Sir Mo Farah recently revealed that he was trafficked into the UK at the age of nine for domestic slavery. In a BBC documentary, the long-distance runner said it took him three decades to publicly discuss what happened to him, partly because he wanted to stop it, and is only now piecing it together.
Farah’s experience shows how the identification of trafficking cases often depends on disclosure – one person coming forward with their story. But uncovering human trafficking, especially when it involves children or youth, takes time.
In my own research I have examined case files, interviewed and interacted with young people and adults who have experienced trafficking. Identifying trafficking can be like building a puzzle – a picture only emerges when the last pieces are added up. In many cases, disclosure is the first step towards securing protection and support, and it is important for young people to have someone to help them navigate the process.
We’ve known for years that disclosure is gradual and incremental. A 2009 report commissioned by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children suggests that silence can hinder detection of trafficking. Solicitors, police, social workers, youth workers and other health and education professionals note that children and youth find it difficult to disclose information about their experiences, sometimes being asked to explain that with them. were afraid of what had happened or the consequences.
To the contrary, these same practitioners found it difficult to identify cases themselves, sometimes not believing what they had heard from young people. These two elements and other complex circumstances make it incredibly difficult to identify cases.
The manifestation of any form of child abuse may be influenced by the types and levels of abuse experienced. If a child has experienced more than four types of trauma or abuse in a period of one year, this is referred to as “multimaturization”. It describes the experience of several young people, including Farah, who have been trafficked. According to the documentary, he was arriving at the school non-stop, showing signs of neglect. They were also forced to work behind closed doors to look after, clean, work and generally exploit children.
Disclosure can be hindered by traffickers exerting control over young people through physical violence or less visible coercion. At the age of nine, there was no point in smuggling Farah and she was told not to tell anyone about her circumstances. The burden of keeping that secret would have been immeasurable. But like many, Farah eventually reached a point where she needed to tell someone.
decision to disclose
Knowing who to turn to to reveal abuse is not straightforward. A 2013 report on childhood experiences of abuse with 60 young men and women found that 90% of these youths had negative experiences of disclosure where the person they trusted responded poorly. The report also found that young people disclosed for a variety of reasons, including no longer being able to cope with the abuse, making the abuse worse and seeking justice.
Disclosure may be obtained, for example in interviews by Home Office officials dealing with a young person’s immigration case. Disclosure can also be accidental, such as when a child is involved in an accident and other injuries are found. This is a complex area and, as Farah describes it, “blocking it out” over the years may be a sign of the level of trauma experienced.
Sir Mo Farah reveals his real name and trafficking experience:
There are cases where children have actively tried to tell someone about their abuse, where they purposefully present themselves in children’s services, but have been turned away, not believed. , or worse, have returned to their smugglers.
Children affected by trafficking often have to tell their story over and over again. It can be a traumatic experience for anyone, whether a child or an adult, trafficked or not. Feelings of guilt or shame may be attached, there may be a fear of unknown consequences, or a child may not have the right words to explain what is happening to them.
identification of smuggling
The UK established a national referral mechanism in 2009 to identify, protect and support trafficking victims. Since then, the number of referrals from both adults and children has increased steadily, with a record 12,727 referrals in 2021, 20% more than a year ago.
Of these referrals, 43% were to children in the UK and elsewhere. Children born in Britain were mainly sent for criminal exploitation, while trafficked from abroad mainly for sexual and labor exploitation.
Read more: Mo Farah was smuggled into the UK – the government’s new immigration law could make it harder for modern slavery victims to get help
There is much more that can be done to help trafficked children feel safe enough to reveal their experiences. Sadly, Britain’s immigration policies, which have focused on deterrence, are doing little to enable this. Farah said she was relieved that the Home Office would not act against her, but others who are not national sports heroes may not get such assurances.
Overall, a child needs to feel safe and secure to be exposed to abuse and exploitation. If young people have no one to turn to, don’t think professionals will take them seriously, or have been mistrusted in the past, it is unlikely that they will trust the same professionals who will provide them safety or security.