Wrongly arrested, convicted, and imprisoned, Bao’s* rights to freedom and justice had been withheld. His story begins in Southeast Asia just a few years ago. Promised a better life in the United Kingdom, Bao was guaranteed work in England. His goal was to send money back home to his family. However, the person making these promises turned out to be a trafficker.
Little did he know that this “better life” would mean being locked up in a cannabis farm and given food only once per day. After being forced to work on the farm for nine months, Bao was discovered by law enforcement. But what he thought was liberation from his captivity was actually just a new nightmare. Found during the uncovering of criminal activity, he was confused for the criminal, and not properly identified as a trafficking victim. This story is all too common.
Sometimes trafficking takes places in venues of legal work — in nail bars, restaurants, food farming, and domestic work. But many times, trafficking victims are used in criminal enterprise, including things like commercial sex work and the illegal drug trade. In the UK, for example, victims being held captive as workers on cannabis farms is a situation we come across too often. Often forced into labour under harsh and inhumane conditions, these victims are vulnerable and in need of freedom and support.
So we are asking the question: Why instead do these trafficking victims get treated like criminals? It should be simple: Treat victims like victims. Only through proper awareness throughout society will we be able to achieve this.
For now, Bao is one young person in our care with a very complicated case: a criminal record that is the unfair result of our justice system being blind to the realities of trafficking within criminal activity. Nothing about Bao’s story is simple. The fight is still on. We’re in this journey with him for as long as it takes.
*Bao’s name has been changed for protection and privacy. We cannot tell you more about his specific case and aren’t organizing or promoting advocacy specifically around him – but you can still be a part of the solution. Stand with young people, like Bao, as we advocate for them and support their journeys of recovering from trafficking.