Statement from Hestia: HMICFRS's report on police response to victims of modern slavery

In the UK it is estimated that as many as 100,000 adults and children are being exploited for modern slavery, yet the number of prosecutions remains low. While modern slavery is a complex issue, in many cases victims are misunderstood and failed by police - often treated as criminals themselves.

Our evidence shows that a lack of understanding among police means that victims often do not get the support they deserve and feel unable to engage with police investigations. As a result, traffickers are continuing to exploit vulnerable members of our society, yet their brutal crimes remain hidden. This has to stop.

Hestia welcomes today’s report from HMICFRS which acknowledges that police forces and frontline police officers can and must do better to respond to the needs of victims of modern slavery. The report responds to Hestia’s 2019 super-complaint on modern slavery, which highlighted police failings in supporting victims which often directly leads to a failure to successfully prosecute traffickers and exploiters. 

The report outlines clear improvements in how the police respond to modern slavery since HMICFRS’s modern slavery inspection in 2017, including the identification of victims and the provision of training for specialist officers. However, these improvements were in place 2019 when Hestia’s super-complaint was submitted.

Over the past year, Hestia has been clear that the COVID-19 pandemic will not deter traffickers from targeting and exploiting vulnerable victims. As we begin to recover from this national crisis, it is critical that the pace of change on this issue within police forces increases, so we can ensure that those entrapped by exploiters during the pandemic do not fall through the gaps. 

While we are pleased that this report acknowledges that the police response to modern slavery is inconsistent, and recognises the need to better understand victims’ experiences, we are disappointed that it failed to hear directly from victims about their experiences with the police. We staunchly believe that the voice of victims sits at the heart of improving how the police respond to modern slavery. Without these voices, there is a limit to how effective any changes can be.

Modern slavery investigations are complex and police resources are limited. However, victims cannot bear the brunt of this. Alongside the measures outlined in this report, we need to see:

  • Clear accountability, including an outline of where the responsibility sits for ensuring consistent progress across all police forces
  • A commitment to ensuring the voices and experiences of victims are systematically gathered and reflected on to improve police response
  • Rapid rollout of new provisions, such as the ‘Places of Safety scheme’, which would provide victims with short term accommodation while they decide whether to enter the National Referral Mechanism (NRM), as opposed to having to stay at a police station

  • Consistent and ongoing training across all police forces with a victim-focussed approach

  • Monitored outcomes, highlighting correlations between improved police response to victims and increased prosecutions and convictions of perpetrators

It is clear from our super-complaint and from HMICFRS’s subsequent report that police forces have further to go in ensuring victims of modern slavery feel safe and supported by the police.

Many victims still feel unsupported and unable to engage with the police, leaving traffickers free to continue their system of exploitation. This must change. 

We look forward to working with the Home Office, Chief Constables, the Crown Prosecution Service, the College of Policing and the Independent Office for Police Conduct to continue to improve understanding, training and practise, so that victims of modern slavery can be listened to, believed and supported to a life beyond crisis. 

Patrick Ryan

Chief Executive, Hestia