By Will Davies
Modern slavery is recognised, across the board, as an experience which creates new vulnerabilities and exacerbates existing ones. These vulnerabilities, such as insecure immigration status, can make it difficult for victims of this crime to access support and justice.
One other overlooked ‘sub-group’ within the survivor community are LGBT+ individuals who face additional risks before, during and after exploitation.
This group have been increasingly targeted by traffickers, who exploit destitute LGBTQ+ youths who have been rejected by their families in their countries of origin. (Family and community abandonment within the LGBTQ+ community can increase the risk of poverty which in turn increases vulnerability to trafficking.)
In the UK, long waiting times in decision making also leads to victims spending long periods of time waiting in limbo for outcomes, and Hostile Environment policies introduced to deter irregular immigration makes it unlikely for LGBTQ+ victims from outside of Europe to come forward. This is because of the fear of being deported to a country where they will face violence or death because of their sexuality.
Countries with the most severe penalties for LGBTQ+ citizens are also among the most likely to be represented in the UK’s immigration detention population. The Home Office reports that the top 10 nationalities in immigration detention include Bangladesh, Pakistan and Nigeria – three countries with the death penalty for homosexuality, underscoring quite how significant this issue is for LGBTQ victims of trafficking. Meanwhile Iraq, another source country for trafficking victims and asylum seekers, does not offer legal protection from LGBTQ ‘honour kilings’ which creates another strong motivation for LGBTQ+ people to trust traffickers offering sham jobs abroad.
Currently, we know that asylum, LGBTQ+ experiences, and detention overlap. We also know that trafficking, asylum and detention overlap. But there is still no data outlining the exact experiences of LGBTQ+ trafficking victims, or how they are treated by UK authorities.
Once in the UK, LGBTQ+ victims from other nationalities can also find it harder to get support, as there are few charities dedicated to helping LGBT victims specifically. On top of this, they is a risk of being resistant to trusting charities with knowledge of their sexuality, because of discrimination they have previously faced for their disclosure. In addition to facing more discrimination, they are more likely to have associated problems such as mental health difficulties, meaning they require tailored help which is in short supply.
Amongst trafficking and slavery victims with ‘documented status’ (or those who are permitted to reside in the UK), the high rate of homelessness amongst British LGBTQ+ youth also increases the risk of exploitation, as more evidence of homeless shelters being used as trafficking ‘recruitment hubs’ comes to light.
it’s clear there’s a need for more research on certain vulnerabilities and how they interact with trafficking experience, and this is needed because LGBTQ victims face unique challenges. Charities that specifically help LGBTQ trafficking victims need to be supported and groups that help trafficking victims more generally need to support with the development of specific policies to address LGBTQ victims. This is to ensure we at least begin to address issues which specifically impact this group.
How can you help?
After Exploitation is committed to tracing what happens to victims of slavery, including human trafficking, in order to contribute to fit-for-purpose reforms that address the needs of victims. Although we’ve made good progress, so little is understood about the number of trafficking victims who belong to the LGBTQ+ community and the unique challenges they face. Going forward, we must not only rely on data but also on survivors’ testimonials, in order to understand the nature and scale of the issue. You can support our calls for better transparency of trafficking victims overall, and also sign up to volunteer by emailing us.