Deprived of earnings by another person
  • Claims to be in debt bondage or “owes” money to other persons (for example for travel costs, before having control over own earnings)
  • Receives unexplained / unidentified phone calls whilst in placement / temporary accommodation
  • No passport or other means of identity
  • Unable or reluctant to give accommodation or other personal details
  • False documentation or genuine documentation that has been altered or fraudulently obtained; or the child claims that their details (name, date of birth) on the documentation are incorrect
  • Movement into, within or out of the UK
  • Entered country illegally
  • Journey or visa arranged by someone other than themselves or their family
  • Registered at multiple addresses.

Other risk factors

  • Possible inappropriate use of the internet and forming online relationships, particularly with adults
  • Accounts of social activities with no plausible explanation of the source of necessary funding
  • Entering or leaving vehicles driven by unknown adults
  • Adults loitering outside the child’s usual place of residence
  • Leaving home / care setting in clothing unusual for the individual child (for example inappropriate for age, borrowing clothing from older people)
  • Works in various locations
  • One among a number of unrelated children found at one address
  • Having keys to premises other than those known about
  • Going missing and being found in areas where they have no known links.


UN Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) list

International Labour Office (ILO) Indicators of Forced Labour

ILO indicators of trafficking

ILO e-learning course (free!) on child labour

National Referral Mechanism forms and guidance (The government documents used when a victim is referred into the system for identification)

NHS England Modern Slavery Awareness (video)

Stop the Traffik awareness resource

Was this article helpful?