LGBTQ+ and Human Trafficking


How discrimination can increase vulnerability

By Joelle McKie, Digital Campaigner

Who can fall victim to Human Trafficking? Our perception of this crime is heavily influenced by mainstream media, often resulting in a skewed understanding of what a victim looks like.

Human trafficking is officially defined as “the process of trapping people through the use of violence, deception or coercion and exploiting them for financial or personal gain” (Anti-Slavery international, 2021).  This commonly takes the form of domestic servitude, forced labour, child exploitation and sex trafficking. In 2018, approximately 7,000 potential victims of human trafficking were reported in the UK, an increase from subsequent years (Collins, 2019). One notable factor that increased the reporting of human trafficking was an improvement in the understanding of what it is and how to spot the signs. Our ability to identify this crime is key to its eradication. But for this very reason, certain victims could be at a greater risk.

Disenfranchised groups within a society are more vulnerable to traffickers. How the LGBTQ community are uniquely impacted by this crime is a prime example of this. On a global scale people who identify as LGBTQ have become victims to human trafficking because of factors that directly relate to their sexuality. Often Caribbean, Latin American LGBTQ people are trafficked to Western Europe. Africans based in the Gulf can be moved to the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Mainland Africans can end up in Europe, particularly Scotland (Martinez, 2013). A larger percentage of reported trafficking incidents are refugees and migrants trafficked to the UK. However, an increasing number of British nationals have also been targeted. LGBTQ youth, especially transgender, are at a significantly higher risk of sex trafficking. Despite this, these cases are grossly underreported resulting in a lack of education surrounding the risks and consequently the problem remains unexamined and so the cycle continues.

The Risks


Identifying as LGBTQ can adversely impact your quality of life. Many who are been trafficked into the UK have previously faced persecution for being a sex minority and have been exploited for their hope of seeking a better life (Munro and Pritchard, 2013). Despite the UK ranking 9th for LGBTQ equality in Europe, sex orientation discrimination is still widespread. The 2018 National LGBT survey summary reported that LGBT respondents were less satisfied with their life than their straight counterparts. In the 12 months prior to taking the survey, 24% had accessed mental health care and two in five were involved in incidents such as verbal or physical abuse. More than nine in ten failed to report the most serious of these crimes due to its frequent occurrence (National LGBT Survey- Summary report, 2018). Despite the advancement of LGBTQ rights in the UK, there is still a stigma. Bullying and ostracisation can happen at work, school and home. Depending on the region this can be faced through structural oppression and/or experienced within the personal sphere.


24% of people at risk of homelessness in the UK identify as LGBTQ, out of which 77% claim that this was a direct result of familial rejection (AKT, 2019). There are many challenges that come with being homeless. Lack of economic resources, food and shelter can increase exposure to traffickers. Once homeless the risk of “grooming, psychological manipulation, physical abuse, and exploitation” can increase (, 2009). Experiencing homophobia and discrimination can amplify the effects of this.  Homeless LGBTQ youth specifically can suffer more from mental health issues and drug abuse.

Supplying drugs is a common method traffickers can use to entice their victims and force them into work via debt repayment (Kelly, 2018). A lack of support can increase the appeal of illicit activity for financial gain, under these circumstances homeless LGBTQ can be easily exploited.

Lack of support

When LGBTQ trafficking victims attempt to seek help, they can still be subjected to prejudice. In 2018 City Hearts, a Sheffield charity that provides safe houses and rehabilitation services to trafficking victims came under investigation over allegedly using “homophobic and controlling methods” (, 2018). A trafficked gay woman from Eastern Europe claimed she was told she had the devil in her by a senior staff member and that she was barred from physical contact from female congregation members (, 2018). This allegation was among many reports of homophobic and inappropriate behaviour from staff members. From this we can see how even support services who aim to tackle the effects of modern slavery cannot provide the safe space that is required for victims to properly recover. Furthermore, a BBC investigation carried out found that, “suspected victims are put at risk by delays in the system” (Kenyon and Harte, 2019). It was uncovered that over 1,000 people had been awaiting a decision of their residency status and 100 had been waiting for 3 years (Kenyon and Harte, 2019). Returning to a hostile environment that targets LGBTQ can become the reality for many trafficked migrants.

How can you help?

Education is key. Spread awareness on the discrimination the LGBTQ community still faces and challenge it. Recognise how marginalisation can create a hostile environment. Progressive policies such as the introduction to LGBTQ inclusive education demonstrates the strides the UK is taking to improve equality. However, more needs to be done if we hope to increase stability in the lives of the LGBTQ community, and diminish their vulnerability to traffickers.


akt. (2019). AKT release studies on LGBTQ+ youth homelessness. [online] Available at: [Accessed 9 Jun. 2019].

Anti-Slavery International. 2021. What is human trafficking? – Anti-Slavery International. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 28 February 2021].

Collins, C. (2019). Catholic refugee agency says UK ‘seriously failing’ trafficking victims. [online] Crux. Available at: [Accessed 9 Jun. 2019].

Gamp, J. (2019). ‘You have the devil in you’: Charity accused of homophobia towards trafficking victims. [online] Gay Star News. Available at: [Accessed 9 Jun. 2019].

Kelly, A. (2019). Exclusive: UK traffickers using drugs to force people into slavery, report finds. [online] the Guardian. Available at: [Accessed 9 Jun. 2019].

Kenyon, P. and Harte, A. (2019). Trafficking victims ‘stuck in limbo’. [online] BBC News. Available at: [Accessed 9 Jun. 2019].

Martinez, O. (2013). [online] Available at: [Accessed 9 Jun. 2019].

Munro, G. and Pritchard, C. (2013). Support Needs of Male Victims of Human Trafficking: Research Findings. [ebook] Available at: [Accessed 9 Jun. 2019].

National LGBT Survey- Summary report. (2018). [ebook] Available at: [Accessed 9 Jun. 2019].