The government increased protection efforts. Through the NRM, authorities referred 5,146 potential trafficking victims for care nationwide in 2017, compared with 3,805 in 2016 and 3,266 in 2015. The largest source countries were Albania, Vietnam, and the UK, and a majority were victims of labor trafficking. Among adults, authorities referred 325 victims for domestic servitude, 1,132 for other forms of labor trafficking, 945 for sex trafficking, and 123 for unknown exploitation. The percentage of these victims who were minors increased by 66 percent in 2017, following a 30 percent increase in 2016. The Home Office attributed the increase to greater awareness of the NRM and training among professionals and first responders, greater awareness of child trafficking in general, and the frequent link to child sexual exploitation. Increased awareness by the public and authorities of gang recruitment of children as couriers of drugs was also a factor. Authorities referred 104 of the minors for domestic servitude, 473 for other forms of labor trafficking, 359 for sex trafficking, and 342 reported as unknown. The Modern Slavery Act includes a “duty to notify” requiring government agencies to report potential adult victims encountered to authorities via the NRM, and police who refer a potential victim must record a potential crime.
The NRM guides the process for identifying and providing care and support for victims. A first responder, such as police, border patrol, or local authorities, typically generated a referral. The Visas and Immigration section in the Home Office and the UK Human Trafficking Centre received referrals of potential victim; these officials conducted a preliminary review for “reasonable grounds” of trafficking. If found, there was a final determination of “conclusive grounds” that triggered an extension of victim protection measures. Upon a “reasonable grounds” decision, the victim started a 45-day reflection period with access to services such as accommodation, health care, and counseling, and then decided whether to assist in the investigation and prosecution of the perpetrator. The Modern Slavery Act required a final determination within 45 days, although in many cases the government did not meet this deadline. On recommendation from the anti-slavery commissioner, the government granted an additional 45 transitional days of victim support (for a total of 90 days), an increase from the previous allowance of 14 days of transitional support. Scotland followed a similar timeframe, although Northern Ireland remained at a single 45-day period. In addition, first responders must now assist potential victims in reaching a “place of safety,” provided through an on-call NGO. North Wales used a multi-faceted victim reception model to provide support within two hours after identification of a potential victim. Authorities also granted victims access to drop-in services from a designated NGO for an additional six months after transition out of the NRM.
The UK government-funded a £9 million ($12.2 million) NGO contract to coordinate the provision of care for adult victims in England and Wales under the NRM. In Northern Ireland, NGOs worked in tandem with government agencies to provide care for victims; however, NGOs cited insufficient funding for victims who did not enter the NRM or who required support following completion of their trafficking cases and remained in Northern Ireland. The Scottish government provided £800,000 ($1.1 million) toward victim support, an increase from £700,000 ($945,950) in 2016, distributed through two NGOs. Victims who returned voluntarily to their country of origin were eligible for up to £2,000 ($2,700) support toward reintegration. Foreign victims who assisted with investigations were eligible for residency up to one year, although authorities otherwise typically deported foreign victims after leaving the period of support under the NRM. As a result, some foreign victims preferred petitioning for asylum to entry into the NRM, given the potential for longer residency in the UK.
While government funding of NGOs tripled over the past four years to £9 million ($12.2 million), adequate funding remained a challenge in the face of rapidly growing numbers of identified victims. The National Crime Agency launched the “Vulnerable Persons Team,” which granted assistance to avoid re-victimization once an investigation was completed. Similarly, the Wales Anti-Slavery Leadership Group’s “Survivor Care Pathway” provided a long-term post-NRM individualized plan for survivors.
Children received care through local children’s services offices. NGOs continued to raise concern over the need for mandatory training for social workers. The Modern Slavery Act provided for the appointment of Independent Child Trafficking Advocates (ICTA) to represent and support children victims throughout the legal process. The government released a plan to expand the number of ICTAs, already available in Wales, Hampshire, and Manchester, although NGOs asserted implementation had been slow. The government trained all ICTAs and provided £3 million ($4.1 million) over three years to address the issue of missing children at risk of re-victimization. Local authorities highlighted the issue particularly among Vietnamese youth, with 150 having gone missing from care or foster homes since 2015, and being especially vulnerable to trafficking by gangs in the illegal cultivation of cannabis. Scotland and Northern Ireland also required appointment of independent legal guardians for child victims of trafficking.
Victims had a statutory defense for crimes committed as a consequence of their trafficking, and courts allowed victims during hearings to testify by video, behind a screen, or with the public removed from the court. Courts could confiscate assets of convicted traffickers and compensate victims through reparation orders; however, progress was slow in providing this compensation to victims.
Foreign domestic workers who were trafficking victims could change employers during the six-month period following their admission, and any domestic worker who was a victim could remain in the UK for an additional two years. Domestic workers on an employment visa for more than 42 days were required to attend a session to inform them of their rights and protections. NGOs still argued this policy of tying visa status to actual employment as a domestic worker continued to leave workers vulnerable and discouraged victims from reporting abuses. The government encouraged efforts of private companies to assist in reintegration, particularly through employment of survivors. Under the “Bright Future” campaign, a national retail cooperative hired and trained 30 survivors in partnership with an NGO, a model the government continued to promote for expansion.