Barking NHS worker helping to find and support trafficking victims

Norma Sarsby

Norma Sarsby - Credit: Archant

Last year authorities identified just over 1,000 women who had been trafficked into the UK, though the actual figure is thought to be far higher.

These women and even girls as young as 16 are usually promised an education or better life but arrive on our shores to discover there are far more sinister plans in store for them. Some are made to work as servants for little or no money but the majority will be forced into prostitution or sexual slavery.

The mental and physical effects of being a trafficking victim can be devastating and long-lasting and many of those affected don’t know where to turn to for help.

One woman who is working hard to make sure that these women are found and supported is Norma Sarsby. Based in Barking, Norma is the strategic lead for domestic abuse for North East London NHS Foundation Trust (NELFT) and is carrying out doctoral research into trafficking, while also advising north east London boroughs on trafficking-related policies from a public health perspective.

She said much of her work has focused on finding ways to identify the victims in the first place.


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“A lot of the time trafficked women are moved around a lot,” she explained. “So they might be in Barking for a few weeks, then moved to another part of London or the UK. This means people in the community may not notice anything strange and we won’t be alerted about the women’s presence.

“One thing we’re doing is encouraging GPs and sexual health clinics to put leaflets in their toilets. It’s not unlikely that the women will be taken to a doctor or health centre with a sexually transmitted disease as it’s in the interests of the trafficker that they are treated.

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“However the only time the victim will be probably be on her own is when she goes to the toilet. The leaflet asks them to leave their details so they can then be reached and helped.”

After the woman is identified it is the NHS’s role to address any health issues she may have.

“Some of the victims will have long term health issues like gonorrhoea or TB, so it’s important to treat these or any other health problems first,” Norma said.

“When these issues have been dealt with we can then work with other agencies to help rebuild their lives. Sometimes this will involve helping them return to their own country. Often they have no money and their passports are in the hands of the traffickers so they will need our support.

“There are times however where it will be dangerous to send them back to their homeland - if this is the case we look at alternatives.”

Up until recently, explained Norma, the NHS or other agencies in the north east London have not put a great focus on trafficking issues - but a new Joint Strategic Domestic Abuse Policy launched last month is hoping to change this.

“Although we’re not sure how bad the problem is in these boroughs we know that trafficking does exist here,” she said. “This new policy acknowledges the issue and that more needs to be done to tackle it and that this needs to done with multi-agency approach.

“Working together with the council and police for example is essential if we want to really help these women and crack down on the traffickers.”

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