More than 5,000 potential victims of trafficking and modern slavery were reported to UK authorities last year, the highest number on record.
For the first time, British citizens made up the highest number of potential victims, a shift driven by an increase in the use of child drug mules by criminal gangs. Overall, the number of possible child victims grew by two-thirds compared with 2016.
Will Kerr, the director of the National Crime Agency, said the figures were likely to underestimate the scale of the problem, and that the government was facing an evolving threat.
“The criminals involved in these types of exploitation are going into online spaces, particularly adult services websites, to enable their criminality,” said Kerr.
The rise in the number of young people being exploited for sexual purposes or drug trafficking was a concern, he said.
Almost half of the 5,145 cases reported – 41% – involved the possible exploitation of a child aged under 18. The figures show the number of reports made to the national referral mechanism, the system for identifying victims of trafficking.
Last year, 819 potential British victims were referred to the NRM, up from 326 in 2016, according to the National Crime Agency. The increase is due to a rise in city-based gangs using children to transport drugs to rural areas, allowing them to expand their operations.
Albania was the second largest national group recorded, followed by Vietnam, China, Nigeria and Romania. Albanian and Nigerian cases most commonly involved sexual exploitation, while the majority of Vietnamese cases involved labour exploitation.
The referrals included possible victims from 116 countries. A total of 2,352 cases, almost half of those reported, involved potential forced labour. A third of cases, 1,744, involved suspected sexual exploitation. The NRM was also alerted to three possible cases of organ harvesting.
It is true, and very much to the point, that women are objects, commodities, some deemed more expensive than others - but it is only by asserting one’s humanness every time, in all situations, that one becomes someone as opposed to something. That, after all, is the core of our struggle.
Andrea Dworkin, Woman Hating
Andrea Dworkin, Woman Hating
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