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The life-long skills I gained volunteering with Survivors of Human Trafficking in Scotland

Hannah Yeager: The life-long skills I gained volunteering with Survivors Of Human Trafficking in Scotland

Hannah Yeager, a second year graduate entry Law student, tells us about her experience as a student volunteer at SOHTIS – Survivors of Human Trafficking in Scotland.

I have always been interested in preventing and learning more about human trafficking, particularly in an international context.

When I arrived in Scotland for my studies, I was keen to gather more real-world experience and follow my interests alongside my degree, through volunteering.

Making connections at UN House Scotland

UN House Scotland logoAfter around four months of being in Scotland, I began volunteering with UN House Scotland and joined their anti-human trafficking team.

This led me to many opportunities. I got to:

  • be involved in writing parliamentary one-pagers for the Scottish Parliament on responding to the human trafficking situation in Scotland, particularly in the context of the Ukraine crisis
  • participate and organise group discussions
  • conduct independent research.

While volunteering with UN House, I also became acquainted with staff members of SOHTIS – Survivors of Human Trafficking in Scotland.

UN House Scotland

Volunteering at SOHTIS – Survivors of Human Trafficking in Scotland

SOHTIS logoI joined SOHTIS’ Policy Unit during the summer of 2023.

I am an avid researcher and writer, so I was keen to pursue the opportunity to collaborate with this team to hopefully provide a stronger structural framework to address the trafficking crisis and support survivors.

SOHTIS – Survivors of Human Trafficking in Scotland

What I learned about human trafficking

The signs of human trafficking: Work - extra long shifts, no holidays; cash payment or below minimum wage; no contract, payslip or NI number; proper equipment/clothing not provided; signs of bullying and control. Look for the signs. Victims need you to report what you see. From Survivors of Human Trafficking in Scotland (SOHTIS)I have found that working in the context of human trafficking involves being an empathetic, problem-solving, and supportive resource to best help survivors share their stories (if they wish) and provide them with as many valuable resources as they feel they need.

Like many people, I think I used to be guilty of having one idea of what human trafficking looked like in my mind, when in reality it is so much more complex and often extremely hidden right before our very eyes.

It might not be something you would think of happening here in Edinburgh – someone forced to cook and clean in a flat in your building, or heavily-controlled kitchen workers at a local takeaway – but human trafficking is happening in every local authority in Scotland.

One of the stories that moved me was from Zana (not her real name), a survivor of domestic servitude. After being dumped at A&E, Zana was supported by SOHTIS to ensure she had a safe place to live, food and clothing:

If it was not for this help I would have died. I will always remember the kindness of the people here.

Survivors’ stories (SOHTIS)

Working with the Policy Unit

While I did not work in a face-to-face capacity with survivors, I did work on publications that aim to change the systems and conditions that influence experiences like those Zana went through.

Our Policy Unit works to deliver on our third mission – to advocate for the systemic changes needed to end the exploitation of trafficked people in Scotland.

I was excited to collaborate on a consultation submission for the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA) as part of the Policy Unit.

I felt like I was getting to do something impactful that had the potential to truly make a difference in how survivors access the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority.

I am also currently involved in a Problem-Based Learning (PBL) project with the Policy Unit that I am very excited about!

We will get to work with other leading authorities in the field and conduct research to further SOHTIS’ prevention capabilities and knowledge pool.

Policy Unit (SOHTIS)

Why volunteer?

I am a firm believer that taking advantage of the opportunity to work with organisations like SOHTIS to support survivors and research key areas is an extremely beneficial experience as a student.

I also think that such opportunities better prepare oneself for life after university, especially if you are interested in continuing to work in the field of human trafficking or any related area, including policy-making.

As a future lawyer, I have nothing but the best things to say about my volunteering experience. I am confident that I will be a more empathetic, supportive and knowledgeable lawyer when it comes time for me to advise clients and solve legal issues on my own.

Professional development and networking

I have had the opportunity to network with several key players, including CEO, Joy Gillespie, who has been an invaluable resource to me personally.

Joy’s expertise and mentorship helped me to:

  • identify the most effective research strategies
  • develop my voice as a policy officer working in the context of human trafficking
  • enhance my professional skills and network.

Working with SOHTIS has made me a more aware and capable individual, and I intend to carry these lessons with me into every position I hold in the future.

Joy said:

Hannah has been the most wonderful addition to our team. She has contributed in a very meaningful way to our vision of a Scotland free from human trafficking where everyone is able to live in freedom with dignity and respect. We are grateful to her for continuing to volunteer in our Policy Unit. As she assists us in our work we are committed to investing in her and all of our volunteers as they develop their skills and prepare for future careers in their chosen sector.

How to volunteer

For anyone with similar interests to myself or for those simply interested in getting more research experience, I highly recommend volunteering with SOHTIS.

Practically speaking, I would advise prospective student volunteers to:

  1. review their website
  2. reach out to higher-ups (including Joy herself, she is always willing to make time to talk with individuals)
  3. apply for opportunities when they become available, such as the SOHTIS Student Ambassador Programme either as an individual or as a student society.

You can try this approach with other charities and organisations, or find out more information on the University website.

Opportunities for students at SOHTIS

Volunteering information from the University of Edinburgh

Ending human trafficking

The more people there are involved in combating human trafficking and exploitation in Scotland and committed to supporting survivors, the closer we are to ending human trafficking at large.

I hope to continue working in the capacity of preventing, identifying and supporting survivors of trafficking in my work as a lawyer.

Modern slavery commitment at the University of Edinburgh

At the University of Edinburgh, we are committed to protecting and respecting human rights and have a zero-tolerance approach to slavery and human trafficking in all its forms.

The University of Edinburgh has modern slavery training available for an easy-to-digest introduction to the topic, the action the University is taking, and information on what to do if you suspect instances of modern slavery. The staff version can be accessed on People and Money, and the student version will be coming soon to Learn.

Modern slavery training


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