Somerset's human trafficking victims 'need more support'

Woman with head in hands - generic image In 2012 Avon and Somerset Police received 70 reports on human trafficking, which last year almost doubled

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More support needs to be put in place to help victims of human trafficking in Somerset, a charity has said.

Victim Support says there are "gaps" in how those responsible for helping victims of prostitution or human slavery are working together.

It is now speaking to Somerset County Council to come up with a new strategy to tackle the problem.

It says it would like to see an anti-human trafficking partnership like one which exists in Bristol.

Charities working with victims say people are being trafficked from both outside and within the UK into Somerset's sex and labour industries.

Avon and Somerset Police has reported an increase in intelligence on human trafficking coming into the force, and puts this down to "a joined up approach" with other agencies, which it says has led to more referrals and more crimes being reported.

The realities of human trafficking

woman's shadow

Det Supt Sue Scott describes some of the cases she has come across:

"Some individuals have been subjected to being locked away all through the day, go out on the street to work for very, very long hours and given minimal food.

"They have their passports taken away, are not allowed to contact family members and are in constant fear of violence.

"In other situations, they've been subjected to horrific sexual attacks, making the most of their vulnerability.

"Not only are they subject to violent assaults or frightening circumstances, but they can't seem to get out of that cycle because of the fear of the individuals who are subjecting them to these scenarios."

'No co-ordinated action'

Victim Support said while an anti-trafficking partnership - supported by the council, the police, Victim Support and anti-trafficking charity Unseen - has developed ways for victims to get support in Bristol, victims in Somerset are not getting the same help.

Divisional manager Rhiannon Evans said they would like to see this approach across the force area.

"In Bristol lots of agencies have signed up to working against human trafficking, whereas in Somerset there is no co-ordinated action and therefore there is no set profile of awareness raising of the issue," Ms Evans said.

"Trafficking covers a number of different agencies and so one agency can't tackle the problem alone, and it is important that people can access support without going to the police... so I do think it is a gap if we are only reliant on a statutory service."

The BBC contacted Somerset County Council about what Victim Support is trying to do and a spokesman said it is something it wants to talk about, but because of the flooding situation in the county, no-one was available.

Troubled person Avon and Somerset Police said they are working with their partners to "evolve their response" to human trafficking

In 2012, Avon and Somerset Police received 70 reports that related to human trafficking. Last year that almost doubled to 120.

Det Supt Sue Scott, of the serious and organised crime team, said that in the past 11 months there had been 15 reported crimes of human trafficking. This compares with 14 over the previous five years.

The force currently has seven separate investigations into human trafficking taking place.

One of the problems faced by police is that the crime can "often go below the radar" and a lack of awareness it is not just a "big city crime".

Chief Constable of Avon and Somerset police, Nick Gargan, said they are now working with their partners to "evolve their response" to human trafficking right across the force area.

Det Supt Scott added: "It is really important that we show, not only to those who are committing these offences, that we will not tolerate it in the UK, but importantly that we can show victims that we do want to do something about it and it will not be tolerated."

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