Why do you care about fighting modern slavery?
I have worked in many different areas in my career including customs and investigating serious and organised crime with the National Crime Agency. I have now specialised in modern slavery because I feel I can make a difference. I am a mother, and I would never want something like this to happen to my own child. That is the reason why I am doing it because everybody is somebody's child. Nobody deserves to be treated in the way that some of these people have been treated.
Tell us more about the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority or GLAA?
The GLAA was established in 2004, following the cockle-picking disaster at Morecambe Bay, where unfortunately more than 20 people died, due to the dangerous situation they were put in by a gang master.
"...everybody is somebody's child. Nobody deserves to be treated in the way that some of these people have been treated."
The GLAA has several functions. In summary, we protect people from abusive employers. We do this through our licensing department that licenses gangmasters to ensure that employers are abiding by the legislation that is in place to protect employees in the country. We also have powers to investigate modern slavery and to prosecute people under the Gangmasters Licensing Act 2004.
The GLAA works in partnership with other law enforcement agencies such as local authorities and the police and we work very closely at the border to raise awareness. We also work nationally with the National Crime Agency and run a campaign called ‘Spot The Signs’, which is key to recognising the signs that somebody may be acting, not under their own control.
What is your role?
I am the senior investigating officer for the South East of England. I lead a team of investigators that specialise in investigating modern slavery and human trafficking offenses. We find people in very difficult situations who are often quite traumatised. Usually, the women we come across have been subject to exploitation or have been trafficked into the country on false promises. They have been told that they are either going to get a good job or education but when they reach the UK, the story is extremely different. They are forced into locations and places, to do things they never would have agreed to do voluntarily.
How do women find themselves trapped in modern slavery?
One of the most prolific issues we face is an issue called Debt Bondage, where people are trafficked to the UK on the promise of employment. They pay a lot of money in their home country to secure a job, travel to the border and ongoing housing. When they reach the UK, their exploiter tells them they already owe thousands of pounds and that is where the cycle begins.
What do you find most difficult about your job?
One of the most frustrating things when investigating modern slavery is making sure you are protecting and safeguarding the victim. It can take a long time to get a modern slavery case to court. They are very complicated offences. We really need victims to give evidence in court, but we also want people to be able to go home to their families, get on with their lives and start recovering from the trauma. It can be very hard for people to rebuild their lives when a court case is hanging over them.
Jen also appears in the Women in the Shadows films, sharing her experience of fighting modern slavery in the UK.