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Behind the Scenes: Modern Slavery

Last modified: 17 October 2018 at 06:25pm

Nearly 200 years after the abolition of slavery, vulnerable men, women and children are still being exploited. This can, and does, happen right here in North Yorkshire.

Over the past three years the number of potential victims of modern slavery and human trafficking identified in North Yorkshire has risen significantly, this follows the national trend, which is believed to be due to the rise in awareness.

Today (Thursday, 18 October) marks anti-slavery day which if another opportunity to raise awareness and highlight the ongoing efforts by many agencies and charities to eradicate such an abhorrent crime.

Detective Inspector John Paul Freer from the North Yorkshire Police Vulnerable Adults Team gives an insight into the work the Force is doing to prevent and combat these offences.

We have all heard the terms ‘Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery’ but what do they really mean?

Modern slavery can be broken down into two parts. The first part relates to holding a person in slavery or servitude or forcing them to perform forced or compulsory labour. Vulnerable people are treated as mere items or possessions, a commodity to be bought and sold, to do with as they wish, for the benefit of others. And yes, this does happen right here in North Yorkshire.

The second part is commonly known as human trafficking, this essentially relates to arranging or facilitating the movement of an individual with the intention to exploit them. This exploitation can take many forms including labour, sexual (rape), criminal (including cannabis cultivation, shop lifting, begging) and domestic servitude. Again, this happens right here in North Yorkshire.

The job of identifying and supporting these victims and ensuring those responsible for committing such crimes are brought to justice is, in my opinion, one of the most important roles in policing.

What does modern slavery look like in North Yorkshire and where could it take place?

Modern slavery is a ‘hidden crime’ with many victims not recognising themselves as victims – therefore they are unlikely to disclose the abuse that they’ve be subjected to.

Some victims are fearful of what might happen to them or their families if they speak out. Others are frightening of the police and government agencies either because of bad experiences in their country of origin or their captors have warned them with false information. Some simply believe that the exploitation is a stepping stone and things will get better.

The fact that a potential victim might be being paid more or have better working conditions than what they experience in their country of origin is irrelevant. UK laws and standards must be upheld.

In towns and cities modern slavery is most likely to exist in low paid and unregulated industries such as hand car washes, nail bars, restaurants and takeaways. North Yorkshire is also a large rural area and vulnerable people are at risk of exploitation within farming and food processing communities.

It can even be happening right under your nose in residential houses which are used for cannabis cultivation.

Sexual exploitation is happening in hotel rooms, holiday apartments and residential lettings.

What are the police doing about these crimes?

The police have a key role identifying and protecting victims and arresting and prosecuting offenders. In August this year, North Yorkshire police secured its first Modern Slavery related conviction following a detailed investigation in Scarborough. A number of additional cases are under investigation and further criminal charges are anticipated.

Whilst you would expect the police to be at the forefront of tackling this criminality, partner agencies are playing an invaluable role. Partners bring a whole different set of skills, knowledge and resources to ensure that the full range of regulation and legislation is brought to bear. Suspect premises have been closed down, fines issued and prosecutions commenced.

What help is there for victims?

Victims of Modern Slavery are formally supported via the government’s National Referral Mechanism (NRM) scheme. If an individual is formally assessed and identified as a potential victim of Modern Slavery, the NRM then provides them with access to accommodation, counselling and legal aid. Working with the City of York and the seven North Yorkshire District councils’ we have added to this support to victims by ensuring that potential victims are accommodated as soon a NRM referral is submitted rather than waiting until a decision has been reached.

What can I do to help?

There are many things people can do to help. Simply ‘liking’ and ‘sharing’ our social media messages is a start. Knowing the signs of modern slavery is very helpful when out and about, these include:

  • Physical appearance: malnourished, starved, neglected, scruffy, unclean or poor hygiene, exhausted, drugged or drunk, inappropriate clothes and equipment for the job they are doing.
  • Psychological: fearful, scared, anxious, stressed, angry, agitated, withdrawn, traumatised, confused, unable to speak intelligibly.
  • Poor living conditions
  • Restricted freedom: unable to show identity documents, in debt or dependant on someone else, unable to handle money, have door locks on the outside.
  • Unusual travel times: travel very early in the morning or late at night, have transportation to and from work provided, have to pay for the transport.

One handy way of remembering these signs is by downloading the free ‘Unseen’ app on your smartphone.

If you have concerns about someone who may have been a victim of human trafficking or modern slavery then please report this to police. This can be done online or by calling 101. Always call 999 in an emergency.

If you wish to remain anonymous then please contact the independent charity Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

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