By Detective Inspector Eirin Martin, Wiltshire Police lead for Exploitation and Missing Team
Modern slavery and human trafficking are often considered hidden crimes, but if we each dig a little deeper it can quite often be found in plain sight.
Whilst they are complex crime types that many may not think happens in their local communities unfortunately it is happening in Wiltshire, and across the UK today.
For this reason, days to raise awareness can play such an important role in highlighting the harm and impact of modern slavery and trafficking and the OPCC and Wiltshire Police marked World Day Against Trafficking in Persons on Friday.
There are often misconceptions about who and how when it comes to slavery offences. Many believe that only foreign nationals can be victims, but we know that young people are increasingly being exploited to enable county line gangs to move their drugs around the country.
In response, Wiltshire Police has recently improved the way in which it tackles modern slavery and human trafficking by introducing a dedicated exploitation and missing team - in addition to a safeguarding team - to address the longer-term safeguarding needs of victims with local authorities.
The exploitation and missing team are intelligence-led and can only be as effective as the intelligence they receive. The police are keen to encourage members of the public to open their eyes to exploitation and that it is happening in every county, town and village across the country and if something doesn’t feel right, they should report it.
You will have seen coverage in the media earlier this week of proactive police visits to 13 businesses in Swindon who we know may be more likely to commit modern slavery offences. The primary purpose of these visits is to carry out welfare checks on employees with more than 30 people engaged with on this occasion and three arrests made for suspicion of immigration offences.
One of the priorities in the current police and crime plan is to put victims and witnesses at the heart of everything we do - their experiences and needs must be central - but the reality is the police cannot tackle this alone.
This is where OPCC-commissioned services play a role in helping victims navigate the criminal justice system, in addition to partnership working with local authorities.
During Op Makesafe, earlier this year, the OPCC contributed funding towards a multi-agency operation to upskill businesses to recognise and report exploitation.
Working jointly with The Children’s Society and Fearless, Wiltshire Police delivered training sessions to businesses to increase confidence in spotting the signs of exploitation, to keep our young people safe in the community.
The OPCC has also recently funded ‘Go bags’ for victims of modern slavery and human trafficking, which it has supplied to Wiltshire Police, to not only offer victims necessities - including toiletries and a change of clothes - but to also help build their trust in the police.
And while these bags are a small gesture, they play an important role in demonstrating to victims, particularly where English may not be their first language, that the police are there to help them, not criminalise them.
Concerns about modern slavery should be reported to Wiltshire Police online, via 101, or 999 in an emergency.