Arrests made by police in several London boroughs have shone a light on the ongoing existence of modern slavery in London.
This morning (Tuesday, February 23), officers from the Met Police conducted six separate raids across the capital, including in Croydon.
Two people, a 25-year-old man and a 24-year-old woman, were arrested in the raids on suspicion of “controlling prostitution for gain and to conceal/disguise/convert/transfer/remove criminal property”.
The man was also arrested on suspicion of arranging or facilitating travel of another person with a view to exploitation, police said.
It is alleged the pair are involved in “an organised crime group, which is active in running brothels”, a spokesperson for the Met added.
During the raids, several people were meanwhile identified as potential victims of human trafficking, and have since been “safeguarded” with the help of the authorities.
The action exposes the persistence of conditions of slavery in London and across the UK, almost 200 years after its official abolition in 1833.
The number of slavery victims in London alone is thought to have risen “ten fold in five years” according to a report out last year.
Newsquest South London spoke previously with modern slavery expert Jakub Sobik from Anti-Slavery International.
He said that the scale of modern slavery in the UK was “in the tens of thousands”, referencing the National Crime Agency.
“In 2013 the UK government estimated there were around 13,000 people are in modern slavery at any time.
“But that was several years ago and there is a wide understanding that the numbers are much higher,” he said.
The scale of modern slavery is difficult to know precisely, largely because of its underground nature.
Its form in 21st Century Britain is clearer.
“It’s when a person is tricked, trapped and exploited for commercial or personal gain. People find ways of keeping people trapped and making sure they cannot leave,” Mr Sobik said.
“It could be done by violence, threats, abusing positions of power. Debt is quite often involved as a means of control.
“Forced labour is the most widespread form of slavery in the UK and that includes industries such as agriculture, construction, services like car washes.
“It could also be domestic slavery, sex slavery or the so-called county lines drug trafficking, where teenagers are often exploited,” Mr Sobik added.
The slavery expert pointed out that slavery’s clandestine nature in today’s society makes it all the more challenging to combat.
“Because modern slavery is underground and that makes it much more difficult to tackle.
“Poverty and discrimination are involved. For example, migrants coming to the UK and working illegally without a network of support are easy targets who can be taken advantage of.
“Especially if they know that coming forward to the authorities means they will be criminalized for working illegally and for their immigration — that plays into the hands of traffickers,” he said.
“Victims are being treated as criminals way too often and not being given the support they need.”
For more information about modern slavery, click here, or if needed call the Modern Slavery Helpline anonymously on 08000 121 700.