This section is up to date as of 13 February 2024, we cannot guarantee the information in this section is correct after 13 February 2024, always ensure that you check the up to date law and policy

If you are supporting or representing a survivor, the first priority should be safeguarding and reducing the risk of re-trafficking.

Safeguarding means preventing harm and reducing risks where possible. Safeguarding law and practice is a very broad area and we are not attempting to cover everything here, but highlight some key areas that are particularly relevant to supporting survivors. If you are employed or volunteering for an organisation that supports survivors, your organisation should have its own safeguarding policies and key contacts so please check these if you are not already aware.

What safeguarding issues should I be aware of in relation to survivors?

The types of safeguarding issues that you might encounter when supporting survivors will likely cover a range of issues, it is important not to make assumptions about survivors that you are supporting.
It is really important to use a trauma informed approach and try to achieve a relationship of trust so that a survivor is more likely to reach out for help, which could reduce the safeguarding risks. See our section on working with survivors for more information on this.

Health concerns and risk to life

A survivor may be vulnerable to risks of harm that arise from their health, for example, threats of self harm or suicide. Keeping in contact with a survivor regularly (in line with your role) can help you understand how a survivor’s presentation develops in response to stress. You might find it helpful to ensure there are key contacts in place from the start, which are updated, for all the alternative support they have around them. You can then signpost them to the appropriate service when needed. Ask the survivor if they are aware of the emergency contacts for their medical or support services, for example on evenings and weekends when you are not available. Be clear about the boundaries of the service you provide and when you can reply to communications.


Exploitation is a common factor in different types of abuse, therefore someone who has been previously exploited may be more likely to suffer further abuse. It is crucial to be alert to any signs of abuse, either threats or actual abuse. The government’s care and support statutory guidance breaks down types of abuse in 10 different categories:

  • Physical (e.g. assault, making someone deliberately uncomfortable, restraint, physical punishments, withholding food)
  • Domestic violence (abuse between intimate partners/family)
  • Sexual (e.g. rape, inappropriate touch or looking, indecent exposure)
  • Psychological (e.g. preventing expression of choice and opinion, removing communication devices, enforced isolation, intimidation/bullying/threats, failure to respect privacy)
  • Financial/material (e.g. theft, scamming, denying assistance to access benefits)
  • Modern Slavery
  • Discriminatory (e.g. unequal treatment/verbal abuse/derogatory comments/harassment/exclusion/denying communication aids based on protected characteristics)
  • Neglect/acts of omission (e.g. ignoring/isolating the person, not taking account of religious/cultural needs, refusing visitors)
  • Organisational (e.g. run down premises, authoritarian leadership, lack of supervision, inadequate staffing affecting care)
  • Self-neglect (e.g. can’t manage their own affairs, seeks help or undertake personal care).

Re-trafficking is when someone is exploited again, either by those who exploited them in the first instance, or by new actors. However, re-trafficking is not necessarily about various individual and different episodes but rather an ongoing process. The government and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) agree that modern slavery/trafficking is an ongoing process.

In the government’s statutory guidance it states:

As noted in the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) guidelines on international protection:

‘An important aspect of this definition is an understanding of trafficking as a process comprising a number of interrelated actions rather than a single act at a given point in time. Once initial control is secured, victims are generally moved to a place where there is a market for their services, often where they lack language skills and other basic knowledge that would enable them to seek help. While these actions can all take place within one country’s borders, they can also take place across borders with the recruitment taking place in one country and the act of receiving the victim and the exploitation taking place in another. Whether or not an international border is crossed, the intention to exploit the individual concerned underpins the entire process.’

Understanding modern slavery/trafficking as an ongoing process is important because it means that a survivor may still be in the process of modern slavery/trafficking when you or your organisation is supporting them. Even if it appears that they have left a situation of exploitation, there may be ongoing vulnerabilities and/or threats/coercion/risks that the survivor may never feel able to disclose. In some cases this means that survivors go missing. It is often not possible to know why someone has gone missing, but in some cases it is because they have been re-trafficked.

Re-trafficking can occur when a survivor proactively contacts their exploiters (albeit under duress due to threats or because they see no other real option available to them and/or they owe a debt) and agrees to disclose their location/meets their exploiters again. Re-trafficking can also take the form of kidnap/violence. A common reason that survivors are re-trafficked is because their families have been threatened; the organised criminal groups that exploited the survivor may have contacts in various countries, including the survivor’s country of origin if they were a victim of modern slavery abroad. County lines cases also present a high risk of re-trafficking.

