SEVEN cases of modern slavery have been investigated in West Berkshire since 2015, new figures from the police figures reveal.
The news comes as Thames Valley Police (TVP) launches its new ‘Hidden Harm’ campaign to tackle abuse across the force’s area, with a specific focus on the issue of modern slavery.
Over the past year, police have recorded three modern slavery crimes each week across Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire and are now looking to make people more aware of the problem, with many instances of modern slavery going unreported.
Det supt Nick John, the head of protecting vulnerable people, said: “It’s a common misconception that slavery doesn’t exist any more or that it’s a crime that doesn’t affect us here in the UK. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
“Modern slavery is happening in this country and, more specifically, right here in Thames Valley.
“In the past two years, 120 modern slavery crimes have been recorded across our area.
“With offences in every county of the force, it’s a stark reminder that this is an offence that could happen anywhere, even in your community.”
Modern slavery is the illegal exploitation of people for personal or commercial gain.
Victims are tricked or threatened into work and many feel unable to leave through fear or intimidation.
Police statistics show a total of seven modern slavery crimes recorded in West Berkshire between May 2015 and May 2017.
There were 16 such crimes reported in Reading over the same period and 18 in Wokingham and Bracknell.
According to TVP, the signs that a person may be a victim of modern slavery include looking scruffy or injured, acting anxiously or afraid, living in overcrowded or poorly-maintained accommodation and working long hours or wearing unsuitable clothing.
A dedicated modern slavery helpline has taken more than 2,500 calls over the past 12 months, making more than 1,000 referrals to police.
Det Supt John added: “It’s a crime that affects people of all ages, genders, ethnicities and nationalities, even people from here in the UK.
“In fact, last year in Thames Valley, UK nationals were the most common victims of modern slavery.
“Whilst we have seen a significant increase in reporting of these crimes over the past year, we know that many more go unreported.
“We rely on information from members of the public in order to identify these crimes, safeguard victims and bring offenders to justice. We cannot do this alone.”
If you suspect something, no matter how small, report it – either confidentially via the Modern Slavery Helpline on 08000 121 700 or to 101 or 999 in an emergency.
For more information on the campaign and the signs of modern slavery visit http://thamesvalley.police.uk/hiddenharm