Opening a bank account, accessing healthcare, getting married – they’re the sort of freedoms most of us take for granted.
But for Britain’s former modern slaves, things aren’t so easy.
Even after escaping from horrific situations of domestic servitude, sex slavery or forced labour, many struggle to rebuild their lives.
The plight of Sabina, who the M.E.N. spoke to after she escaped a sex trafficking ring, shines a light on a hidden problem.
She is desperate to turn over a new leaf after years of being pimped out for no money at the hands of a cruel gangmaster.
But her exploiters didn’t just rob her of her dignity – they robbed her of her rights as well.
Under the control of Julius Rigo, she was raped and forced to sell sex on the streets of Levenshulme and Longsight for as little as £10.
However she is determined to turn her life around and start a new life here in Manchester.
So far, it hasn’t been easy.
“I want to get married but I can’t,” Sabina, whose name has been changed to protect her identity, told the M.E.N.
That’s because Sabina was forced into a sham marriage with a Nigerian national by Rigo.
Technically, she is still married, meaning her plans to start a new life with the man who helped her escape a life of servitude have been put on hold.
She has also struggled to open a bank account, meaning she has been forced to take cash in hand jobs, although she insists that she pays taxes.
Sabina – who currently works at a car wash – can’t find better work because her papers were taken from her.
She does not yet know if she will have permanent leave to stay in the UK following her ordeal.
And she is struggling to find permanent accommodation without a steady job and references.
Rigo – known by the nickname ‘Juicy’ – would starve her if she didn’t earn enough, while the men under his control were beaten and forced to work long hours in a south Manchester car wash.
Rigo was last year jailed for 18 years in the Czech Republic for human trafficking, rape, blackmail, threats to kill and bigamy.
Sabina’s misery at Rigo’s hands only came to an end when she was picked up by immigration officers while working at a car wash.
She spent three months at Yarl’s Wood immigration detention centre where she eventually spoke to a solicitor who recognised her as a victim of modern slavery.
“If I took 100 times a shower I feel inside I am still a dirty woman”, she said following her ordeal. “I’m still stressed but I want to change my life and do good because that will give me power.
I think new year, new life.”
The investigation into Julius Rigo’s gang saw a number of other convictions.
His wife, Darina Rigová, 32, was jailed for nine years for human trafficking.
Their accomplice Karel Ádám, 48, was convicted of human trafficking and jailed for six years.
While Julius’ brother, Josef Rigo, 33, was handed an 18 month prison sentence for blackmail which has been suspended for two years.
Meanwhile, a sex worker called Blanka Sárkoziová, 42, of Hospital Street, Walsall, has been convicted of controlling prostitution and was handed a two-year prison sentence suspended for three years.
The psychological scars Sabina sustained during those dark years will never leave her, and she battles the effects of post traumatic stress disorder on a daily basis.
Detective Constable Chris Nield, formerly of Greater Manchester Police, led the large scale investigation into Rigo and his gang.
He says police forces make it a priority to get people into the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) – the system of support for people believed to have been victims of modern slavery – once they have been identified.
But that is not without its difficulties.
Modern slavery comes in many guises.
It involves the movement or recruitment of people using threats, deception or other means for the purpose of exploitation.
Sadly, it is NOT an issue confined to history or an issue that only exists in certain countries. Rather it’s a global problem that is happening right now.
There is no typical victim of slavery – they can be men, women and children of all ages but it is normally more prevalent amongst the most vulnerable, minority or socially excluded groups.
Victims found in the UK come from many different countries, including Poland, Hungary, Romania, Vietnam and the UK itself.
Modern Slavery is organised crime with severe consequences. All too often members of the public turn a blind eye, either through fear or ignorance.
If you suspect someone as a victim of modern slavery visit: www.gmp.police.uk/wouldyou or call Greater Manchester Police on 101.
Always call 999 in an emergency.
“One of the main problems is that people can extract themselves from the NRM early,” he says.
“If you don’t speak the language and are living with people you don’t know, it can be very isolating. Then they are more likely to leave and go back to their communities and could be vulnerable to slavery again.”
These problems are not uncommon for former modern slaves across the UK.
But few know of their plight, or of the difficulties they faced when they were forced into servitude.
One company working to help former modern slavery victims to turn over a new leaf, is the Co-op.
The supermarket chain – which began in Rochdale in the 1800s – has been working for several years to offer work placements, and permanent jobs, to slavery victims.
The Bright Future initiative started in 2017 to provide a path back to paid employment for slavery survivors.
Candidates are offered a four-week paid work placement before a non-competitive interview with Co-op managers.
In many cases this has led to permanent employment for former modern slaves.
Bright Futures is now the world’s biggest employment programme for slavery survivors with 28 charities who support survivors and 21 businesses working together to provide those employment opportunities.
More than 100 survivors have already been through the programme – including here in Greater Manchester.
Paul Gerrard, campaigns and public affairs director for the Co-op, said the scheme aims to help slavery victims to recover from their experience “so they can be defined by what they are not what they went through”.
He adds: “Through Bright Future and working with the charities that support them, the Co-op has seen the difficulty slavery survivors have in accessing support and the opportunities to rebuild their lives.
“Which is why the Co-op campaigned so strongly for Lord McCall’s Victims of Modern Slavery Bill which looked to extend the 45 days of support given to victims providing survivors with a vital safety net and giving them an opportunity to put their life back together, and the Government has now abolished the 45 day ceiling on a time victims can remain in the UK.
“Slavery survivors need to be seen and treated as the victims of one of the most serious crimes anyone can suffer – in 2019 in the UK this too often does not happen.”
Between January and September 2019, 7,284 potential victims of modern slavery were referred to the NRM.
In 2018 the number was 6,993 and in 2017, there were 5,143 potential victims referred.