CEO of Hestia, Patrick Ryan, reflects on our latest report Underground Lives: Male Victims of Modern Slavery.

Society is gradually becoming more conscious of the existence of modern slavery around us. We are aware that it happens, yet its prevalence and detrimental impact still sadly remains hidden. Despite Hestia’s growing modern slavery response team being around since 2011, the heinous stories I hear daily never fail to horrify me. Stories of women falling pregnant because of rape, of orphaned children being targeted and exploited by traffickers for years – this is the reality happening today in the UK.

Of the 870 adult victims Hestia supported last year, a quarter were men. These are men who have been forced into manual labour on farms, construction sites or cannabis farms, sold for sex or kept as slaves working in people’s homes. Men who have been targeted in the towns and cities we live in, men that we see every day. Exploited and abused as a means of maximising financial gain.

Hestia’s latest report Underground Lives: Male Victims of Modern Slavery paints a desolate picture of life trapped in modern slavery. Mike from Birmigham, just 21 at the time, was forced to sleep rough on the streets of his home town after finding himself in debt. Given the false promise of a job and a place to stay, Mike was exploited and forced to work up to 24 hours a day for virtually no money.

Modern slavery is a crime built on greed, yet its victims face unimaginable poverty. I’ve heard of men surviving on as little as a few pounds a day or eating dry biscuits to sustain themselves – things that you and I could never think possible.

Mike’s story is a common one too. The report found that half of male victims of modern slavery have had to sleep rough. Like many men, for Mike being homeless was a gateway for his traffickers to target and exploit him for forced labour. For other men, being homeless arose as a result of escaping traffickers. Their journey to recovery is precarious, as being homeless puts them at the horrendous risk of being re-targeted for exploitation.

We’re yet to uncover the full impact that modern slavery has on men. However a trend has already began to emerge. Whilst more men are referred into the National Referral Mechanism for the identification of victims of modern slavery than women, fewer of these men are seeking support under the Victim Care Contract. Only 1 in 4 of the people supported by Hestia’s modern slavery response team are men.

Many men remain homeless, with shame and embarrassment seemingly preventing them from expressing their trauma and seeking support. This is something that many of us men struggle with, as we tend to think that remaining silent is the most socially acceptable way of processing pain.

Despite countless men in our service saying they weren’t experiencing any mental health problems, their symptoms indicate otherwise: a lack of sleep, constant worry, hopelessness and suicidal thoughts. It is clear that they are vulnerable, yet like many of us feel they have to repress their emotions.

Whilst they may have trouble in coming forward about their ordeal, this is not to say that they aren’t in need of efficient and proactive support. The Home Office’s Victim Care Contract provides a critical opportunity for these men to rebuild their lives, but more discernible action from all of us – the Government, the NHS, Local Authorities, the legal system, the police and civil society – is key.

Regardless of their troubling experiences, the men we work with are keen to rebuild their lives. Like all of us they want to remain safe, have a family and build a career. After finding the courage to share his story, one man hoped to offer support to other victims and is now volunteering to support homeless children.

Accessible housing must be available for victims to provide them with these opportunities, as well as those who are already homeless to protect them from falling into the brutal and violent cycle of modern slavery.

There are clear challenges in achieving this, but working in collaboration with the public, private and third sector and creating a greater understanding of the gruelling experiences of modern slavery will allow us to stamp it out for good. It truly is an obtainable goal that together we can reach.

I, like many of us, may often take for granted my ability to live freely and lead the life I wish. It’s crucial we ensure the voices of those unable to do just that are heard and they are given the opportunity to recover as they rightly deserve.

Learn more about Hestia's latest Underground Lives report.