Be vigilant for signs of slavery

Date published: 18 October 2023

On anti-slavery day the Department of Justice is asking the public to be vigilant for signs of slavery and trafficking happening in Northern Ireland.

Modern slavery and trafficking involves the exploitation of vulnerable people to make money for criminal gangs and individuals. It destroys the lives of millions to create illicit livelihoods for a few.

This action involves a range of criminal activity including labour, criminal or sexual exploitation and domestic servitude. Often this may involve coercing those in debt bondage, or those who may have addiction issues to become involved in prostitution.

Richard Pengelly CB, Permanent Secretary, Department of Justice said; “The reality is that exploitation is happening around us and often goes unnoticed or is ignored or is hidden in plain sight. This issue requires a societal wide effort if we are to successfully tackle this heinous crime. We owe it to the victims to put an end to this brutal exploitation and trade in human beings.”

Some of the signs of slavery may be someone who:

•  is distrustful of authorities;

•  appears to be under the control of others;

•  is unsure of their home address or the local area;

•  may not have cash because they can’t keep the money they earn; or

•  can’t produce their passport or personal documents.

In the UK in 2022, nearly 17,000 potential victims were recorded on the National Referral Mechanism, a mechanism for identifying and supporting victims of modern slavery/human trafficking. In the same year around 550 potential victims were referred from Northern Ireland.

Notes to editors: 

1.If you have concerns or see something suspicious you can help by reporting what you have witnessed. You can contact the PSNI non-emergency line – 101, in an emergency 999, or report any concerns you have to the Modern Slavery Helpline - 08000 121 700.


2.Information about help for victims of slavery is available here


3. The Department of Justice has a dedicated Modern Slavery & Human Trafficking (MSHT) Branch which is responsible for development of policy and legislation in this area. The Department intends to publish its new three year strategy in due course. The strategy has three core strands:

Pursue – to enhance the operational response to pursue and disrupt offenders and bring them to justice;

Protect – ensuring that all adult and child victims of modern slavery and human trafficking are provided with an adequate level of protection and support; and

Prevent – ensuring that modern slavery and human trafficking is prevented through engagement, training and awareness raising across key services, public and private sector organisations and the wider public.

The Department cannot deliver this strategy alone and therefore we work closely alongside a range of statutory and non-statutory partner organisations, as well as a range of independent NGOs who make a valuable contribution to raising awareness and supporting victims.

4.  For media enquiries contact the Department of Justice Press Office at

5. The Executive Information Service operates an out of hours service for media enquiries only between 1800hrs and 0800hrs Monday to Friday and at weekends and public holidays. The duty press officer can be contacted out of hours on 028 9037 8110.

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