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Modern Slavery On The Rise

27 March 2018 | Updated 28 March 2018

The number of potential victims of modern slavery rose by more than a third, according to a new report released by the National Crime Agency (NCA).

The National Referral Mechanism (NRM) end of year summary shows that in 2017 5,145 potential victims were referred into the system, up from 3,804 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.

NCA Director Will Kerr said: “It is our assessment that the increase we are seeing here is driven by an increased awareness and greater reporting of modern slavery and that is to be welcomed. However, it also adds further evidence to our view that the figures almost certainly represent an underestimate of the true scale of slavery and trafficking in the UK.”

Those referred as victims of modern slavery and human trafficking (MSHT) came from 116 different nationalities, with UK, Albanian and Vietnamese nationals remaining the most commonly reported victims. The majority (4,715) were referred to English police forces for crime recording purposes, with 207 referred in Scotland, 193 in Wales and 31 in Northern Ireland.

Kerr said: “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.

 “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.”

The National Referral Mechanism is a framework for identifying victims of modern slavery or human trafficking and ensuring they receive the appropriate support. It is also the mechanism through which the NCA collects data about victims, helping to build a clearer picture about the scope of the threat. Under the existing NRM process potential victims are referred by ‘first responders’, including police, public bodies and a number of specified NGOs to one of two competent authorities (the NCA’s Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking Unit for EEA nationals, and the Home Office for non-EEA cases), to make a decision about their status. Not all individuals referred to the NRM will ultimately be assessed to be modern slavery victims.

The Minister for Crime, Safeguarding and Vulnerability, Victoria Atkins said: “Modern slavery and trafficking are despicable crimes which see some of the most vulnerable people in society targeted by ruthless predators.

“The government is leading the world in our response to this horrendous crime – through the Modern Slavery Act 2015 giving law enforcement the powers they need to pursue offenders and working to bring this issue out of the shadows and increase awareness among police, front line workers and the general public."

In October 2017 the government announced reforms to the NRM to improve identification of and support for victims of modern slavery. Further details about these reforms can be found at:

Article written by Brian Shillibeer | Published 27 March 2018


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