invisible people
Russell Webster

Russell Webster

Criminal Justice & substance misuse expert and author of this blog.

Big increase in victims of trafficking and human slavery

The National Referral Mechanism end of year summary shows that in 2017, 5145 potential victims were referred into the system, up from 3804 in 2016.

Crossover between slavery & immigration crime

The number of potential victims of trafficking and modern slavery reported to the authorities rose by more than a third, according to a new report released by the National Crime Agency earlier this week (26 March 2018).

The National Referral Mechanism end of year summary shows that in 2017, 5145 potential victims were referred into the system, up from 3804 in 2016.

And for the first time British citizens were the largest nationality recorded in the figures, up from 326 in 2016 to 819 in 2017.

The increase in British numbers is largely down to an increase in minors being referred into the NRM as suspected victims of labour or sexual exploitation, up 66 per cent. This increase is due in part to a rise in ‘County Lines’ gang exploitation referrals, where minors had been exploited by criminals involved in drug supply. These are recorded in the labour exploitation category.

Facts and figures

  • The 5145 individuals who were referred as potential victims came from a total of 116 countries.
  • Referrals were almost equally of males (52%) and females (47%) were just three individuals recorded as transgender.
  • 3027 people of those referred were adults and 2118 children.
  • The number of children referred increased by two thirds on 2016 levels due to an increasing County Lines gang exploitation referral as well as unaccompanied asylum seeking children.

The graphic below shows the referrals made in each category (for a full typology, see here); the traffic light system is used to highlight changes over 2016 with red representing a significant increase and amber that figures were roughly the same as the year before.

My version of the chart below shows the 10 countries from whom the most referrals came:

Will Kerr, National Crime Agency director, commented on the figures:

What this report reinforces is that we are now dealing with an evolving threat.
The criminals involved in these types of exploitation are going into online spaces, particularly adult services website, to enable their criminality.
We are also seeing increasing crossovers between slavery and organised immigration crime outside of the UK. Often the same criminal networks are involved in transportation, and migrants themselves are vulnerable to labour and sexual exploitation during their journeys and after.
Particularly concerning to us is the rise in young people being exploited for sexual purposes or drug trafficking.
Overall our knowledge and intelligence is improving, and MSHT remains a high priority for law enforcement. But we cannot bring a halt to it alone, we need support and assistance from across the public and private sectors, NGOs and most of all the public themselves.

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