In Brief

Modern slavery: Britons make up majority of UK trafficking victims for first time

More than 5,000 children are among the record number of victims reported last year, investigators warn

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According to a report from the National Crime Agency (NCA), a record-breaking number of potential victims of modern slavery and trafficking were reported in the UK last year. 

For the first time ever, British citizens were the largest group of cases, followed by Albanian and Vietnamese nationals.

The NCA says the increase in referrals is driven by greater awareness of the issue.

The uptick in the reporting of modern slavery is “to be welcomed”, says NCA director Will Kerr. But the figures “almost certainly represent an underestimate of the true scale of slavery and trafficking in the UK”.

The report found that forced labour accounted for nearly half of all referrals – 2,352 cases. In a third of cases (1,744), suspected sexual exploitation was cited.

Kerr says the rise of modern slavery is a “particular concern”. Traffickers have started using the internet to “lure their victims with hollow promises of jobs, education and even love”, says the BBC.

“We are now dealing with an evolving threat,” he says. “The criminals involved in these types of exploitation are going into online spaces, particularly adult services websites, to enable their criminality.”

More than 5,000 children were flagged up to the National Referral Mechanism, which identifies and supports potential slavery and trafficking victims. This number has nearly tripled from the 1,745 recorded in 2013 and the NCA believes these figures will continue to rise, says The Independent.

The agency believes the increase in child victims is in part due to the growth of a drug distribution model route, called “county lines”, on which city-based gangs use young people to move drugs like heroin and crack cocaine to rural and coastal areas.

Victoria Atkins, the Home Office minister for crime, safeguarding and vulnerability, says the government is “leading the world in our response to this horrendous crime”.

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