Eastern European prostitutes at a hotel and underage children working at a nail bar are just two examples of modern slavery taking place in North Devon.
The message to local businesses and organisations at a briefing yesterday (Monday) was to be vigilant, because modern slavery such as forced labour on farms and building sites, domestic servitude and sexual exploitation could be happening right under their noses in ‘sleepy North Devon’.
The briefing was organised by North Devon and Torridge Community safety Partnership and held at Barnstaple Hotel, with a second briefing in Bideford today (Tuesday).
It is estimated there are 35.8million people in slavery across the globe, with as many as 13,000 victims in the UK and quite possibly many more.
In 2017 there were 40 cases of modern slavery reported in Devon and Cornwall. Nineteen of those victims were under 18-years-old.
Local examples included reports to police of eastern European prostitutes operating from a hotel in the North Devon area in 2016.
Police discovered from the hotel that around five eastern European girls would stay there every month, for three nights at a time.
A Polish woman told police she came to the UK for three weeks and often travelled down to North Devon with others.
Police have since worked with the hotel to put a rigorous system of checks in place and that appears to have stopped the trade.
Meanwhile, towards the end of last year, two 14-year-old Vietnamese girls were rescued from a North Devon nail bar where it appeared they were working as forced labour. That case is still ongoing.
Inspector Earl Napier said: “Modern slavery is a hidden crime, yet it occurs in plain sight and is often under unreported.
“It is not something that happens somewhere else, sadly it happens in Devon and Cornwall and in our towns in North Devon.
“It can affect people of all nationalities, ages, creeds or colours.
“If you ever see or hear something that does not feel right, please don’t look the other way – it could be something, it could be nothing, but we would rather hear about it.
“It could just be that bit of information you give may save somebody or remove them from a life of exploitation.”
If anyone suspects someone may be exploited, or modern slavery or human trafficking is taking place, report it to police by calling 999 if it is happening right then, 101 if non-urgent or anonymously via Crimestoppers on 0800 555111. Find out more about what to look for at www.modernslaveryhelpline.org or call the helpline on 08000 121 700.