The Clewer Initiative is running a course during Lent called 'Women in the Shadows' which has been created to help shine a light on the suffering of marginalised women.

The course focuses on the different ways women and girls are exploited in the UK today.

Each week a particular theme will be explored, including the stages of a victim’s experience of exploitation, specific types of modern slavery affecting women and girls and ways that we might bring about change and recovery.

The focus of resource is how women and girls can become trapped in sexual exploitation, forced labour and county lines drug smuggling and what life is like for them beyond slavery. It also explores how we can support victims as they recover from the trauma and build resilient communities where modern slavery is noticed and cannot thrive.

All the videos can be viewed and downloaded on the Clewer website.

It is estimated that there are 136,000 victims of slavery, trafficking and exploitation in the UK.

The course will cover:

Week 1 - Beginnings

You will hear women tell their story as to how they ended up in modern slavery. The reasons are varied - family problems, being disowned by their family, being sold by their boyfriend, fleeing war-torn countries, being homeless and then targeted when they were cold and hungry.

The three main reasons women fall into modern slavery are due to sexual exploitation, domestic servitude and forced marriage. 

Week 2 - Sexual exploitation

A woman describes how she left her home in Albania with her boyfriend and they fled to Italy. Once there he changed and then he sold her for £10k. She was moved to the UK and forced to have sex with men. One day the police raided the house and she was finally freed.

Look on your road - are there houses where the curtains are kept closed and does there appear to be many people going in and out the property?

Week 3 - Labour exploitation

A Syrian woman and her husband paid a people smuggler a substantial fee to flee the country. On arrival in the UK they had to pay for false documents and this also cost a large amount of money. The debt incurred interest at ten per cent a week. She got a job at a food factory and her wages were taken from her to pay the debt. 

She describes how her exploiters kept their slaves looking tidy with make up and appropriate headwater so no one would suspect they were slaves.

One day she broke down at work and spoke to the manager of the factory. He spoke to the police who helped her and she now has the legal right to remain in the UK. 

Signs to look out for are:

Are a number of staff being dropped off by the same person?
Are the staff wearing the same clothes?
Do they appear not to have eaten?

Week 4 - County Lines

Challenging family situations can result in women being enslaved. A woman described how she disliked her mum's new boyfriend and how she got involved in taking drugs with her 'boyfriend'. Once hooked, her boyfriend told her she couldn't have the drugs free and that she would have to work for them. This is how she ended up in county lines drug smuggling. 

She would take the drugs all over the country and bring back the cash to her boyfriend. Sometimes she would have to carry drugs inside her. It was only when someone from a support charity reached out to her that she was able to escape and she now lives in a safe house. 

Those recruited into county lines drug smuggling tend to be those identified by the criminal gangs as people who are vulnerable, addicts and children, some as young as seven or eight. They are recruited outside school, outside fast food outlets and on social media. 

Gangs appear to offer a sense of inclusion and belonging - the gang is better than where they are at present. To the criminal they are expendable - if one is caught there is another to take their place. In 2019 it was estimated that there were 27,000 children in gangs. 

Things to look out for and report:

Are children missing from home more often?
Are they missing school more often?
Do they have injuries?

Children need to be shown that there is an alternative to being in a gang with a support network and contacts and life chances.

Week 5 - Beyond survival

Every woman has a story and the journey to recovery is hard. Many feel depressed and anxious leading some to self-harm. They have flashbacks and fear everybody and everything. Many feel that they are not human any more after repeatedly being told that they are worthless.

No one recovers - but the trauma is reduced over time and they go onto work and education and learn to be independent. 

There are apps available where you can report something including one for farm workers and the safe car wash app. There are also downloadable resources available on the Clewer website on the Resources page.