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RECORD numbers of British nationals are being flagged up as potential victims of slavery, a new report reveals today.
Last year, British children and adults made up for the first time the highest volume of cases passed to a scheme set up to identify who is at the mercy of slave drivers and traffickers.
A total of 819 people with British nationality were flagged up to the National Referral Mechanism (NRM), more than double the 326 in 2016.
The development was partly driven by a jump in referrals relating to children exploited by drug gangs using the “county lines” distribution model, National Crime Agency (NCA) investigators said.
This typically involves gangs from cities deploying children and teenagers to county or coastal towns to sell heroin and crack and move cash around.
There was a 66 per cent rise in minors being referred to the NRM as suspected victims of labour or sexual exploitation.
In total 5,145 names of potential victims of slavery or trafficking were submitted to the NRM last year, up 35 per cent on the previous year when there were 3,804 referrals.
NCA director Will Kerr said: “It is our assessment that the increase we are seeing here is driven by an increased awareness and greater reporting of modern slavery and that is to be welcomed.
“However, it also adds further evidence to our view that the figures almost certainly represent an underestimate of the true scale of slavery and trafficking in the UK.”
He warned that authorities are dealing with an “evolving threat” as criminals move into “online spaces” to enable their offending.
The NRM is a framework for identifying victims of human trafficking and modern slavery, such as those subjected to sexual exploitation, forced labour or domestic servitude.
Possible cases are referred by first response agencies to specialist units at the NCA or Home Office.
Not all the referred individuals are ultimately assessed to be modern slavery victims.
The analysis found 116 different nationalities represented among last year’s referrals, with Albanian and Vietnamese nationals the next most commonly reported potential victims after the British.
Suspected labour exploitation was the most frequently cited category, accounting for 2,352 cases — nearly half of all referrals.
Other reports were linked to suspected sexual exploitation (1,744) and domestic servitude (488).
Of the referrals logged last year, 1,595 — nearly a third — related to exploitation alleged to have happened overseas.
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