Force joins partners on two-week modern slavery crackdown
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Our officers have stopped dozens of lorries, visited nail bars across the county and rescued suspected victims of human trafficking for sexual exploitation in a fortnight of action to tackle modern slavery.
Over the past couple of weeks, Bedfordshire Police has been working with its partners on a variety of different proactive operations aimed at combatting all types of exploitation linked to organised crime, such as modern slavery, human trafficking and organised immigration crime.
The force has carried out days of action under Operation Aidant, a national initiative led by the National Crime Agency (NCA) and the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA) to tackle these types of crime, as well as raising awareness on what to look out for and identifying potential victims.
As part of an ongoing crackdown on organised immigration crime and human trafficking, more than 60 lorries were stopped as part of two separate days of action at Toddington Services on the M1 on Tuesday 22 March and Tuesday 5 April.
Working with the NCA, Immigration Enforcement and Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency, the focus was to search for and safeguard vulnerable people who may have been trafficked into the UK for the purpose of labour exploitation.
This location has been identified as a place that is used by human traffickers to collect people who have been smuggled into the country in the back of lorries.
Officers also teamed up with the GLAA for two separate days of action on Wednesday 23 March and Friday 1 April visiting nail bars in Bedford, Biggleswade, Luton and Dunstable.
They engaged with the owners or managers, as well as speaking to staff to identify if they were any concerns, which resulted in one teenage girl being safeguarded.
Labour exploitation is one of the most frequently reported exploitation types for adults.
People can be trafficked into or around the UK to carry out manual work. Their passports may be confiscated, and they may be made to live in poor conditions.
This type of exploitation is common in businesses used by the public, such as nail bars or car washes, where customers may have interactions with victims without even realising it.
Human traffickers also exploit victims in the sex industry because the demand for sexual services means they can generate vast criminal profits.
Last week also saw Bedfordshire Police take part in a major international law enforcement operation targeting suspected criminals involved in trafficking women from Romania into the UK for work in the sex industry.
Officers worked alongside European policing colleagues and several safeguarding charities to carry out warrants at seven addresses in Luton and 11 in Romania in relation to an extensive, intelligence-led investigation into an organised crime group.
Ten men aged in their 20s and 30s were arrested in Luton on suspicion of conspiracy to traffic for the purpose of sexual exploitation and paying for sexual services of someone subjected to force. A further four were apprehended in Romania.
Four women suspected to have been trafficked to the UK were safeguarded and supported by specially trained officers and partners from the charities Justice and Care, Azalea and International Justice Mission.
Police in Bedfordshire have seen issues particularly around the sexual exploitation of women from Eastern European and Far East countries such as Hungary, Romania, China and Vietnam.
Detective Inspector Katie Dounias said: “Modern slavery, human trafficking and the exploitation of vulnerable people is happening everywhere, including our own county, but it is very much a hidden crime.
“The victims themselves are often vulnerable people, who may have been living rough, or are looking for a better life after fleeing persecution or war in their own countries. They are tricked or threatened into work and may feel unable to leave or report the crime through fear or intimidation.
“Tackling this is everyone’s business and we all have a duty to be vigilant in spotting the signs. This is why operations, such as Aidant, are good for raising awareness about what to look out for, as well as safeguarding those vulnerable victims and identifying those exploiting them.
“Our officers are doing a great job in investigating and uncovering these types of crimes, but we also need members of the public to speak out and report any suspicions they may have.
“It takes a lot of courage for a victim to come forward, as they may be the subject of psychological and physical abuse, and some may not even realise that they are victims at all.
“We are working closely with partner organisations to tackle this issue and carrying out regular visits to businesses and larger operations, but everyone can help us combat modern slavery by knowing what signs to look out for and reporting any suspicions.”