STAFFORDSHIRE’S Police and Crime Commissioner Matthew Ellis held the first ever conference in Staffordshire to highlight the hidden threat of modern slavery.
The half-day event was targeted at business, charities and workers from public sector organisations including schools, NHS and local councils including delegates from Tamworth.
Chief Constable Jane Sawyers told the conference there had been a report of modern day slavery or human trafficking in every one of the Local Policing Team areas in Staffordshire – including Tamworth – in the last 12 months.
Modern slavery can take many forms including the trafficking of people, forced labour, servitude and slavery. Victims can be men, women and children but it is most common amongst the vulnerable, and within minority or socially excluded groups. Approximately two-thirds of victims are women, and a third are men. Every fourth victim of modern slavery is a child.
Staffordshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner Matthew Ellis spoke at the conference and urged the audience to help raise awareness about modern slavery.
He said: “Victims, no matter what they are the victims of, are at the centre of our thinking and work we are doing.
“Modern slavery is an abhorrent crime which is often hidden in plain sight. It’s happening across the UK and it’s happening in Staffordshire, although we do not know the scale, big or small, of it here. It’s important that we understand that fact as soon as possible and work is going on to make sure that happens.
“It’s extraordinary that in 2015 we are still talking about something that also happened hundreds of years ago. This is a modern outrage.”
The Chief Constable told the conference there had been 86 reports of potential modern day slavery or human trafficking in Staffordshire in the 12 months since October 2014. Analysis of that figure showed there were 55 cases that needed further investigation.
“It’s a hidden crime – those are the ones we know about,” she told the conference.
She also said that only last Friday in Staffordshire a woman was taken to safety after she had been brought to the UK under the pretence of a job opportunity and then been sexually exploited. The investigation is ongoing to prosecute the traffickers.
Deputy Police and Crime Commissioner Sue Arnold, who is spearheading the response to modern slavery in Staffordshire, said: “It is estimated that 29.8 million people around the world are currently affected by modern day slavery and it is an issue which we all need to face.
“Today’s conference highlighted the risks of slavery, people trafficking and forced labour to local businesses and professionals as well as explaining the signs to look out for.”
The event at Staffordshire County Showground in Stafford featured speakers including Paul Broadbent, Chief Executive of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority; Helen Gordos from the UK Human Trafficking Centre and Sarah Wilson, an author and survivor of the Rotherham child abuse scandal.
In a personalised recorded message played at the conference, Karen Bradley MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary in the Home Office and Modern Slavery Minister, said: “Legislation and action by the state is only part of the answer. Local action is vital. That is why I welcome the Staffordshire campaign which is helping spread the message that modern slavery is happening across the UK. It demonstrates that Staffordshire is not prepared to look the other way.
“Modern slavery can happen anywhere and we all have a part to play in bringing it to an end. We must ensure we take the fight against modern slavery seriously so that there is zero tolerance for perpetrators and that victims receive the support and care they deserve. We all have a part to play to ensure we are not unwittingly supporting slavery and that we are alert to signs that someone may be a victim.”
Mrs Sawyers added: “We are constantly learning more about modern slavery and it’s clear that there are people in Staffordshire being abused and exploited. However, we receive only a handful of reports each year.
“This event has helped us all to be more aware of this crime which goes on often unseen and certainly misunderstood. We all have a duty to tackle exploitation in any form so we can provide the support for the victims and bring offenders to justice.”
The conference was held at Staffordshire County Showground in Stafford on Thursday 10 December.
Supporting victims and witnesses is one of four key priorities in the Staffordshire Police and Crime Commissioner Matthew Ellis’ Safer, Fairer United Communities strategy for more local and effective policing in the county.
The new Staffordshire Victim Gateway was launched at the start of September to put the needs of victims and witnesses at the heart of the criminal justice system. Information is available at www.staffsvictimsgateway.org.uk or by ringing 0330 0881 339.