LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Male survivors of slavery in Britain are sleeping on the streets and many are too ashamed or afraid to seek support, putting them at renewed risk of being trafficked, a charity said on Thursday.
Men who have been enslaved are far less likely than women to speak out and are often perceived as being less in need of help - leaving them isolated, homeless and prey once more to traffickers - according to research by British charity Hestia.
More than half the 218 male former slaves supported by Hestia in London had slept rough, with victims having been forced to work on farms, construction sites and cannabis factories, sold for sex or used as slaves in people’s homes.
Many male victims ended up on the streets after escaping their captors, while others were homeless men who had been repeatedly targeted by human traffickers, the charity said.
“The experiences of the men we are supporting are horrifying,” said Patrick Ryan, chief executive of Hestia.
“If we are to successfully tackle modern slavery and give traumatised and brutalised victims the opportunity to recover, we must ensure they have access to safe and secure housing.”
Ryan spoke to the Thomson Reuters Foundation ahead of Anti-Slavery Day on Thursday - set by Britain to raise awareness.
Britain is home to at least 136,000 slaves, trafficked from countries such as Albania, Vietnam and Nigeria, according to the Global Slavery Index by rights group Walk Free - a figure 10 times higher than the government’s 2013 estimate. [nL8N1UF5AK]
More than half the 5,145 suspected slaves referred to the government for support last year were men - the first time more male than female victims were identified - official data shows.
One in two men supported by Hestia had spent time in jail or detention before being identified as possible slavery victims.
Several had been detained due to offences they were forced to commit by their traffickers, even though Britain’s landmark anti-slavery law has a defence for victims who are coerced or compelled to carry out crimes, according to Hestia.
The vast majority of male victims showed signs of suffering from mental health issues such as depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, while half had no living family, Hestia said.
“In contrast to many of our female clients, men are not often single parents, giving them much more time to experience isolation and the need to be productive,” said Lara Burdock, head of the Snowdrop Project, a charity that supports survivors.
Hestia called for specialist mental health services for male survivors, earlier and better identification of victims, as well as more data, and high-quality government provided housing.
Homelessness charity Crisis estimates there are 236,000 people sleeping rough or in temporary accommodation in Britain - with numbers increasing since 2010 amid a decline in housebuilding and rising property prices. [nL8N1WP2UD]
Reporting By Kieran Guilbert, Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org