Comment

Poster points the way for nurses to tackle trafficking

Campaign aims to help victims of sexual exploitation self-identify and seek support

Campaign aims to help victims of sexual exploitation self-identify and seek support

If asked about the exposure of the health sector to criminality, most people would picture paramedics in the field or busy emergency departments. Few would consider a role for healthcare workers in preventing further crime.

But because health professionals, particularly registered nurses, interact with members of the public they are ideally placed to engage with patients and help safeguard people in vulnerable situations and identify those at risk of exploitation.

By recognising the early indicators of sexual exploitation, nurses can help those at risk and ensure they get the help and support they need, potentially preventing crime before it occurs.

Legalities of sex work

Migrant sex workers, whether they are working in the UK through choice or are being forced to do so, often have little understanding of the legalities of sex work in the UK and will avoid interaction with officialdom. Most will, however, seek medical care.

This is why the National Crime Agency (NCA) is joining forces with the health sector on an awareness-raising campaign about adult sexual exploitation.

Victims are often invisible to the public and police, limiting the ability to identify and safeguard them. Partnering with the health sector offers a chance to maximise public engagement and reach out to these hidden victims.

The campaign uses public display screens across the health service – including in GP practices, sexual health clinics and hospitals – to show a simple poster (pictured). In settings without display screens the poster can be printed and displayed on the wall.

Awareness of being a victim

The NCA, which is working with charity Stop The Traffik, found there is little information available that was victim-focused and could help an individual realise they may be being exploited. Much of the current literature assumes the individual is aware they are a victim and is seeking help.

There has been much talk in the national media about sex work and trafficking, terms which are at times incorrectly used interchangeably. The NCA has worked extensively with academics and sex work projects to understand how its work or messages could affect sex workers as well as the intended audience – those being sexually exploited.

The agency is keen to ensure that the distinction between them is recognised. Not all sex workers are victims of exploitation – the difference is choice, particularly victims’ lack of control and ability to escape their situation.

Help and support

The poster aims to help potential victims to recognise exploitation and understand how to get help and support. It has been translated into Romanian, with translations into other languages on the way.

As well as being used across the health service, the poster is intended to encourage general awareness among organisations such as charities and local police and will be distributed at border entry points.

If you have any concerns that a patient may be at risk of sexual exploitation, or that it is already happening, refer to your local safeguarding procedures.

For a link to the poster and for more information on the differences between sex work and trafficking click here.


Louise Cahill helped develop the Modern Slavery Wheel, a tool that helps health
professionals identify and respond to victims of modern slavery and human trafficking.

How to spot signs of trafficking

The RCN modern slavery guide lists signs of trafficking, including an individual:

  • Being accompanied by someone who appears controlling, or who insists on giving information for them and speaking on their behalf
  • Appearing withdrawn and submissive, or seeming afraid to speak to anyone in authority
  • Providing vague and inconsistent explanations of where they live, work or go to school
  • Having old or serious injuries left untreated
  • Providing vague information, or being reluctant to explain how an injury occurred
  • Not being registered with a GP, nursery or school
  • Having no official means of identification or suspicious-looking documents

Louise Cahill was highly commended in the student category of the RCNi Nurse Awards 2017 for her work in training and raising awareness of modern slavery and human trafficking. She is now a staff nurse in the acute medical unit at North Bristol NHS Trust. 

Further information

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