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Spot the signs of modern slavery

Modern slavery is real and happening all around us. The good news is anyone can play a part in stamping out exploitation. Keep a look out for the signs of slavery described below, and call the Modern Slavery Helpline or report online if you see anything amiss.

The free Unseen App gives you a short guide to spotting the signs in your pocket, and enables you to report at the click of a button.


Physical Appearance

• Shows signs of physical or psychological abuse, look malnourished or unkempt, anxious/ agitated or appear withdrawn and neglected. They may have untreated injuries


• Rarely be allowed to travel on their own, seem under the control, influence of others, rarely interact or appear unfamiliar with their neighbourhood or where they work

• Relationships which don’t seem right – for example a young teenager appearing to be the boyfriend/ girlfriend of a much older adult.

Poor living conditions

• Be living in dirty, cramped or overcrowded accommodation, and / or living and working at the same address

Restricted freedom of movement

• Have no identification documents, have few personal possessions and always wear the same clothes day in day out. What clothes they do wear may not be suitable for their work

• Have little opportunity to move freely and may have had their travel documents retained, e.g. passports

Unusual travel times

• Be dropped off / collected for work on a regular basis either very early or late at night

• Unusual travel arrangements- children being dropped off/ picked up in private cars/ taxis at unusual times and in places where it isn’t clear why they’d be there

Reluctant to seek help

• Avoid eye contact, appear frightened or hesitant to talk to strangers and fear law enforcers for many reasons, such as not knowing who to trust or where to get help, fear of deportation, fear of violence to them or their family.


  • Individuals may show signs of psychological or physical abuse. They might appear frightened, withdrawn or confused
  • Workers may not have free movement and may always be accompanied
  • Individuals often lack protective equipment or suitable clothing and have not been trained to safely fulfil the requirements of the role
  • The person may not have access to their own documents, such as ID or their passport, with the employer having confiscated them
  • Individuals may not have a contract and may not be paid National Minimum Wage or not paid at all
  • Workers are forced to stay in accommodation provided by the employer. This accommodation could be overcrowded
  • Individuals could live on site
  • Workers could be transported to and from work, potentially with multiple people in one vehicle
  • The person might not accept money or be afraid to accept payment
  • Workers may work particularly long hours


  • Sex workers may appear scared or intimidated
  • The individual may be transported to and from clients
  • Individuals may be closely guarded
  • The person may be 'branded' with a tattoo indicating ownership
  • Sex workers may show signs of physical abuse, including bruising, scarring and cigarette burns
  • The individual may be unable to keep payment and may have restricted or no access to their earnings
  • The person may have a limited English vocabulary, restricted to sexualised words
  • Multiple female foreign nationals may be living at the same address
  • The person may sleep in the premise in which they work, which could indicate a brothel is operating
  • A property might have male callers day and night who only stay for a short time
  • There may be details of sexual activity such as cards and advertisements found nearby


  • The individual may be held in their employer's home and forced to carry out domestic tasks such as providing child care, cooking and cleaning
  • The individual may not be able to leave the house on their own, or their movements could be monitored
  • The person may work in excess of normal working hours
  • The individual may not have access to their own belongings, including their ID, but also items such as their mobile phone, which can isolate them
  • The employer may be abusive, both physically and verbally
  • The person may not interact often with the family they are employed by
  • The person may be deprived of their own personal living space, food, water or medical care
  • The individual may stand out from other family members, noticeable as they may wear poorer quality clothing


  • A large group of adult or children beggars might be moved daily to different locations but return to the same location every night. This could indicate forced begging
  • An individual might be transported to or from the scene of a crime, including shoplifting, pick-pocketing or forced begging
  • An individual may not benefit from the money or items they have obtained through the crimes they have been forced to commit
  • A person may be forced to cultivate cannabis with their freedom of movement restricted; including being locked in a room. It is common that the individual may not be able to speak English, or have a limited vocabulary
  • A vulnerable person may be forced or manipulated out of their home by drug dealers who use the home as a base to sell drugs
  • Young people may be forced to transport and sell drugs across county borders, which is known as 'County Lines'. You can read more about this here


  • The child may have mood swings, including being angry, upset or withdrawn
  • The child may show signs of inappropriate sexual behaviour
  • They may be dressed inappropriately for their age
  • The child may go missing at night or weekends and may not be clear about their whereabouts
  • They may not attend school
  • The child may have gifts, presents or expensive items which they cannot explain

You can read more about young people at risk of exploitation, including the forms of child exploitation, the signs to look for and what you can do to prevent it on our specific child exploitation page.

Covid-19 crisis appeal

As a result of the crisis, Unseen has lost huge amounts of funding and the future of the UK Modern Slavery Helpline is uncertain. Please donate now to ensure the Helpline stays open to support victims of modern slavery throughout this crisis.