18 October 2018
More than 90 potential victims of slavery have been identified and 73 people arrested following a fortnight of law enforcement activity targeting modern slavery and human trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation.
The co-ordinated action which took place in September was led by the National Crime Agency’s Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking Unit and involved 37 police forces from across the UK, as well as other partners including Border Force and Immigration Enforcement.
It was the latest strand of Project Aidant, the NCA-led law enforcement response to modern slavery and human trafficking.
Of those arrested, 24 were for modern slavery offences, 19 were for controlling prostitution, while the rest were for a variety of offences including conspiracy to rape, money laundering and immigration offences.
The activity focused on the use of adult services websites (ASWs) by traffickers to advertise victims of sexual exploitation, with at least 16 forces identifying potential victims on ASWs.
A total of 91 potential victims were identified throughout the fortnight.
As well as the enforcement activity with police forces, the NCA partnered with the NGO Stop The Traffik to raise awareness of the difference between sex work and sexual exploitation and to encourage better reporting of trafficking concerns. The NCA also worked with the nursing profession to raise awareness of trafficking amongst those working in the health sector – who are most likely to come into contact with potential victims seeking medical support.
NCA deputy director Tom Dowdall said:
“Although some people choose to work in the sex industry, we know that others are forced into it against their will, unable to leave, threatened with violence against them or their family.
“This activity, which was months in the planning, aimed to identify and safeguard victims of sexual exploitation and arrest and disrupt their traffickers.
“As a result of this and the NCA’s wider work we have supported police forces and law enforcement partners to better identify victims of sexual exploitation who are being advertised on the internet.
“This has led to the results we are releasing today – with numerous offenders identified and disrupted as well as potential victims protected.”
While most adverts on ASWs do not relate to trafficked victims, NCA experts believe that those involved in exploitation use the sheer volume of adverts on such platforms to hide their criminal operations.
Tom Dowdall added:
“We know from sex workers who are not being exploited that ASWs provide safety benefits as they are able to vet customers and avoid those with a history of abuse or violence.
“However we recognise that ASWs also provide offenders with the ability to easily advertise multiple victims, increase the amount of sexual services victims are forced to provide, and maximise criminal profits.
“Our focus is therefore on those exploited victims and the criminals controlling them.”
Although estimating the true scale of modern slavery in the UK remains very difficult, on the basis of the operations going on across policing and law enforcement nationally the NCA believes there are likely to be tens of thousands of victims.
Around 950 criminal investigations are now under way into modern slavery and human trafficking across the UK, up from 300 in August 2017.
The public continues to play a key role in helping to tackle the problem. Suspicions relating to modern slavery and human trafficking should be reported via the Modern Slavery Helpline on 08000 121700, local police on 101, or 999 in an emergency.