Re-trafficking will generally continue to be a risk until the survivor has sustained long-term recovery from their experience. The threat may also depend on the capability of the criminal gang. If they are left without appropriate, protective intervention, survivors will become increasingly vulnerable over time.

Accommodation risks

Any unsuitable, insecure or unsafe accommodation presents an increased trafficking risk to survivors, because it is likely to mean that they are unable to begin their long term recovery. Those detained in a prison or detention centre also face an increased safeguarding risk both within those settings because they are more likely to feel re-traumatised/distrustful of authorities/desperate to be released even to exploitative, unsafe or unsuitable accommodation which could mean it is more likely they are re-trafficked after release.

However, from a safeguarding perspective, it is important to liaise closely with any third parties providing support when a survivor you are supporting or representing is released to ensure that a form of a protection plan is in place, which recognises the risk of re-trafficking and tries to minimise it.

How is safeguarding addressed in the NRM?

The Statutory Guidance (the guidance) provides advice on safeguarding, in terms of immediate safety. It states that the safety, protection and support of the potential victim must always be the first priority. It confirms that survivors of modern slavery are a recognised vulnerable group and that a First Responder should follow the safeguarding policy of their organisation. It confirms that children are the responsibility of the local authority. In the case of adults, emergency accommodation can be provided and 999 should be called in an emergency. If the survivor is an “Adult at Risk”, the Local Authority should conduct a safeguarding enquiry under s.42 The Care Act 2014.

In terms of process, an initial risk assessment takes place under the Modern Slavery Victim Care Contract ((MSVCC) – how a survivor accesses support in the NRM) for all individuals referred into the NRM. The purpose of the initial risk assessment is to:

  • establish any immediate welfare needs of the potential victim (and their dependents);
  • assess any ongoing risk to the potential victim (and their dependents) from those who have exploited them;
  • and determine whether the potential victim (and their dependents) need to be accommodated.

The guidance confirms that the initial risk assessments will cover the following (Pre-RG):

  • Emotional and mental wellbeing
  • Level of trauma, risk of self-harm, suicide etc.
  • Specific accommodation requirements
  • Support currently received, e,g, medication, counselling
  • Ability to live independently
  • Language and cultural needs
  • Risk to self and others.

The guidance also confirms after a positive RG there will be a full risk assessment. The objective of that risk assessment is for the support worker to work together with the potential victim or victim to identify key areas of concern including but not limited to:

  • risk from exploiters or their associates;
  • any physical, sexual or mental health issues;
  • risk of self-neglect;
  • risk of suicide;
  • risk of self-harm;
  • any substance misuse;
  • any risk-taking behaviours, including contacting traffickers;
  • risk of harm to others;
  • any spiritual abuse, e.g. witchcraft or juju;
  • risk of the victim leaving accommodation without notifying staff; and
  • managing risk after leaving Modern Slavery Victim Care Contract support/following identification

The guidance also confirms that the full risk assessment (after a positive RG) will cover the following:

  • confirm again the accommodation and/or outreach services to a potential victim or victim (and their dependents) and to re-visit that decision in the light of any new information which arises
  • continue to consider and address the potential victim or victim’s (and dependents’) immediate welfare needs and
  • identify any safeguarding concerns and take immediate action to address these if necessary.

Going missing

Going missing is recognised by the government as an indicator of trafficking. It is best practice not to make assumptions about the person you are supporting, and act in a proactive and protective way. If you are a support professional, you should adhere to your organisation’s safeguarding policies. If you are a legal representative, you will need to act in a way that complies with your SRA (or other regulatory body) code of conduct concerning confidentiality and disclosure, in addition to your organisation’s safeguarding policies.

What actions do the UK authorities take when a survivor goes missing?

The Statutory Guidance provides that:

  • If sufficient information is available to make the decision – the SCA must make the NRM decision.
  • Insufficient information – the SCA must suspend the case.

The guidance used to state that asylum claims must be withdrawn and was problematic as there would be no barrier to removal, however this has now been taken out of the statutory guidance. Legal representatives could contact the SCA to confirm whether in their view there is sufficient or insufficient evidence to make a decision, in order to protect their client’s interest. It would not be helpful for the SCA to make a negative decision while a survivor is missing, so it is important to state whether the present information is sufficient or not.

The actions that the SCA must take if a potential victim has gone missing during the NRM process are:

  1. Report as a “vulnerable missing person” to the police.
    Police should put a marker on the Police National Computer (PNC)
    Inform the relevant safeguarding team in the Local Authority (Adult or Children team).
  2. Notification of case suspension to:
    First Responder
    Support provider
    Local authority
    Independent Child Trafficking Guardian
    The Home Office
  3. Inform Law Enforcement of a suspended case or NRM decision (where there are criminal proceedings)
    SCA to inform the police, who should inform the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS)
  4. Record the case as suspended (pre RG/pre CG)

If you are a lawyer and your client has gone missing, you can write to the SCA to ensure they have carried out these steps and ask them to confirm it in writing.

