All four local authority areas play an important role in coordinating and developing activity which disrupts organised crime and exploitation. Across the region, we see common issues of child criminal exploitation, labour exploitation of adults and sexual exploitation of adults and children. These crimes are not unique to Humberside of course, but given our geographical location, access to a large port estate and good road links to elsewhere in the country we do experience an element of ‘transient exploitation’. We also import a large amount of county lines activity involving young people, some as young as nine years old, from larger cities such as Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham, and London being trafficked to Humberside to deal drugs. Our large port estate makes a tempting target for criminals who would traffic people into the UK for various forms of exploitation such as labour exploitation in food production and processing and sexual exploitation in pop-up brothels. Often many of these victims do not stay in the region long but are moved onwards to other areas of the country where they are further abused and exploited all while being hidden in plain sight.
The Humber region is home to just under one million people and accounts for 2% of England's population. While we do know the Humber region has a comparatively higher than (UK) average rate of deprivation and children living in low-income families, we do not know how much these factors, and other complex socio-economic factors, help create the ideal environment in which modern slavery can exist and proliferate. What we do know is that children and young people do not self-identify as victims until after they have been removed from an exploitative situation. We also know that vulnerable adults trapped in labour exploitation do not disclose their abuse or try to escape because they either feel that their exploitative situation is better than their previous life, or in overseas trafficking cases, they fear their insecure immigration status may result in their imprisonment, or worse, their removal from the UK. What is also clear is that violence and threats of violence against victims and their families is a common, almost unilateral, control method for exploiters to gain and keep control over their victims. Exploiters and criminal gangs actively ensure that the balance of power is tilted firmly in their favour to maintain dominance over those they exploit for profit. This could be by restricting their victims’ movements, physically or otherwise. Often the removal of ID documents and passports is enough to keep people trapped in a country where they often do not speak the native language and are unaware of their rights and entitlements. Mistreatment, malnutrition, violence, and even spiritual and religious abuse are common methods of control, coercion, and entrapment. The most useful and profitable victim is undoubtedly a victim who lives in constant fear for their own or their family’s safety.
Modern slavery is a complex and multi-faceted crime that is difficult to detect and even harder to prosecute. Victims certainly do not always get the support they require, and many perpetrators never see their day in court. As my colleague Dr Alicia Heys demonstrated in an earlier blog in 2023, conviction rates for modern slavery offences are woefully low in the UK. In 2020, the National Crime Agency estimated there to be at least 6,000-8,000 offenders involved in modern slavery that year. Yet in the same year, there were just 91 prosecutions and 56 convictions.
Helping communities become more informed and resilient is a key component of the work of the Wilberforce Institute and the Humber Modern Slavery Partnership.