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Daily Record
Daily Record
Niki Tennant

Top Lanarkshire cop urges public to help end scourge of modern slavery

A senior Lanarkshire police officer is urging the public to help stamp out modern slavery by learning to spot the hidden signs of exploitation on our own doorsteps.

Superintendent Andrew Thomson’s appeal comes as a UK charity, which works with survivors of modern slavery, reveals that reports of sexual exploitation, where people are forced into prostitution and performing sexual acts, have jumped by 15 per cent over the past year.

The findings of anti-slavery charity, Unseen – which show a significant increase for the third consecutive year – come amid warnings that the Ukraine war will make the situation worse, as vulnerable women and child refugees are preyed upon by traffickers.

The figures, published last week, are part of the Modern Slavery and Exploitation Helpline Annual Assessment, a yearly stock-take of UK slavery and human trafficking.

Data from a helpline, which is run by Unseen and can deal with calls in over 200 languages, helps to shed light on the nature and scale of slavery in the UK where, experts estimate, there are up to 136,000 in slavery at any one time.

Justine Currell, director of Unseen and co-author of the assessment, said: “The continued increase in reports of sexual exploitation is extremely worrying, and the Ukraine war could add fuel to the fire.

Reports of sexual exploitation are on the increase (Runcorn Weekly News)

“In a refugee crisis, when there are many vulnerable people on the move, you’ll find criminals trying to exploit the situation – and that includes human traffickers.”

In 2021, the charity received nearly 8500 contacts from victims, from professionals working in services such as the NHS, from businesses and members of the public.

As a result, 3019 potential victims of modern slavery were highlighted – 6.4 per cent of whom were children.

Last year saw a 51 per cent increase in the number of modern slavery cases where a potential victim contacted the Unseen helpline themselves.

Potential victims came from 76 nationalities, with Romania being the most common, followed by Vietnam, China, Albania and Sudan.

Motherwell-based Supt Thomson, of Police Scotland’s Lanarkshire division, said traffickers operate across international borders and in the UK – but also within Scotland.

Supt Andrew Thomson of Police Scotland's Lanarkshire division (Wishaw Press)

“Eliminating all forms of trafficking and exploitation, and protecting people from harm continues to be one of Police Scotland’s top priorities,” he said.

“Trafficking and exploitation is challenging and complex to investigate. Working with partners, we assess the threat and develop intelligence to safeguard those at risk of, and vulnerable to, human trafficking while identifying those committing, facilitating and profiting from exploitation.”

Supt Thomson revealed that, following reports from the Lanarkshire community, Police Scotland’s Lanarkshire division led a day of action in 2020 in partnership with Trading Standards, HMRC and the Home Office.

Acting on community intelligence, officers visited a number of premises within Lanarkshire, from which four women were removed, safeguarded and supported by partners. Two men were arrested in relation to immigration offences.

Four women were removed and safeguarded during a police day of action in Lanarkshire (DAILY RECORD)

“There is no such thing as a typical victim of trafficking. However, criminals identify, target and exploit people who may be vulnerable,” continued Supt Thomson.

“Police Scotland’s National Human Trafficking Unit continues to engage with internal and external partners and enforcement agencies to maintain a high visibility of human trafficking and exploitation risks at points of entry around Scotland.”

Officers in Lanarkshire can now use the Unseen App hosted by the UK’s Modern Slavery and Exploitation Helpline.

The app has been downloaded to officers’ mobile devices to support them when they suspect someone may be a victim of trafficking or exploitation. It helps them spot the signs of different types of exploitation which ensures the correct support and welfare provisions are put in place for victims.

The public is being urged to report signs of exploitation (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Key signs to look out for include:

* Individuals who work but have little or no money to buy their basic necessities

* Workers who are made to live in poor and dirty conditions

* Workers who have their time both on and off duty dictated to them

* People who are nervous and scared of authority

* Those who appear to be under the control of someone else and reluctant to interact with others

* People who carry no personal ID

* Those who have few personal belongings, wear the same clothes every day or wear unsuitable clothes for work

* People who are not able to move around freely.

