Region pledges to pull together to combat modern slavery
Katy Bourne, Police and Crime Commissioner for Sussex, joined forces with her counterparts for Hampshire, Surrey and Thames Valley to host a conference on Tuesday, 20 June, to examine how the four areas can work together to combat the issue of human trafficking.
Guests at the event heard that modern slavery is the fastest-growing crime type globally, affecting almost 46m people and generating an estimated US$150bn a year for organised criminal gangs.
According to Anti-Slavery International, the most common purpose of trafficking is forced labour in industries such as agriculture, construction, hospitality and car washes. A significant proportion of women and girls are trafficked for sexual exploitation. Many people, mostly women and girls, end up in domestic slavery; others – especially children – are being forced into criminal activities such as cannabis production, petty theft or begging.
The Home Office estimates there are between 10,000 and 13,000 potential victims of trafficking in the UK, including victims trafficked into the UK as well as British adults and children. Official statistics show there were just over 3,800 recorded victims of modern slavery in the UK in 2016, an increase of 17% on the previous year.
“It’s clear that more needs to be done to identify and help victims of modern slavery, which was why we decided to get the key decision-makers into one room to find out more about this cruel and callous crime,” says Mrs Bourne.
Organisations represented at the conference included police forces, local authorities, UK Border Force, the South East Regional Organised Crime Unit, the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority and a number of agencies offering support services like Barnardo’s, StreetlightUK, the Hastings Anti-Trafficking Hub and Stop the Traffik.
“We’re the first region in the country to come together to fight this collectively. As PCCs, the four of us are responsible for helping victims of crime and we have the power to fund more work in this area,” she continued.
“We got together to kick off a real focus on tackling this: to share best practice, gather ideas and to understand how serious the problem is across our counties.
“Part of the solution lies with the police but we must work with other agencies like local authorities, safeguarding boards, health authorities and charities to spot the signs and to help these people begin a new life.”
Mrs Bourne said the next stage would be to develop a regional strategy for fighting modern slavery.
Speakers at the conference at the HG Wells Conference & Events Centre in Woking included Kevin Hyland OBE (pictured left), the UK’s Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, Miriam Minty from the Home Office’s Modern Slavery Unit and Assistant Chief Constable Jeremy Burton, Specialist Crime, Surrey & Sussex Police.
In 2015 the Modern Slavery Act brought together existing slavery and trafficking offences and gave new powers to place restrictions on those convicted of modern slavery offences, as well as protecting victims forced to commit crime. Mr Hyland outlined steps which had been taken nationally in the battle against slavery, including training more than 1,000 judges, and said that although it was still low, the number of prosecutions was increasing: 117 offenders were prosecuted for slavery and trafficking offences in 2015.
There are currently more than 300 operations taking place nationally, with 24 live operations across the region to tackle modern slavery, explained ACC Burton, who said more prevention work needed to be done by dealing with the organised crime groups that exploit people.
“This is a brutal crime, we recognise that and we are making good progress. It exploits the vulnerable which means we all have a collective responsibility to do something about it,” he added.
“I am delighted that we have had an event of this nature and the commitment of the four PCCs is tremendous. We need to continue our quest to safeguard the vulnerable; working as a partnership, we have to be better at identifying vulnerable people and sharing that information.”
If you have been, or know anyone who has been, a victim of modern slavery you can contact the national helpline on 08000 121 700 or visit www.modernslaveryhelpline.org