- LUKE MACGREGOR / Reuters
- The National Crime Agency said the slave trade in the UK is “far more prevalent” than expected. Gangs are making up to £600 a day forcing victims into work, including prostitution. Children as young as 12 have been forced into domestic servitude. Senior officer said criminals are shifting their business models towards slavery to maximise profits.
LONDON – Britain is home to hundreds of gangsters who have trapped more than 10,000 people in domestic servitude, forced labour, and sex work, senior police officials have said.
The gangs make up to £600 ($780) from forcing women into sex work, according to the UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA), which deals with the most serious cases, and are moving into other types of business as well.
Police and border officials have found children as young as 12 forced into domestic servitude. The problem of trafficked labour is also prevalent in the fishing industry, agriculture, construction, and food processing, the NCA said at a press conference on Thursday.
It shared footage of a recent raid in the north-east of England, which showed officers breaking down the door of a house and arresting several men. It also showed the inside of a room where women were forced to have sex with the gang’s clients.
- National Crime Agency
Will Kerr, who is leading the NCA’s anti-trafficking operations, said the phenomenon was being driven by criminal organisations changing their business model to focus on human exploitation over other crimes.
At the media briefing on Thursday, he said: “A growing number of crime gangs have realised that, while you can sell drugs once and make a profit once from drugs, you can repeatedly exploit people including the most vulnerable and continue to make money from them on a regular basis.”
Kerr said several gangs were making £600 a day from women they forced into prostitution but emphasised that sex crime was not the only type of modern slavery.
Twelve-year-old girl sold into domestic servitude
He described one case of a 12-year-old Roma girl, who was found by border officials in a recent investigation.
The girl, whom he couldn’t name or give a location for, had been sold by her father to the criminal gangs and was sold into domestic servitude. Her host family made her take their children to school and clean the house during the day, effectively enslaving her.
Kerr described how people are lured from other countries – and to a lesser extent within the UK – by adverts for jobs which later turn out not to exist, often on social media.
When they arrive, victims are typically forced into whatever type of work the gang deems them suited for. Gang leaders then take most or all of the money they would be paid. Kerr said it is difficult to spot trafficking victims at the border (they typically arrive on budget flights or a ferry) because they have not yet realised they have been tricked.
Slavery is “far more prevalent than previously thought”
The scale of the problem was emphasised on Thursday at a press event where the NCA admitted that the scale of modern slavery in the UK is “far more prevalent than previously thought.”
— NationalCrimeAgency (@NCA_UK) August 10, 2017
Kerr said the phenomenon was not restricted to any particular area of the country, and is taking place “every large town and city in the UK.”
The various British police forces currently have 300 separate investigations into human trafficking and slavery, after senior officers decided the scale of the problem demanded a more robust response.
An NCA spokesman declined to specify how many gangs are under investigation, but said that at least 300 separate suspects would be involved.
Kerr said his agency is now running “significantly more” investigations than this time last year, and that “the more we look for modern slavery, the more we find.”
There are more than 13,000 trafficking victims in the UK
The NCA did not provide precise figures, but said that a previous estimate that the UK is home to between 10,000 and 13,000 victims would by now have been superseded.
The agency urged people to be aware that people around them could be victims of modern-day slavery.
In a statement, it said: “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.”
The NCA said anyone with suspicions can call their local police force on 101 or the Modern Slavery Helpline, 08000 121 700.