An alliance of community partners and stakeholders came together on Wednesday, 26 April, to look at ways to tackle modern slavery and human trafficking in Colchester and the wider region.
Organised by the Safer Colchester Partnership, the Colchester Modern Slavery Conference, which took place in The Old Library, saw speakers from Colchester City Council (CCC), Essex Police, Justice and Care, Barnardo’s, and Together Free, highlight their work to combat crimes of forced criminality, labour exploitation, sexual exploitation and domestic servitude.
Last year, the Home Office received 16,938 referrals into the National Referral Mechanism, which provides safeguarding and support for victims of modern slavery. This was an increase of 33% on the preceding year.
As modern slavery is a hidden crime, the Global Slavery Index estimates there are 136,000 victims within the UK – roughly two victims for every 1000 population.
Delegates discussed a range of topics, including case studies of survivors of modern slavery, local and strategic law enforcement priorities and responses, survivor care and best practice, and the work of antislavery partnerships.
Cllr Julie Young, Portfolio Holder for Housing and Communities, said: “Words cannot begin to describe the horror and destructive nature of human trafficking and modern-day slavery. It is a scandal and must be fought wherever and in whatever form it takes.
“Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking are heinous crimes, which not only impact individual victims but local communities too. Exploiters take advantage of the most vulnerable within our communities, subjecting them to dehumanising abuse.
“I was greatly encouraged by the conference, which brought together key partners to find more effective ways to share expertise and intelligence to better tackle trafficking and ensure a slavery-free community.”
Colchester District Commander, Chief Inspector Colin Cox, said: “Modern slavery in an underreported crime. The victims are vulnerable, scared and violence is often used to control them.
“Many people don’t realise that human trafficking and modern slavery happens here in Essex, whether its teenagers being controlled by County Lines drug dealers, women being pushed into sex work, or people forced to work for little for no money at car washes or on building sites.
“We have specialist officers working to safeguard victims and recently we have run Operation Henderson and Operation Kirn to raise awareness of the warning signs that exploitation is taking place.
“We need people to report their concerns. If they see someone who looks afraid or seems to be under the control of others, please tell us. By working together with our partners, we can help victims escape and arrest the criminals who are profiting from their misery.”
Delegates pledged to support an anti-slavery free Colchester and committed to support an anti-slavery partnership for Colchester. The inaugural meeting of the new partnership will take place on Wednesday, 7 June 2023.
For more information about spotting the signs of modern slavery and how to report concerns, visit the Essex Police website: Modern slavery | Essex Police