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Report shows the true extent of modern slavery in the Thames Valley

Report released on the eve of International Day for the Abolition of Slavery by the Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) shows that Modern Slavery is more prevalent in the Thames Valley than previous estimates suggested.

The report, which was commissioned by the PCC, Anthony Stansfeld, and undertaken by Dr Nadia Wager and Angel Wager from the University of Huddersfield, presents findings of an evaluation of a new service to identify and support victims.

The Thames Valley Independent Trauma Advisory (ITA) pilot project was initially funded by the PCC in 2014 to work with victims of Modern Slavery and exploitation and assist them to access support, ensure their safety and help them recover from their experience. The PCC was then able to secure match funding from the Home Office to further develop and evaluate the model for another two years from 2015 to 2017. The evaluation of this project has informed the Office of the PCC and partners about the nature of Modern Slavery in the Thames Valley including how prevalent it is. 

Currently, the most conservative estimate of Modern Slavery are based on criminal justice figures which suggest that in the year 2016 there were around 533 Modern Slavery victims in the Thames Valley region.  However, the latest evaluation used data from support services and estimated the actual number to be considerably higher at around 2,500 victims in 2016.

Over the course of the two-year pilot, the ITA project supported 145 victims.  The number of victims referred to the service increased over the period and many victims experienced more than one form of exploitation. Many of the perpetrators identified were lone individuals or couples, for example ‘friends’, private landlords and family members, and few cases involved gangs or criminals involved in drug-dealing and violence.

Contrary to the common perception that most victims are trafficked from outside the UK the new findings from the evaluation show that over 50% of victims referred to the service were UK citizens.  The evaluation concluded that trafficking is just one process that perpetrators of modern day slavery might use, rather than defining the experience of all victims.  It is important to address mistaken perceptions about Modern Slavery so that signs are not overlooked and vulnerable people are left at risk.

The need to support these individuals can’t be underestimated, to both ensure that they rescued from and recover from their experience but also to produce savings for the public purse. Calculations based on the cost of the ITA service compared to the costs to society of each person have shown that for every £1 spent £3.35 could be saved from the public purse.

The PCC is currently reviewing all the support services available for victims of crime, and he is increasing the funding available to support vulnerable victims and those with more complex needs, including victims who have been subject to Modern Slavery or other forms of exploitation. On top of this the PCC also recently started funding a Modern Slavery Coordinator for the Thames Valley. The Coordinator will be liaising with external partners to ensure that their work is coordinated with the internal operational work of Thames Valley Police.

A number of the recommended next steps include raising public awareness and this work is already underway with Thames Valley Police recently launching their Hidden Harm campaign with the first phase focused on Modern Slavery.

Police and Crime Commissioner for Thames Valley, Anthony Stansfeld, said:

“Although slavery is far from a new crime, national attention over the last few years has highlighted that slavery is still prevalent across the UK and is happening within the Thames Valley. This report has highlighted the extent of Modern Slavery in the area and gives us a better picture of both the victims and perpetrators of this crime and the potential number of victims.

“We know there are likely to be more victims of modern slavery in the Thames Valley and it is important we continue to raise awareness of the issue to both identify victims and effectively tackle this awful crime.

“There are many mistaken perceptions about Modern Slavery and it is crucial that the public are aware that anyone can be a victim of Modern Slavery and as the evidence has shown in this report many victims are actually from the UK.

“The perpetrators of this horrific crime often target the most vulnerable in our society, especially those who struggle to or who are unable to speak up for themselves. It is important to note that the perpetrators aren’t always organised crime groups and in fact can often be individuals and couples including ‘friends’ of the victim.

“I have been funding support for victims of Modern Slavery for a number of years now and continuing to provide assistance still remains a priority. I am currently re-designing my support to victims of crime and I will be increasing the funding available to support vulnerable victims and those with more complex needs, including victims who have been subject to Modern Slavery or other forms of exploitation.

“I am also funding a Modern Slavery Coordinator for the Thames Valley who will be working with external partners to ensure that their work is coordinated with the internal operational work of Thames Valley Police.

“It is crucial that the public are aware of what Modern Slavery is and the signs that someone may be a victim and I would encourage anyone who suspects that modern slavery is happening to report it to the police or the modern slavery helpline.

“Victims in the Thames Valley can access support by visiting or nationally by calling the National Modern Slavery Helpline on 08000 121 700.”

A Victim of Modern Slavery said: “I don’t know why I was exploited, I was married and then taken away. There was no reason for it apart from money. It is always money. Selling girls for drugs or money.

“It was a very traumatic experience, not just the 18 months I was held captive, but for what followed as well. It’s an experience that I don’t want to have to remember, or recount. It wasn’t just sexual abuse, but it was emotional and physical as well.

“I was trafficked from my country to the UK, where I escaped. All I wanted was a friendly face when I fled; someone that I could trust, but trust isn’t something that comes easily to me. In my country everyone is corrupt, even the police, and all I wanted was someone I could talk with.