Assistant Chief Constable Judi Heaton, with Vietnamese police officers Duy Nguyen and Hiep Nguyen, who arrived in Scotland in 2020 to help in the fight against people trafficking (DAILY RECORD)

Assistant Chief Constable Judi Heaton, Police Scotland’s lead for major crime, public protection and local crime, is keen to stress that slavery is not a thing of the past – it is a crime that is happening now.

“People, adults and children, are being enslaved, bought and sold, and transported across international borders but also nationally and within Scotland,” she said.

“They are being forced into prostitution, into domestic servitude, their labour is being exploited or they are being forced to steal or distribute illegal drugs.

“People who are trafficked are hidden in plain sight and the Unseen App enhances officers’ ability to spot them and take a victim-centred approach to their circumstances. I also hope that by telling the public we have adopted the App, we are increasing their awareness of the illegal trade of exploiting vulnerable people.

“Not all victims see themselves as victims - they may have made a choice to come to Scotland on a promise of a better life, fallen into the hands of traffickers and then found themselves victims of horrific deception and exploitation.

“Police, other enforcement agencies and partners cannot tackle this issue alone. We also need the public to work with us if we are to identify and help vulnerable individuals being exploited. If you suspect exploitation is happening in your community, please report it to police.”

In the last quarter of 2021, Unseen received 28 calls relating to modern slavery cases in Scotland, as well as 18 online reports.

Vulnerable people can fall into the clutches of criminals (Daily Record)

As a result, 15 cases of modern slavery and exploitation and 62 potential victims were identified. Of those, 68 per cent were from Romania.

In Scotland in the last quarter of last year, sexual exploitation accounted for 46 per cent of cases, while 27 per cent of cases were criminal exploitation, 20 per cent were labour, with various other types of exploitation making up seven per cent of instances.

Unseen made 12 modern slavery referrals to Police Scotland and one referral to a local authority during that period.

Its data is used by other charities, the police, local and national governments and businesses to inform policy and respond directly to reports of slavery and human trafficking.

Justine Currell, director of Unseen (Unseen)

Justine Currell, of Unseen, continued: “The bulk of the reports we’re getting about sexual exploitation are tip-offs about private addresses as well as online ads where the sex buyer has reported something to us.

“This crime is well hidden, yet often right under our noses. I urge the public to contact us if they have the slightest suspicions about anything they’ve seen.

“I’m encouraged by the huge increase in potential victims of slavery contacting us this year for help and support, which make up a much bigger proportion of contacts than previous years. This suggests we’re getting our number out to the right people.

“But we also rely on the public and frontline workers in places like the NHS and police to contact us about anything they’ve seen.

“Latest government figures put the numbers in modern slavery in the UK at around 16,000, but this is only the tip of the iceberg – our estimate is that the true figures is well over 100,000. In other words we have a huge problem and it’s imperative that we all do our bit to raise awareness and report anything we’re concerned about.”

'Harriet' was the victim of sexual and criminal exploitation (Getty Images)

Among those who make up that sorry statistic are people like Harriet (not her real name) who, as a teenager, suffered domestic violence at the hands of her brother.

She began spending as much time as possible away from home and missed a lot of school.

She developed friendships with older teens and was exposed to alcohol and drugs, which eventually led to the start of an addiction.

Harriet was approached by a member of a local gang, who offered her money and free drink and drugs in return for picking up drugs and dropping them off.

Cases of sexual exploitation are on the rise (Getty Images)

It wasn’t long before Harriet’s addiction grew. She was forced into prostitution alongside drug-running – and was paid for neither.

She became one of the thousands of British children in this country exploited through ‘County Lines’ drug trafficking.

County lines is a term used to describe gangs, groups or drug networks that supply drugs from urban to suburban areas across the country, using dedicated mobile phone lines or ‘deal lines.’

This exploitation continued for a number of years until Harriet was eventually arrested, recognised as a victim, and referred to the Unseen women’s safehouse – a welcoming, safe and supportive environment that helps survivors begin to get their lives back.

Case workers at the safehouse quickly took care of her immediate health needs and ensured she had access to medical care, a sexual health clinic and drug and alcohol services.

She also received support to get counselling to help her begin to come to terms with what she had been through.

Harriet has her whole life ahead of her and is determined to rebuild it.

If you suspect someone is being exploited within your community, report it to Police Scotland on 101 or 999 in an emergency. You can also call the Modern Slavery and Exploitation Helpline on 08000 121 700.

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