It’s Happening Here: Modern Slavery in Essex
On Monday 16th December 2013 the Home Secretary, Theresa May, launched the Government White Paper introducing the Modern Slavery Bill. Publication of the bill has followed close on the heels of recent high profile media cases in London and Bristol, the former where three women were allegedly held captive for as long as 30 years.
Modern slavery and human trafficking are despicable and wide-ranging crimes, perpetrated by organised criminals who prey on the most vulnerable people in the UK and abroad. Many recent cases have shown that the scourge of slavery, perhaps thought consigned to the history books, is all too alive and well in the UK today.
It would be easy to look at events in London and believe that human trafficking is a metropolitan problem, but to echo the title of a March 2013 report from The Centre of Social Justice, it happens here. Specialist police officers believe that people are almost certainly trafficked into and out of the country through the Essex ports of Stansted, Tilbury and Harwich. Some of these people are forced to work in places like cannabis factories, nail bars, brothels and car washes. In recent years, police investigations in some parts of the country have explored whether vulnerable people, often British nationals, have been used for forced labour, effectively held as slaves, on some traveller sites. We know that criminal gangs have coerced young girls into situations and locations where they were exploited and abused sexually by older men.
That is the broad context. The challenge is obtaining a clear, evidentially-based understanding of the impact of modern slavery in Essex. The position, transport links and diverse population of Essex make it likely that there are victims of human trafficking within our communities, working in effect as slaves or being sexually exploited. We need to do more to find out precisely what is happening in Essex, and then seek to free victims and bring the criminal traffickers and everyone involved to justice.
Over the coming months I intend to explore the impact and scale of human trafficking in Essex. I want to work with Essex Police, partner agencies and charities to ensure that our frontline staff are aware of the threat of modern slavery and sexual exploitation and that everyone knows how to report any concerns. We’re not starting from scratch, there is good work being done by officers in Essex Police, who have strong partnerships with Home Office Immigration, HMRC and others. Charitable organisations are also active in our county on this already. But I am convinced that we need to go wider and further to make sure that we do all we can to shine a light on criminal activity that will continue to cause real harm and suffering whilst it remains in the shadows.
If you have any information about people who may be victims of modern slavery or sexual exploitation, or you have suspicions about perpetrators of such crimes, then I urge you to contact Essex Police on 101 or report it anonymously through Crimestoppers on 0800 555111.
The Slavery Abolition Act was passed in 1833. We must all do our utmost to eradicate modern slavery wherever it exists.