Modern slavery and human trafficking
Modern slavery and human trafficking (MSHT) in the UK is far more prevalent than previously thought, according to the National Crime Agency. The term ‘modern slavery’ subsumes the offences of human trafficking, slavery, servitude and forced or compulsory labour, including sexual or criminal exploitation.
A growing body of evidence resulting from an increase in law enforcement activity points to the numbers of victims being much higher than estimated, and the threat continuing to expand.
The NCA last week (10 August 2017) released figures showing there are currently more than 300 live policing operations targeting modern slavery in the UK.
More than a dozen of the highest risk operations targeting organised crime groups are being led by the NCA. Recent operational results from those include:
- The arrests of three men in north east England with suspected links to a Romanian organised crime group using the internet to advertise the services of victims trafficked for sexual exploitation, and then forcing them to launder the proceeds through criminally controlled bank accounts. Ten women were safeguarded. Across Europe, the group and its wider network are suspected to have made around €5 million in criminal profits.
- The rescue and safeguarding of five Slovakian men encountered during an investigation into allegations of forced labour in the Bristol area. A man and woman with links to a car wash business were arrested, and are suspected of being part of a wider organised crime group.
A surge in operational activity focusing on labour and sexual exploitation co-ordinated by the NCA through May and June – codenamed Operation Aidant –led to 111 arrests in the UK and some 130 people being encountered who may be considered as victims.
Linked operational activity also took place on mainland Europe resulting in around 40 further arrests and the launch of 25 further investigations as a result of intelligence gained.
Additionally, the number of people being referred into the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) as potential victims of modern slavery continues to rise.
Internet used to entrap victims
Traffickers are using the internet to lure their victims with hollow promises of jobs, education and even love.
Albania, Nigeria, Vietnam, Romania and Poland are the most likely countries of origin, but some victims are from the UK itself.
There is no typical victim. They can be men, women or children of all ages but it is normally more prevalent among the most vulnerable, minorities or socially-excluded groups.
Many believe they are escaping poverty, limited opportunities at home, a lack of education, unstable social and political conditions or war. But their slave masters are usually out to make financial gain.
The NCA has found modern slavery in every town and city in the UK and says that people are not just forced to work in the sex industry and domestic service but in car washes, agriculture, nail bars and cannabis farms.
New NCA campaign
Will Kerr, the NCA’s Director of Vulnerabilities, said:
Modern slavery has rightly been made a priority across law enforcement, but it is a hidden crime so the onus is on us to seek it out.
The more that we look for modern slavery the more we find the evidence of the widespread abuse of vulnerable.
The growing body of evidence we are collecting points to the scale being far larger than anyone had previously thought. The intelligence we are gaining is showing that there are likely to be far more victims out there, and the numbers of victims in the UK has been underestimated.
The NCA released these disturbing figures at the launch of a new campaign focused on sexual and labour exploitation, explaining how the public can help stop it.
Over the next six months the campaign will highlight the signs of modern slavery which people may encounter in their everyday lives, and encourage them to report it.
The NCA’s Will Kerr said in the press release accompanying the launch of the campaign:
This is a crime which affects all types of communities across every part of the United Kingdom. It is difficult to spot because often victims don’t even know they are being exploited. Nevertheless we need those communities to be our eyes and ears.
There will be people living and working where victims come into contact with everyone else’s so-called normal lives.
They may see something they feel is not quite right. That might be someone seeming afraid, vulnerable or being controlled, moved around or forced to work against their will. If they do, we need the public to speak to us.
Anyone with suspicions can call their local police force on 101 or the Modern Slavery Helpline 08000 121 700.