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Multi-agency team combat rising tide of modern slavery

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A vulnerable adult who was being exploited by drug dealers was put into a safe house thanks to Nottinghamshire multi-agency forum tackling modern day slavery.

Robert (not his real name), was struggling with substance misuse and mental health, had lost control of his Nottingham home to criminals who used it as a base for drug dealing and antisocial behaviour.

This type of exploitation – known as cuckooing – is currently the most common form of exploitation in Nottingham, with 57 cases reported to the city’s Slavery Exploitation Team in the 12 months to July 2022.

Overall cases of slavery or exploitation have almost doubled in the last year – with an average of 21 cases a month referred to the team so far in 2022, compared to 12 a month in 2021.

This is believed to be a sign that Nottingham’s response to the issue is getting better, with more reporting and more people being rescued from a life of servitude.

Officers from the Slavery Exploitation Team work to identify and tackle exploitation, modern slavery, and trafficking.

Their ability was strengthened in May 2019 when they established the Slavery Exploitation Risk Assessment Conference (SERAC) – bringing together partner agencies such as Nottingham City Council and Nottinghamshire Police to share information, risk assess and manage these potential victims in a multi-agency forum.

The Slavery Exploitation Team and the SERAC are jointly funded by the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner for Nottinghamshire and Nottingham City Council to ensure victims are supported and potential future cases are minimised. The OPCC is today highlighting this work as part of national Anti-Slavery Week.

In the case of Robert this partnership approach meant the tell-tale signs of exploitation were spotted quicker and he was offered help from a network of safeguarding agencies.

Robert was already known to a number of local statutory services so when suspicions were reported, the team was able to gather further information by speaking with these agencies.

It became apparent that there had been repeated unlawful use of his identity as his property had been used as a bail address by criminal suspects on several occasions. He had also sustained several injuries.

The case was taken to the SERAC, where the most appropriate advocate was identified to manage the case.

A way to gain entry to the property was established through a local authority housing team.

As a result of this intervention, Robert left the address with specially trained officers and was taken to a safehouse where he has access rehabilitation for his substance use.

A closure order was then placed on the property to prevent further anti-social behaviour. 

Robert now has the correct support in place, is no longer using substances and has since got a job.

Jane Paling, Slavery Exploitation Team Manager, said: “There are so many factors that contribute to slavery and exploitation and survivors don’t always identify as being victim to these sorts of crimes.

“Complexities such as substance misuse are often used to control survivors and can cloud the picture the outside world sees. Many issues can make a person more vulnerable to exploitation; there is an alarming intersection with mental health, disabilities, isolation and an unsettled family environment.

“Key to identification, intervention and safeguarding is a multi-agency approach; here in Nottingham we are fortunate to have many statutory and non-government partners dedicated to working together to tackle these abhorrent crimes.”

Cllr Neghat Khan, Nottingham City Council’s Portfolio Holder for Neighbourhoods, Safety & Inclusion, said: “Modern slavery, trafficking and exploitation can affect anyone - survivors might be tricked, forced or coerced and are often hidden in plain sight.

“In Nottingham we are committed to tackling this form of criminality and the multi-agency SERAC partnership works to identify hidden cases, support survivors and prevent further harm. Nottingham City Council has a dedicated team to co-ordinate the partnership, educate professionals and manage cases where there are identified indicators.

“This approach, increasing resilience against slavery and exploitation, includes multiple partners from statutory, private and voluntary sectors who share the objective of making Nottingham slavery-free.”

A total of 571 vulnerabilities have been identified in these cases between July 2021-July 2022, and the most common where unemployment, homelessness, substance use and mental health.

The Slavery Exploitation Team partnered up with the Rights Lab at the University of Nottingham to research the correlation between the different types of vulnerabilities and the likelihood of exploitation as a direct consequence.

Alison Gardner, Rights Lab Associate Director, said: “‘This multi-agency approach to identifying and intervening in cases of exploitation is recognised as leading-edge practice, nationally. 

“The work of the SERAC is helping us to understand how exploitation manifests in the UK and to develop better policy and practice recommendations to address it.”

Nottinghamshire Police and Crime Commissioner Caroline Henry is extremely passionate about reducing hidden harm issues such as modern slavery within Nottinghamshire.

The Commissioner is responsible for commissioning services around the county to support the objectives of the Make Notts Safe plan.

These include responding efficiently and effectively to local need, preventing crime and supporting victims and survivors.

Commissioner Henry said: “I will continue to work with partners to identify gaps in our response and ensure that we react to areas of improvement swiftly and efficiently.

“We all know that the statistics regarding modern slavery only represent a fraction of the exploitation that takes place, that is why I want to ensure that as many people as possible, public and professional, know what to look for when spotting the signs.”

Indicators that a person may be a victim of modern slavery include:

•           Appearing to be under the control of someone else and reluctant to interact with others.

•           Not having personal identification on them.

•           Having few personal belongings, wearing the same clothes every day or wearing unsuitable clothes for work.

•           Not being able to move around freely.

•           Being accompanied to appointments.

•           Being reluctant to talk to strangers or the authorities or appearing aggressive.

•           Appearing frightened, withdrawn, or show signs of physical or psychological abuse.

•           Dropped off and collected for work always in the same way, especially at unusual times, i.e., very early or late at night.

If you have concerns about someone who may be being exploited in your neighbourhood, please call Nottinghamshire Police on 101, or call the Modern Slavery Helpline on 0800 0121 700 or report it online.

Posted on Wednesday 19th October 2022
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