Unfortunately as the above actions only concern those potential victims who are in the NRM process, it excludes the following groups:

  • Those individuals where there are indicators that they are a victim of modern slavery but have not yet been referred into the NRM.
  • Those who have negative NRM decisions where they are in the process of challenging that decision, including by judicial review.
  • Those who have exited the NRM, even with a positive decision.
  • However, the duty on the UK authorities to protect and support survivors arises if there is a “credible suspicion” that the individual is a victim of trafficking, which could mean the UK has an obligation to protect individuals who fall into the above categories: see R (TDT) v SSHD [2018] EWCA Civ 1395.
What actions do staff at an MSVCC safe house take?
  • If the survivor was accommodated in a VCC safe house, they would, according to their policy, notify the police that the individual was a missing person, after making reasonable enquiries.
  • If the person returns – conduct a risk assessment in relation to the safety of the individual and others in the safe house
  • Follow internal safeguarding procedures.
What actions do the police take?
  • The College of Policing guidance on Missing Persons states that going missing should be treated as an indicator that the individual may be at risk of harm.
  • Duty to investigate by police where there is concern someone has been or is likely to be a victim of a serious crime – including human trafficking. Survivors who are in the NRM or safehouses should therefore be assessed/investigated by police. We also think this should apply to those who are pre-NRM if there are indicators of modern slavery.
  • If someone is residing in asylum accommodation in hotels then this is the Home Office’s responsibility – unless significant safeguarding risk
  • It is likely that a local police force would deal with the missing person report, however there are specialist trafficking teams within the police in the UK.
  • The missing person report could be recorded with a “vulnerability marker” on the Police National Computer (PNC), but this does not specifically cover re-trafficking risk unless recorded as free text.
  • Police are not a tracing agency – assessment may be done and the case may be filed with no more action. You may be able to follow up and insist that the case is treated as high risk through calling 111.
  • As noted above, a support professional or lawyers may be restricted in what they can communicate to the police due to confidentiality and disclosure rules.
  • Contacts: 999, 101. Local contacts? No national public list.

Further support and information

If you would like to ask any further questions on re-trafficking, including what to do if a survivor you are aware of may have been re-trafficked, please contact us on our third party advice service: ATLEU also regularly runs training on safeguarding aimed at legal representatives and support professionals.

Care Act 2014 – The legal framework for protecting adults at risk

Care and Support Statutory Guidance – The statutory guidance on how local authorities should meet legal obligations in the Care Act

Mental Capacity Act 2005 & Code of Practice – Protection for people who may not be able to make their own decisions

Information Sharing Guidance for Safeguarding Practitioners – Guidance around sharing safeguarding information

Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 – Created a single, new, non-departmental public body called the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS).

Equality Act 2010 – certain protected characteristics

Data Protection Act 2018 & UK GDPR –  Provides for safe storage and sharing of information including safeguarding information. 

Children Act 1989, Children Act 2004 – Legislation on the safeguarding and protection of children.

Legislation differs depending on home nation: NSPCC resources

Working Together to Safeguard Children Guidance 2018 – Government guidance for organisations working with children.

Children and Social Work Act 2017 – Provides for safeguarding partners (amends Children Act 04) (Local Authorities, NHS, Police) to work together to safeguard and promote welfare of children in a local area

Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006 – Legislation setting out that it’s an offence for an employer to knowingly employ someone where they spend regular time working with children/individual who has been barred applying for such a position.

Every Child Matters Change for Children 2004 – key outcomes for all children including to stay safe

London Safeguarding Trafficked Children Toolkit 2011 – Guidance to professionals and volunteers from all agencies in safeguarding and promoting the welfare of trafficked and exploited children

Safeguarding children who may have been trafficked 2011 – Good practice guidance

Care of unaccompanied migrant children and child victims of modern slavery 2017 (statutory guidance) –  Local authorities and staff running local multi-agency safeguarding arrangements

The Human Rights Act 1998/European Convention on Human Rights Article 4 Prohibition on modern slavery.

ECAT Article 10 – the duty to identify, Article 12 – the duty to support and take account of special needs of those in vulnerable position, Article 13 – recovery period

  • the UK must take due account of the victim’s safety and protection needs
  • Rights continue until the individual has left the UK
  • Support should be offered in all settings (unless disqualified), including prisons and detention centres.

Modern Slavery Statutory Guidance  4.20-4.21

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