January 17, 2018 / 12:11 AM / in 5 months

Lack of data muddles UK police's pursuit of human traffickers: experts

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Britain’s anti-slavery drive is being hampered by scarce and limited data, which may be leading police in the wrong direction in their pursuit of traffickers, analysts said on Wednesday.

A lack of comprehensive slavery and trafficking data is hindering the National Crime Agency (NCA)’s ability to identify areas of Britain where people are most vulnerable to being enslaved, according to risk analytics company Verisk Maplecroft.

While the NCA says the English county of Leicestershire is one of the regions in Britain least affected by slavery, Verisk Maplecroft ranked the area sixth out of 42 police force areas in terms of the risk of people there being trafficked or enslaved.

“We know the government data on slavery has limitations and reflects only a small proportion of the total victims,” said Alex Channer, lead human rights analyst at Verisk Maplecroft.

“It’s a hidden phenomenon ... There is a large gap between what is being reported, and the potential number of victims out there,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.

At least 13,000 people across Britain are estimated by the government to be victims of modern slavery - trapped in forced labor, sexual exploitation and domestic servitude - but police say the true figure is likely to be in the tens of thousands.

Police in Britain are ramping up investigations into cases of slavery and trafficking, with more than 500 live policing operations into the crimes ongoing, according to the NCA - dubbed Britain’s FBI.

But watchdogs say Britain’s failure to grasp the scale of slavery and mediocre police investigations are hindering efforts to tackle the crime, and ensure quality support for victims.

“Until the UK has a joined-up strategy and coordinated data capture and analysis, it will always be several steps behind the perpetrators in confronting this crime,” said the head of the British anti-human-trafficking charity Unseen, Andrew Wallis.

The NCA’s data and analysis is based upon the potential victims of slavery who come forward to seek support from the government, with more than 7,000 cases recorded since 2015.

Combining these NCA statistics with demographic data on education, ethnicity and birthplace, UK-based Verisk Maplecroft found that people living in cities, immigrants and those lacking qualifications were most threatened by slavery and trafficking.

The NCA said it was gaining a better understanding of modern slavery and gathering more evidence and intelligence with operations on the rise.

“While there are regional variations ... it is clear that modern slavery is a crime that affects all types of communities across every part of the UK,” a spokesman said.

Reporting By Kieran Guilbert, Editing by Katy Migiro. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org

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