Modern slavery is far worse in the U.K. than previously estimated, according to the National Crime Agency (NCA), and the Church of England claims it is uniquely positioned to fight it.
Will Kerr, NCA vulnerabilities director, said at a Thursday press briefing that the previous estimates of victims in the U.K. numbering between 10,000 and 13,000 were merely “the tip of the iceberg,” according to BBC News. Three hundred active police operations are tracking slavery cases that affect “every large town and city in the country,” according to Kerr, who called on communities around the U.K. “to be our eyes and ears” when looking for signs of potential trafficking operations.
“It’s likely in the tens of thousands,” Kerr said. “The more we look for modern slavery the more we find evidence of the widespread abuse of the vulnerable. The growing body of evidence we are collecting points to the scale being far larger than anyone had previously thought.”
The Church of England said it was “uniquely placed to be those eyes and ears, and to spread this message further,” in response to Kerr’s call. Philippa Rowen, chaplain to the Bishop of Derby, echoed Kerr’s urge to action, and called on church communities throughout the U.K. to do their part in spotting and reporting potential cases of slavery, whether they be cases of forced labor or of sex trafficking.
“We need communities that have their eyes open, who are aware enough of their surroundings that they can say when something doesn’t look right,” Rowen said. “When the man cleaning their car has no safety equipment and looks underfed and tired. When their neighbor’s live-in nanny never seems to leave the house and is too frightened to talk to them. When the holiday let at the end of the road is being visited by different men all through the day and night.”
The Church of England will begin a three-year operation in October to train members of each diocese to spot and report signs of slavery in their communities, according to Rowen.
The definition of modern slavery encompasses “human trafficking, slavery, servitude and forced or compulsory labour, including sexual or criminal exploitation,” according to the NCA.
Kerr told those present at the briefing that gangs are the primary perpetrators of modern slavery in the U.K. In some cases, gangs make about $780 a day per woman they’ve forced into prostitution, according to Business Insider.
“A growing number of crime gangs have realized that, while you can sell drugs once and make a profit once from drugs, you can repeatedly exploit people including the most vulnerable and continue to make money from them on a regular basis,” Kerr said.
The number of reported victims in the UK in 2016 tripled since 2013, jumping from 1,745 to 3,805, according to an NCA report released March 29.
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