Posted: 29 November 2019

Supporting trafficked young men and boys through trauma

Our amazing Rise Project won the Advice and Guidance award at the 2019 Children and Young People Now Awards. 

Rise is for boys and young men in London, aged 11 to 17, who have been trafficked into the UK or are at risk of being trafficked. 

Our Service Manager, Francesca, tells us more about the experiences of trafficked children.

What are the experiences of trafficked children?

In our project, we meet young people who have been trafficked into the UK by criminal networks for the purpose of labour exploitation, forced criminality, domestic servitude and sexual exploitation.

Their routes to the UK are varied, but most journeys take several months, during which time they may be exploited by many people, in multiple locations.

Traffickers use a wide range of control techniques to keep young people from running away or seeking help while on the journey, or once they arrive at their destination. These include providing misinformation about the true purpose of the journey, confiscating ID, violence, and threats of violence.

'I thought I wouldn't be in danger.'

One young person, Paul (not his real name), described how he was tricked into coming to the UK: ’I was told I would be going to see an uncle. I was so excited; I thought I wouldn’t be in danger any more. I had no idea that this “uncle” was actually a man who had paid to buy me, to abuse me’.

Losing control

Traffickers continue to exert control over young people once they arrive in the UK. They are often locked in the buildings where they are forced to work. However, even when there are no locks on the doors, there are still huge barriers to them seeking help.

Many young people tell us they were desperate to escape but did not know who or how to ask for help. This is partly because of language barriers but also because they were told by their traffickers that they were in the UK illegally and that if they left the house they would be arrested. As a result, while they were terrified of their traffickers, they were also extremely mistrustful of the outside world.

The experience of being trafficked is deeply harmful to young people’s mental and emotional health along with many other areas of their development. A significant proportion of the young people were work with present with symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which are only alleviated through long term therapy.

How we work with these vulnerable trafficked boys

The Rise project is a specialist therapeutic service that provides long-term support for boys and young men aged 11-17 that have been trafficked. And we have an in-house counsellor who is available to the young people we work with, however, many of them do not feel able to talk about their abuse until several months, or years down the line. 

When young people are referred to us, the first thing our practitioners try to do is build a relationship with them. Meeting supportive professionals like social workers and ourselves may be the first time they have come into contact with adults that did not abuse and exploit them. As a result, it takes many weeks of consistently showing up and listening before they begin to trust us.

Because of their trafficking experiences, the boys we work with have often internalised negative ideas about themselves, and ways in which it is acceptable for other people to treat them. In order to challenge this we do activities to identify their strengths and build their confidence, alongside work on healthy relationships. This can help them to reframe their previous experiences and understand why they were exploitative, alongside reducing the risk of them being exploited again in the future.  

Trafficking by its nature takes away all choice from a person. As a result, when they are given the chance to make choices, many of the boys and young men we work with struggle to articulate their own views and wishes. We have seen young people living in accommodation where they are extremely unhappy, but too afraid to tell anyone in case professionals become angry with them. It takes months of encouragement and modelling positive conflict resolution, for young people to believe that their feelings matter, and that sharing them can bring about changes.

Making positive changes for their future

In the past year we have seen young men that couldn’t make eye contact at our first meeting give their opinion in a group and challenge adults over elements of their care. These changes can seem small and incremental, but given where the young people have come from, they represent huge achievements.

The boys and young men we support face numerous challenges, as they attempt to navigate the complex UK immigration system and access their rights and entitlements, but with long term support, they can begin to recover from their experiences and to develop hopes and dreams for the future.

Donate to support more services like Rise


Read more

Rise Project

Posted: 14 December 2015


Read more

Refugee Week 2018: A Key Worker's experience working with refugees

Posted: 18 June 2018


Read more

Our key priorities for the new government

Posted: 13 December 2019