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Health visitors may be only hope for domestic slaves

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Health visitors have a vital role in helping identify the victims of domestic slavery, as they may be their only contact with the outside world, a community nursing organisation has highlighted.

As a result, the Institute of Health Visiting has published a short guideline aimed at helping health visitors to spot the signs of an individual in domestic slavery.

“The scale of domestic slavery is significant and the impact on the lives of the victims is huge”

Cheryll Adams

It sets out a number of indicators to look out for if a health visitor suspects someone is living in domestic slavery.

For example, it notes that victims may work more than the normal working hours or seem to be on call 24 hours a day, and may seem “afraid, anxious and avoid eye contact”.

They may also seem to stand out from other family members – be quieter and wear poorer quality clothing – and never leave the house on their own other than taking children to school.

“With home visits as part of their responsibility, health visitors are well-placed to see what goes on behind closed doors and spot the signs of someone living in domestic slavery,” said the institute.

“Many victims are not permitted to leave the house or speak to others, so the health visitor may be the only person from the outside world that the victim has contact with, and probably their only means of escape,” it noted.

It said that health visitors should help someone they suspected of being a domestic slave by “reaching out” and encouraging them to report their situation using the Modern Slavery Helpline.

“The health visitor may be the only person from the outside world that the victim has contact with”

IHV guide

The Home Office estimates there were 10,000-13,000 potential victims of modern slavery in the UK in 2013.

All forms of modern slavery are illegal in the UK under the Modern Slavery Act, which makes it a criminal offence to restrict the freedom of another person and require that person to perform forced or compulsory labour.

The institute said it had published its new Good Practice Points for Health Visitors guide, and a new e-learning module, in order to support the government’s campaign against domestic slavery called “Spot the Signs”.

Dr Cheryll Adams, the institute’s executive director, said: “The scale of domestic slavery is significant and the impact on the lives of the victims is huge.

“We are delighted to develop these vital new resources with the government to provide health visitors with the information and evidence they need to spot the signs of an individual in domestic slavery to reduce, and ultimately stop, this shocking abuse,” she added.

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