Police response to modern slavery “may be causing significant harm”, report finds

A police super-complaint raised concerns that modern slavery victims were not receiving the support and understanding they need from the police.

26/05/21

Police response to modern slavery “may be causing significant harm”, report finds

The police response to modern slavery “may be causing significant harm” to the public interest, a new report has found.

A police ‘super-complaint’, submitted by charity Hestia, raised concerns that modern slavery victims were not receiving the support and understanding they need from the police. The charity, which works with modern slavery survivors and other children and adults in crisis, says police failings in supporting victims often directly leads to a failure to successfully prosecute traffickers and exploiters.

In the UK it is estimated that as many as 100,000 adults and children are being exploited for modern slavery, yet the number of prosecutions remains low. Hestia says victims are misunderstood and failed by police - often treated as criminals themselves.

Following a joint investigation into these concerns, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services, the College of Policing and the Independent Office for Police Conduct found that while the police response to modern slavery has improved, victims are not always made to feel safe and do not always get the support they deserve.

Patrick Ryan, Chief Executive of Hestia, said he was pleased the report acknowledged inconsistencies in the response to modern slavery, he was “disappointed that it failed to hear directly from victims about their experiences.”

“We staunchly believe that the voice of victims sits at the heart of improving how the police respond to modern slavery. Without these voices, there is a limit to how effective any changes can be,” Ryan said in a statement.

The report recommends that the Home Office, chief constables, the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, victims’ commissioners and the Crown Prosecution Service work together to better understand victims’ experiences and what improvements they need to make.

Other recommendations include allocating modern slavery investigations to teams and individuals with the right skills and experience; and ensuring staff have access to training and specialist knowledge and understand victim support arrangements.

Ryan, however, says the measures in the report do not go far enough, arguing there needs to be clear accountability for progress; assurance that the voices and experiences of victims are systematically gathered and reflected upon; and monitored outcomes.

He also recommended the “rapid rollout” of new provisions, such as the ‘Places of Safety scheme’, which provides victims with short-term accommodation while they decide whether to enter the National Referral Mechanism (NRM), as opposed to having to stay at a police station.

Wendy Williams, Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary, said the super-complaint had “shone a light” on areas for the police to improve, adding that experiences and needs of victims must be at the centre of this improvement.

“Policing cannot achieve this alone. There needs to be a seamless system of enforcement against offenders, and support for these extremely vulnerable victims.”

Independent Office for Police Conduct Director General Michael Lockwood said while it was pleasing to see the response from the police service has improved there is “always more that can be done”.

“It is vital that victims of modern slavery and human trafficking feel safe and supported by the police and the criminal justice system as a whole.

“Those victims have already suffered at the hands of their traffickers and captors and should not be victimised again when they are seeking justice and their freedom.”

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