Police response to modern slavery victims hinders prosecution of traffickers

~UK’s first ever modern slavery focused police super-complaint submitted~

Read the full report

Monday 25 March 2019:

Modern Slavery charity Hestia is submitting the first super-complaint on modern slavery to Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS), highlighting that police failings when interviewing victims of modern slavery are hindering the prosecution of traffickers and exploiters. In 2018, there was a staggering 250% increase in modern slavery operations by police forces yet only 7% of recorded cases were referred to the Crown Prosecution Service.

The report, Underground Lives: Police response to victims of modern slavery, reveals that frontline officers vary in their capacity to sensitively interview and support potential victims of modern slavery after escaping abuse. A lack of understanding of modern slavery and the needs of vulnerable victims by the police discourages victims from supporting investigations against exploiters and traffickers. Some frontline police officers continue to fail in their duty to report modern slavery to the Home Office despite HMICFRS finding high level inconsistency in police response to modern slavery across forces in 2017. Poor practice during police interviews can cause further distress to already traumatised people.

Good practice in responding to victims of modern slavery does exist in many forces, yet frontline officers continue to display low levels of awareness of modern slavery. In the most part police officers receive minimal training as students and are ill-prepared to sensitively manage interviews that will lead to collaboration with victims and therefore successful prosecutions of traffickers and exploiters. Hestia submitted a Freedom of Information request to all England police forces on their training requirements for modern slavery. Only 29 out of 39 police forces responded and only two forces included training on modern slavery as part of their continuous development.

Patrick Ryan, CEO of Hestia said:  

“When a victim of modern slavery is met with disbelief instead of support, prosecution levels of exploiters remain exceptionally low, allowing criminals to stay active on our streets and victimise more vulnerable people. Frontline police officers need support and training so that victims have the confidence to cooperate and support prosecutions. Without survivors’ voices there are no convictions.”    

Nigerian victim of modern slavery escaping from sexual exploitation, on reporting her exploitation to the police, said:

“He questioned everything I told him […] He even questioned why I spoke English. […]He then started searching me. He emptied my bag and took out every item. He made me empty out my pockets and take off my shoes. It was so traumatising I cannot remember it all. He said he’d throw me out if I didn’t tell the truth. He shouted at me to speak up. When I asked him to slow down because I didn’t understand him, he accused me of insulting him. […] I didn’t want to complain after that, I didn’t want anything to do with the police. That’s why I didn’t report my case (refused to support police investigations).”


Report available here.

Notes to editor:

Hestia’s support for victims of modern slavery:

Since 2011 Hestia has supported over 3,300 victims of modern slavery and their dependents. Currently, Hestia provides 6 safe houses in London and Kent, as well as a pan-London outreach service working in every London borough. In 2019, we expect that number to reach 1,600 adults and 500 dependent children. We work closely with The Salvation Army to deliver support to victims who have been referred into the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) and who have chosen to be supported by the Home Office funded Victim Care Contract. In 2018, Hestia also launched the Phoenix Project in partnership with the British Red Cross to provide volunteer-led, long-term support to victims of modern slavery.

About Hestia

At Hestia, we support adults and children across London in times of crisis. Last year we worked with more than 9,000 people, including victims of modern slavery, women and children who have experienced domestic abuse, young care leavers and older people. From giving someone a home to helping them to get the right mental health support, we support and enable people at the moment of crisis.

Hestia is also the home of UK SAYS NO MORE, a national campaign to raise awareness of domestic abuse and sexual violence across the UK.