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From youths being groomed to deal drugs, to homeless people being promised a better life and instead exploited for cheap labour and vulnerable people being traded for sex, modern day slavery is being tackled across the county.
The Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner for Essex (PFCC) contributed £14,000 to Southend Against Modern Slavery Partnership (SAMS) from the 2020/2021 Community Safety Development Fund.
Rev Dan Pratt formed the partnership in May 2018 after working alongside homeless people being approached on the streets and exploited for labour.
He said: “Often, when they had gone with the perpetrators, it would turn into an abusive situation.
They were forced to work incredibly long hours, often doing building work or laying driveways, and paid very little or nothing at all. If they tried to leave, they were threatened, so these vulnerable individuals would stay.
“Some people we encountered had been exploited for months, others for years. It was not just one or two stories, it was multiple stories. The worst case was of someone being exploited for 20 years, which is horrific.”
The PFCC funds Dan’s role as anti-slavery co-ordinator which enabled the partnership to get off the ground and pioneer a community-based response to local forms of exploitation.
He said: “We are partnering with organisations to work towards a slavery free Southend. Local communities have local problems. Local solutions can help respond to these local problems.
“The antislavery partnership explores local assets; what people are already doing and how we can combine resources and energy to achieve the goal of being a slavery-free community. We hold quarterly meetings and have representatives from about 30 different organisations present.”
“We trained ten local community leader to deliver Spotting the Signs workshops in order to raise awareness, to look at the different forms of modern slavery, to be able to identify when it is happening and to be able to safeguard victims.”
The most common data from the police on modern slavery is the County Lines scenario where young people are groomed for the drug trade, while labour and sexual exploitation are the second and third most prevalent.
Dan said: “It is about financial gain for the perpetrator, whether that is making someone have sex with someone for money or forcing them to work for nothing. The bottom line is they are making money from exploitation. It is highly profitable as they can use the same person many, many times.”
The initiative in Southend has inspired similar work to get under way in Chelmsford.
The first meeting of Chelmsford Against Slavery Partnership (CASP) was held in October to map out the modern slavery response in the city.
While the issue is known to be a problem in the area, it is recognised that this is a hidden and under reported crime.
Karen Buttress, senior community safety officer for Chelmsford City Council, said: “The need for this work has always been there. The number of referrals received do not reflect what is going on in the county. The low numbers do not mean it isn’t happening.
“We ran a night of action in the city centre a couple of years ago and 70 per cent of the homeless people had been approached and offered work in return for drugs or little money.
“They were being given the promise of a better life. But, the reality is they work up a debt and are forced to commit crime in return for drugs and alcohol. They have their passports taken away, are forced to live in a room with six other people.
“People are surprised it is an issue in this area, so our work is about raising awareness in the general community.”
A stakeholder meeting with up to 40 local representatives confirmed there are policies and procedures in place for when modern slavery is reported, but more work is needed to raise awareness so people can spot the signs of exploitation taking place.
Karen said: “This is a two-pronged approach. Raising awareness and increasing confidence in reporting to enable us to build a clearer picture of the what is happening locally and ensuring vulnerable people are support and protected.
“It feels really positive to be able to do something to help. If we protect one or two vulnerable people, that is better than none at all.”
Roger Hirst, Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner for Essex, said: “Protecting children and vulnerable people from harm is one of the priorities in my Police and Crime Plan. Helping to raise awareness of modern day slavery is so important and I commend the work that is taking place here.
“Volunteers and communities are stepping up and really making a difference. They are changing people’s lives and protecting them from exploitation. It’s a great example of people looking out for each other.”
Contact the Modern Slavery Helpline via: modernslaveryhelpline.org
Contact Chelmsford Against Slavery Partnership on: [email protected]