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Opinion

'Trauma deadline’ in Borders Bill would see survivors of abuse miss out on support

We must act against Part 5 of the Nationality and Borders Bill, which would create a deadline for slavery victims to come forward, writes Maya Esslemont, director of After Exploitation.

Protesters gather outside parliament to demonstrate their opposition to the bill. Image: Greg Barradale

Part 5 of the Nationality and Borders Bill, currently in the Lords, is a cluster of changes that would restrict access to modern slavery support. Among the changes are sweeping new powers allowing government to issue survivors of slavery with ‘deadlines’ by which time all evidence in a case must be submitted.

If victims provide evidence after the ‘trauma deadline’ (called a ‘Trafficking Information Notice’), decision makers and judges would be asked to factor ‘lateness’ into their decision rather than make a decision based on merit alone.

In simple terms, survivors of severe abuse and exploitation could miss out on support simply for the time it takes to share what has happened to them.  

Lily*, a survivor of modern slavery, told me that recovery doesn’t always follow a ‘convenient timeline’.

After being subjected to sexual and criminal exploitation for 10 years, Lily needed time to make sense of what she had experienced. “I did not recognise myself as a victim of slavery because I’d been brainwashed for a decade. When it’s been your life for so long… you just accept it,” she said. “It wasn’t until professionals started working with me and I built up a rapport with them that I fully disclosed what was going on… and that took months.”

Even under the current system, survivors of slavery face a lottery of support. Last year, 79 per cent of requests for modern slavery support were either completely or partially rejected by the Home Office.

And these are just the requests for safe housing, financial support, or advocacy submitted by those ‘lucky enough’ to be recognised by the system. Under Part 5, many survivors would be robbed of the right to even request support at all.

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Lily is now studying social work, to support other survivors who have been left alone and mystified when it comes to accessing help. She has found that her own experiences are similar to many others.

Even when exploited people do leave settings of abuse and recognise themselves as having been trafficked, Lily explains, there may be practical reasons for a delay in disclosing information.

“Financial and physical abuse” as well as “threats against the [survivors’] family” can prevent people from sharing the full scale of abuse they have suffered.

“Personally, because of the trauma deadline, I would have missed out on the help I needed if this bill was in place,” Lily said.

“When survivors are scared of perpetrators, they won’t always declare to authorities and first responders that they are victims of modern slavery.”

Growing opposition is mounting against Part 5. After Exploitation is one of more than a hundred NGOs that have joined the Anti Slavery Commissioner to outline the dangers of the bill on survivors of slavery. But more must be done. 

We must fight against trauma deadlines, not only for survivors of slavery, but for all survivors of abuse for whom a dangerous precedent is being set. Nobody seeking help after abuse should be subjected to disbelief by the systems meant to protect them.

You can contact your MP about the Nationality and Borders Bill.

*Name changed to protect the survivor’s identity.

Maya Esslemont is director of After Exploitation, which tracks the hidden outcomes of modern slavery in the UK.

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