On Monday, July 31 2017, police arrested four people on suspicion of human trafficking and slavery offences following a raid of a Southmead nail bar.
They acted on a tip-off from a member of the public, who raised concerns about a woman’s welfare. Officers found the victim inside the property and took her to a place of safety.
The case highlighted a crime that remains largely hidden from society. But in reality, this was just the tip of the iceberg.
Ellis Williams from Bristol-based charity Unchosen says that most people will come within close proximity to modern day slavery in their daily lives, yet as a practise that operates in the shadows, few have any idea of just how prevalent an issue it is.
The National Crime Agency estimates the numbers of victims of modern slavery in the UK to be in the tens of thousands, yet the real figures are unknown due to the hidden nature of the crime.
Unchosen uses the power of film to raise awareness of modern slavery and launched a prevention project, Stay Safe from Slavery, in August, targeting some of the most vulnerable groups in a bid to stop the crime before it takes place.
“It’s all about raising awareness within our communities, because currently it’s hidden within them,” says Williams.
There were 3,805 victims of modern slavery referred to the National Referral Mechanism (NRM), a framework for identifying victims of human trafficking, in 2016 and there is a reported year on year increase, with the number of cases doubled over the last four years. 29 referrals were made within the Avon and Somerset area.
The biggest increase is in the sexual exploitation of UK children – up 104 per cent from 2015.
Williams says that shocking as the figures are, they do not tell the full story and while the actual numbers are unknown, it is predicted that there are actually more people in slavery now than when the practise was legal.
“It is not something covered much in the media,” he continues. “People like NHS staff and other frontline workers especially are likely to come into contact with it, yet even some of these people do not understand what modern day slavery is. This is something that is hidden right next to your home.
“Forced labour and sexual exploitation are the two biggest in this country.”
Unchosen, in partnership with other agencies, is focusing on three particularly vulnerable groups – homeless people, young people in care and care leavers and refugees and asylum seekers – in its prevention project and will host awareness raising events across the South West.
From its Easton HQ, the charity is also running a short film competition and is seeking filmmakers willing to challenge the global issue of modern slavery and raise awareness through the power of the big screen.
Open to any film made about the issue of modern slavery since August 2014, the competition is a chance to spread the word, make a difference and tap into creative talent.
All shortlisted entries will be invited to a high-profile awards evening in early 2018, the chance to have the film promoted on a wider scale and winning pieces will receive prizes and be used in Unchosen’s work to combat slavery and exploitation.
Police urge anyone who suspects trafficking or slavery to call the non-emergency number on 101. More information can be found their website.
Alternatively, call Bristol-based charity Unseen’s Modern Slavery Helpline, which serves as a safe, 24-hour contact point, on 08000 121 700.