Human Trafficking – First Contact

Following on from our article ‘Human Trafficking – an introduction’, we take a look at first contact with a victim of human trafficking, the actions safeguarding professionals should consider and the law around trafficking.

First contact with the victim

Firstly, it is important to acknowledge that many victims may initially appear to be unwilling to co-operate. There may be several reasons for this:

  • they may feel frightened and isolated
  • have a distrust of the authorities
  • fear reprisals against them or their families
  • may have been coached by the exploiter
  • may feel dependent on their traffickers/exploiters
  • be ashamed that they allowed themselves to be abused

Safeguarding professionals should always maintain a victim-based approach when dealing with potential victims. Assess whether there are any obvious physical or mental health issues.

  • Are they malnourished?
  • Do they need medical assistance?
  • Does the victim appear to be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder or other mental health problem?
  • Have they been exposed to hazardous materials, subject to insect infestation?

If possible, victims should be taken to a place of safety where they may feel more comfortable and be encouraged to talk more freely. If there are a number of victims, then they should be separated and allowed to give their own accounts. Be mindful of your own actions, what you say, how you say it, your tone and your own body language. Explain throughout what is happening and what is going to come next, even if the victim at that stage has been detained or arrested. Be non-judgmental, attempt to build a rapport and gain their confidence. Victims will have different needs so ask yourself these questions:

  • what type of person are you dealing with?
  • what are their cultural or religious beliefs?
  • is communication or language an obstacle?
  • how will you manage this?

When using, an interpreter ensure that they are official and from the national register. Don’t use unofficial interpreters, friends, associates or persons claiming to be relatives as there may be many reasons that they won’t translate the victim’s correct words – family honour, embarrassment etc. Ensure your interpreter is suitable, e.g. they don’t have strong opposing religious views to that of the victim; or are judgmental around those that have been sexually exploited.  Brief the interpreter as to what you expect, the length of time the case may take, and establish whether they can stay with the victim for the ‘long haul’. Don’t change interpreters or professionals unless requested to do so by the victim.

Use the resources available. The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has produced foreign language leaflets to provide advice and support to those affected by human trafficking. The Governments Publications website modern slavery section has factsheets entitled ‘resources for industry’. Several other websites specialising in Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery have useful resources (see below).

What are some of the indicators that a person may be a victim of trafficking and modern slavery?

Many of us will find ourselves in a position where we are either the first person to speak to a victim or advising other colleagues who are dealing with the person. This may be the first contact that the victim has made with your agency, or any organisation. If so you may well be the ‘first responder’ which means that you have certain responsibilities towards the victim. This includes the completion of the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) form and a ‘duty to notify’.

You will be required to make a primary assessment about whether an individual is or may be a potential victim of modern slavery. It is important therefore, to have a broad knowledge of the indicators of trafficking and modern slavery. If you are unclear on what information you will need to complete the NRM process then we recommend familarise yourself with the NRM forms. Both adult and child forms contain bespoke (tick box) indicators within the body of the forms. Download and print these forms off and use them as an aide memoir.

The NRM form is designed to assist a ‘competent authority’ in determining whether the person is a potential victim of human trafficking and modern slavery. The referral process places the onus on the first responder to gather the necessary information to support the referral and allow the competent authority to make that initial decisions. Therefore, you might also find it beneficial to consider asking the questions below. A word of warning with these questions though. Victims of trafficking are often traumatised and will need careful handling. The NRM process should not feel like an interrogation and neither should the questions below. Only ask them if appropriate. If the person doesn’t want to answer questions, then don’t push it. If in doubt, don’t ask and leave this to a formal interview under the ‘achieving best evidence’ rules. Finally, when asking questions of a potential victim of trafficking, please be mindful that the information they provide to you may lead to a criminal investigation against the traffickers/exploiters. Any information you obtain may be disclosable in any criminal prosecution so make sure you record your contact in writing.


  • how, where, when and by whom contact was made?
  • what was agreed/promised/discussed (this might not be relevant to all victims i.e. those that have been kidnapped, deceived)?
  • what did they understand the arrangements to be?
  • who was present at any meetings?

Travel arrangements

  • what modes of transport were used?
  • what routes were taken – land, sea, air or combination of the three?
  • how long did the journey take?
  • who, if anybody accompanied the victim during the journey?
  • where, when and how were they introduced?
  • were they given any documents to travel? If yes what were they and where are they now?
  • who provided them?


  • was any payment made to the victim or the victim’s family?
  • was payment made prior to departure, on departure, after departure?
  • amounts?
  • do they know how they were expected to repay any debt?

Arrival in the UK

  • why the UK?
  • when and where did they arrive?
  • who met them?
  • where were they taken/sent on arrival?
  • how were they transported?
  • how were they treated?
  • did they work, if yes – where did you ‘work’, when, how often?
  • what did they do whilst in the UK?
  • were there other people (victims) with them (can they provide details)?
  • where did they live and with whom?
  • how much earned per day on average?
  • were they controlled or under guard (can they provide details)?

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