“I only spoke up when I had to go to the GP, which was then when I found out I was pregnant. The GP referred me on to the Independent Trauma Advisory (ITA) service who were a great support to me. They were there for me every day, supporting me emotionally and physically with practical things. I was too afraid to speak to anyone else. The ITA service showed me the correct people I needed to talk to, to get my life back together. They were with me at every appointment and spoke for me when I couldn’t. There are a lot of services that got involved, but the ITA service were, and still are, my constant.

“I am now free from the sexual and physical abuse, but the psychological and emotional abuse is still ongoing. I’ve had great support from the psychologists I was referred to, and with them I feel that I can start to overcome this trauma.

“It’s so important for people to recognise the signs of Modern Slavery, these victims are brainwashed to keep quiet and threatened that themselves, their family or friends, will be hurt if they speak to anyone about it. I looked for a friendly and welcoming face to talk to, and I was lucky that my GP was that person, and knew what to do with the information I gave to her and who to get in touch with to support me. Because of this, I can now begin to build a new life with my daughter.”



The case study below shows another example of the type of Modern Slavery happening in the Thames Valley and across the country:

L was referred to the Independent Trauma Advisory (ITA) Service nearly a year ago as a victim of cuckooing.  The ITA Service first met L in her home, which had recently been vacated by drug dealers who had come down from London. 

L has been in a few abusive relationships. She often looked for love and company and it was through this, and her kindness, that she became vulnerable to people who wanted to exploit her.  A friend (“Q”) of L’s needed a place to stay for one night as he had missed his train back home, L kindly offered Q the sofa in her one-bed flat, and told him that it was only for one night.  He complied and did only stay for one night.  A week later, he returned giving the same story.

L allowed him to stay on the sofa again.  Q came back for a third time, this time with a friend of his, and the same story – they’d missed their train.  By this time, L had already let Q in a few times, and felt she couldn’t say no.  A pattern began emerging; Q kept bringing another friend to the flat, claiming the same story, then it was two friends with him.  Soon enough, he no longer came to the flat needing somewhere to stay, but the other friends did.  Bringing yet more people, people that L didn’t know and didn’t recognise. 

Before L realised, her flat had been overtaken with, who she soon found out, were drug dealers.  Instead of staying one night, these ‘friends’ were staying two nights, then three, eventually it was clear that they weren’t leaving.  They banished L to her room, not allowing her to come out unless they needed her to cook for them, or clean.  L’s flat keys were no longer hers.  Strangers had her keys, they were passed around to anyone that needed them, not only putting L in an even more vulnerable position, but also the other tenants of the building. 

L’s money was being taken as soon as she got it, putting her in to debt.  They demanded she shopped for food, with the amount of money they didn’t take, to feed them.  L became increasingly ill, withdrawn and scared.  Drugs were being dealt in her flat, with a large footfall of users coming to collect, making her home open and readily available to anyone.  Her personal space destroyed, along with her self-confidence.

It came to a head when one of the perpetrators was arrested with a knife on him.  It led back to L’s flat, and it was then that L reached out to the police and asked for help.  The ITA Service were contacted, and they immediately met with L at her flat with the police present.  When the ITA Service met L she seemed in good spirits, which they soon knew was a mask for the fear and terror she was feeling.  The police installed a panic button, and they carried out welfare checks 3 times a day.

The ITA Service started support with L straight away, knowing that although she had a lot of practical needs ‘checked off’, such as benefits and housing, she still needed a constant and trustworthy person in her life that she could lean on.  They set up activities for her, goals and aims, as well as helping her with appointments with social services, the police and doctors.  L started opening up to the ITA Service, and her mask was slowly being brought down so the service could continue to help her.



Editors Notes


The report can be found attached

The final reports can also be found by visiting  


What is Slavery?


Someone is in slavery if they are:

  • forced to work through mental or physical threat
  • owned or controlled by an 'employer', usually through mental or physical abuse or the threat of abuse
  • dehumanised, treated as a commodity or bought and sold as ‘property’
  • physically constrained or have restrictions placed on his/her freedom

Signs of Modern Slavery

Modern slavery could be happening in your community so it’s important you know the signs that could indicate someone is a victim of this crime.

The signs aren’t always obvious but there are some that you may notice: 

  • Appearance – do they look scruffy, malnourished or injured?
  • Behaviour – are they acting anxious, afraid or unable to make eye contact?
  • Work – are they doing long hours, wearing unsuitable clothing or have the wrong equipment for the job?
  • Accommodation – is where they are living overcrowded, poorly maintained or are the curtains always closed?
  • Movements – do they behave like they’re being instructed by someone else, picked up / dropped off at the same time and place every day or don’t have access to money or identification?


Report it

Communities have an important role to play in recognising abuse. If you recognise any of the above signs and suspect someone may be a victim of modern slavery, tell someone. You will always be taken seriously and protection and support is available.

To report a suspicion or seek advice you can contact the Modern Slavery Helpline confidentially on 08000 121 700. This is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

You can also call the police on 101 at any time to report an incident.

Should you wish to remain anonymous you can contact Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

Always dial 999 if there is a crime in action or immediate threat to life.