We’ve taken part in a multi-agency operation organised by the National Crime Agency aimed at targeting criminals involved in trafficking people for the purpose of sexual exploitation.
Operation Perceptional, the UK element of an EU-wide series of Joint Action Days, ran from Monday 10 October until Friday 21 October, incorporating UK Anti-Slavery Day on Tuesday 18 October.
The response in the South West involved the region’s five forces, Zephyr – the South West Regional Organised Crime Unit, as well as partner agencies.
During Operation Perceptional, in the Avon and Somerset Police area we’ve:
*Arrested two men – aged 29 and 26 – in Redcliffe, Bristol, on suspicion of controlling prostitution for gain. The 26-year-old has also been arrested on suspicion of assault and a human trafficking offence. Both are on bail until 18 December.
*Carried out a welfare check at a massage parlour in Weston-super-Mare. A further check is due to be carried out in Bridgwater later this week.
*Visited a residential brothel in east Bristol to gather intelligence and carry out welfare checks on people working there. One woman was detained in for immigration offences.
*Enquiries are also ongoing into a modern slavery and trafficking investigation in Bristol, in which four men were arrested at the end of last month. The men were arrested for offences including keeping a brothel, controlling prostitution for gain, human trafficking and money laundering. All four men have been released on bail while enquiries continue.
Ch Insp Mark Edgington, Force lead for modern slavery and human trafficking for Avon and Somerset Police, said: “This was a co-ordinated operation led by the NCA to target and counteract the threat posed by criminals who deliberately traffic vulnerable people into the UK for sexual exploitation.
“Tackling this grotesque and highly exploitative crime is a priority for us and we’re doing all we can to shine a light on what remains a hidden crime.
“We’ve been carrying out a range of welfare and intelligence gathering checks to ensure we get a full picture of the threat this crime type poses in our Force area. This is a continually evolving process.
“We’re fortunate to be part of a multi-agency Anti-Slavery Partnership which sees a number of statutory and charitable organisations working together to make it easier for victims to be identified and supported, and for criminals to be caught and brought to justice.
“But we still need the eyes and ears of the public to help support our fight against the traffickers and modern slavery offenders. These offences are happening today in our neighbourhoods, communities, towns and cities and we all have to do more to recognise the signs which could identify victims or someone at risk.”
Police and Crime Commissioner Sue Mountstevens said: “Modern slavery is a hidden crime, rarely talked about and for many a crime difficult to imagine that in this day and age still exists. Let me be clear, modern slavery and human trafficking does exist, is happening on a daily basis and we can all do more to spot the signs.
“This multi-agency work is so important in disrupting modern slavery activity and supporting victims. It’s only by working together, with the commitment and continued efforts of the NCA, the police, local support services and wider partners that we can put an end to this crime.
“This week I was delighted to announce continued funding for the charity Unseen UK, who support victims of modern slavery, and who are a vital part of operations like this week’s Operation Perceptional. By working together we can be a louder voice for all those who are trafficked and exploited.”
Kate Garbers, managing director of charity Unseen, said: “We’re again pleased to be supporting Avon and Somerset Police’s efforts in identifying potential victims of slavery as part of Operation Perceptional and our staff have accompanied officers on a range of visits this week.
“We know this is an issue and crime that the Force and the Police and Crime Commissioner take seriously and the determination to correctly support survivors and prosecute perpetrators is echoed across all forces in the South West.
“Unseen launched the UK Modern Slavery Helpline this week. If you’re concerned for someone or are experiencing slavery please call 08000 121 700 for confidential advice or support.”
To find out more about this crime type, who is affected by it and how to spot the signs and report offences, visit www.modernslavery.co.uk
Information can also be passed anonymously to the independent charity Crimestoppers, by calling 0800 555 111 or reporting online at www.crimestoppers-uk.org
Posted on Monday 24th October 2016