The scourge of modern day slavery and it’s happening here, and now, in Cambridgeshire but practical help is helping says new report

Modern slavery helpline: Campaign across Cambridgeshire launched in bid to bring to an end instances

Modern slavery helpline: Campaign across Cambridgeshire launched in bid to bring to an end instances of modern day slavery. The campaign will encourage reporting of concerns. Picture; GOVERNMENT - Credit: Archant

The reality of life for those who fall victim to modern day slavery is revealed in a report out today that shows how widespread the problem has become in Cambridgeshire.

In 2017/18 - the most recent year figures are available - a total of 252 victims accessed support through victim and witness care co-ordinators.

The specialist team, funded by police and crime commissioner Jason Ablewhite, includes one post that is job-shared between by a Lithuanian and a Romanian-speaking member of staff.

DCI Alan Page, the force's tactical lead for modern slavery and human trafficking, said: "Tackling modern slavery is a force priority and while we're working hard to address it, we can't do it alone.

"Increasing information in modern day slavery and human trafficking is key to protecting the vulnerable.

"Slavery still exists in Cambridgeshire and it's important that people are aware of the signs of modern slavery and human trafficking, and report any concerns to us."

Mr Ablewhite said: "We all have a part to play in stopping this exploitation from happening. By reporting suspicions you could be saving lives."

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One of those lives saved by the victim support team is Peter (not his real name) who came to the UK from Lithuanian after being promised work and accommodation.

Once here, however, he had his passport taken. A bank account was opened in his name without him having access. He was made to work long hours but only allowed a small amount of money per week from his wages.

If he wanted to leave the house he had to tell the exploiters exactly where he was going and what he was doing, and if he didn't, he would be beaten up.

He managed to jump onto a random bus, which happened to be going to Peterborough.

Once there, he slept rough until the victim care coordinators became aware of him. He was put up in a hotel and provided with clothes and toiletries. The team was able to deal with the bank on his behalf and get to his last wage before it was taken by the exploiters.

"When he came into contact with us, he was completely broken and kept saying that he had nothing left to live for," said care coordinator, Alina Jablonske.

"The beatings that he was subjected to were humiliating and the loss of freedom affected him so much that it was too much for him to deal with."

'Peter' has now chosen to go back home.

Alina said: "We arranged his travel and stayed with him until he got on the plane. "Once back in Lithuania, he told me that the fact he was able to have support from a Lithuanian speaker helped build his confidence and restore his faith."

Victims of human trafficking or modern slavery often show signs of physical or psychological abuse, fear of authorities, and carry out irregular activity at homes or addresses. They often have poor living conditions and work long hours for little or no pay.

Mr Ablewhite said: "Victim care coordinators join police officers and multi-agency colleagues on police operations and checks on houses of multiple occupancy (HMOs). "Their input has changed the way these visits are approached; treating people as victims first, not criminals, educating them of their rights and supporting them to seek help."

He added: "Support offered includes liaison between agencies and service providers and/or signposting or referral to locally commissioned services. It can also include housing or financial management and support to return to victims home countries."