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Tackling exploitation for Anti-Slavery Day

Today is Anti-Slavery Day, which should sharpen all our minds to the plight of vulnerable victims of this abhorrent crime across the world.

Yet modern slavery is not something which only happens in far-flung corners of the globe.

Last year in Bedfordshire, 262 potential victims of modern slavery were identified and referred to the national referral mechanism.

This was the fifth highest of all UK police force areas, and more victims than were identified across the whole of Scotland.

Modern slavery can take many forms, but at the core of much of it is the link to organised crime.

We have identified more than 20 organised crime groups (OCGs) based in Bedfordshire, while our county’s transport links mean dozens more are thought to have an impact in our force area.

Many of these gangs will employ forms of modern slavery to exploit vulnerable people, such as children, adults with substance abuse or poor mental health, as well as people who have poor spoken English.

Adult exploitation poster

Exploitation of any form by organised crime has no place in Bedfordshire.

Given it is Anti-Slavery Day, it is fitting that we have worked over recent days with other agencies to combat three of the most prevalent forms of criminal exploitation.

On Wednesday we teamed up with sexual health service iCash Bedfordshire and specialist charity Azalea to offer safeguarding support to two women at risk of being exploited in the sex industry.

Women working in the commercial sex industry have often been trafficked into the UK under false pretences.

Human traffickers exploit victims in the sex industry because the demand for sexual services means they can generate vast criminal profits.

Unlike drugs or firearms, which are only bought or sold once, a victim being exploited in this way represents a continuous source of income for criminals.

Those paying for sex need to think about whether they are engaging a trafficked victim.

Paying for sex with someone who has been trafficked is a criminal offence, regardless of whether the person paying knows that the other person has been trafficked.

The supply of drugs is also rife with exploitation, particularly around county lines.

Children can be groomed into running drugs across the country, while vulnerable adults can have their homes taken over and used as a base by these criminal networks.

We carried out warrants at five addresses in Bedford last week as part of a national week of action tackling county drugs lines.

Two people were arrested, while we also recovered drugs and weapons.

County lines signs to spot

It was part of a wave of enforcement by police forces across the country, which resulted in more than 700 arrests, 681 people being safeguarded, and almost half a million pounds worth of drugs being seized.

Then, on Anti-Slavery Day itself, we carried out joint visits with HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) to four car washes across the county.

This was in response to an operation we ran earlier this year tackling modern slavery.

A number of potential issues around the national minimum wage, employment classification and VAT were identified as a result of Friday’s visits, with further enquiries by HMRC now due to take place.

Tackling organised crime and protecting vulnerable people from exploitation drives much of our work across the force, and we will work with other agencies to ensure our communities are protected from these threats.

With these types of issues, it is particularly important that the public helps us understand the scale of this threat, as much of this exploitation can be hidden out of sight.

Hopefully the resources on this page offer some ideas around the signs to look out for.

If you have any concerns at all, please get in contact with us; this information could help us protect vulnerable people and stop organised crime.

You can call us on 101, or report information via the online reporting centre on our website.

Alternatively, you can contact the Modern Slavery Helpline confidentially, on 08000 121 700 or by visiting the helpline’s website.

Detective Chief Superintendent Nick Bellingham

Head of Intelligence, Serious and Organised Crime, Cyber and Corporate Business Support

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