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Labour exploitation is seen as an increasing issue across Europe as well as in the UK. Unfortunately, the victims are some of the most vulnerable of our society and particularly susceptible.

Intelligence on exploitation is notoriously difficult to gather, as victims may be afraid or not in a position to speak out. Often what little they are given is better than what they had before they were recruited, so they do not consider themselves victims.

The victims of trafficking are conditioned and threatened, and therefore unable or unwilling to escape to inform the authorities. But if a victim comes forward, the police will start an investigation. The Association of Chief Police Officers works closely with the UK Human Trafficking Centre (UKHTC) on all types of human trafficking operations. UKHTC provides tactical advice, co-ordinates intelligence, and engages with overseas law enforcement. Britain shares all intelligence relating to trafficking with Europol, as do all European countries.

There is a reliance on victims coming forward and it is the responsibility of the police, partner agencies, support organisations and the community to work together to ensure their safety and gain their confidence and trust. There is always more we can do to raise awareness, as crime groups adapt and change. But a great number of improvements have been made to enable UK law enforcement to tackle exploitation and support the victims.

Two main aims of the Government’s Human Trafficking Strategy are tougher law enforcement to tackle the criminal gangs involved, and improved identification and care for victims.
Legislation has been introduced that has given further powers to charge criminals who exploit others, such as section 71 of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009, which includes slavery and servitude. Victims can therefore fit the internationally recognised definition of being a victim of trafficking and are eligible for recognition by the National Referral Mechanism, which Britain adopted two years ago.

Neighbourhood policing teams undertake vital work, building relationships within communities, including the homeless and local charities, to increase reporting. Modern slavery and trafficking in any form is intolerable. The police and their partner agencies are committed to tackling exploitation in whatever form it takes.

Olivia Pinkney is the Assistant Chief Constable of Sussex Police and Surrey Police, and is ACPO lead for migration and related matters.

A version of this article appeared in The Times on Saturday 24 September (subscription required).