The modern slavery team has expanded in a bid to tackle the threat from those exploiting vulnerable people across the force area.
The team, created following the introduction of the Modern Slavery Act, was recently extended in order to cope with an increasing workload. It now consists of a detective sergeant, three detective constables, a Police Community Support Officer and two Investigative Support Assistants, all based at Keyham Lane Police Station.
Described as exploitive behaviour, modern slavery places one person in control of another.
It takes on many forms and can include sexual exploitation, forced labour and domestic servitude.
Not confined to any one country, modern slavery is happening worldwide and right now, vulnerable men, women and children are being exploited.
DC Jo Ranson, has been part of the team for four and a half years. She spoke of the complexities of investigating this type of crime: “Modern slavery is a hidden crime that exists in everyday society, and those responsible deliberately target the vulnerable.
“It is a complex crime and one which is challenging to investigate with some enquiries having to be made overseas.
“It can be that victims don’t see themselves as such. They may come from all walks of life, be of any age, race, gender or nationality and are often unwilling to come forward and report what is happening to them to either the police or public protection agencies.”
Statistics show the number of occurrences investigated by the force is steadily increasing year on year. In 2015 the force recorded a total of 12 incidents. Four years later, that figure has risen to 113 reports in the first six months of 2019.
The rise in numbers can be contributed to increased awareness amongst the public, officers and partner agencies and also the work that has been done locally and nationally to highlight the issue of modern slavery, which in turn has resulted in an increase in reporting.
DC Ranson continued: “There has always been a demand on the team, and over the years we have seen the demand grow through improved intelligence and more people coming forward and reporting incidents. However, there are still some victims who won’t report issues because they fear reprisals from their abusers and, in some cases, there might be social or cultural barriers meaning men and women are reluctant to identify themselves as victims.”
In an attempt to further raise the profile of modern slavery and increase public knowledge of the issue, the force, working in conjunction with partner agencies, recently launched a new campaign.
With the tag line #KnowTheSigns, the campaign was launched in June and, over the course of five days, different messages were posted on Facebook and Twitter with easy to understand infographics depicting five key signs of modern slavery.
The signs were: • Long hours • Chaperoning • Malnutrition • Abuse • Lack of personal possessions
The posts also included information signposting victims, or members of the public, to a number of organisations that can help, by offering advice, information, or support to anyone who might be a victim, who knows someone who is a victim, or members of the public who are concerned with something they might have seen or heard.
Training for police officers ran alongside the campaign. Officers watched an in-house training video, backed up with daily messages aimed at raising awareness and to educate officers about modern slavery and how to deal with it.
Detective Inspector Jenni Heggs, who oversees the investigative team, said: “The campaign was a great way to bring attention to modern slavery, the signs to look out for, and who to contact for help or with information.
“We, as human beings, need to know the signs, spot the signs and report the signs.”
If you believe that you or someone you know is a victim of modern slavery, or you think you have spotted the signs, there are a number of ways you can report it.
You can contact Leicestershire Police in an emergency by dialling 999. In a non-emergency situation, call 101. You can also report online at https://www.leics.police.uk/ro/report/ocr-bridge/report-crime/
Alternatively, the Modern Slavery Helpline is available 24hrs a day, on 0800 0121 700 or you can report online at https://www.modernslaveryhelpline.org/report
Victims can also contact: Unseen: https://www.unseenuk.org/ Barnardo’s: https://www.barnardos.org.uk/
More information on modern slavery can be found by visiting the following website: Leicestershire Police: https://www.leics.police.uk/advice/advice-and-information/ms/modern-slavery/