Today, Monday January 21, police have launched a new campaign to fight those who are exploiting vulnerable people in this way.
Modern slavery is hard to spot but the effects are very real, with vulnerable people forced to work in harrowing conditions and at risk of violence and sexual exploitation.
This year, 25 people from Albania, China, Indonesia and the UK have been identified as potential victims of modern slavery or human trafficking. But they aren’t living in far-flung countries, they were found living right here in Sussex.
We spoke to Detective Superintendent Jeff Riley and Richard Lancashire, who are leading Sussex Police’s fight against modern slavery.
Det Sup Riley said: “Modern slavery is really a hidden crime, hidden in plain sight.
“The more work we do the more we discover about it reinforces that idea.”
Mr Lancashire said “You look at some of the industries where people have been exploited – retail, catering, car washes, nail bars but it is very difficult for some people to actually see the symptoms of the exploitation themselves.
“You only see bits and pieces of their daily life but you may not see the exploitation.”
What is modern slavery?
According to Sussex Police, modern slavery can take many forms: if someone is forced to work, if they are owned or controlled by an employer, if they are dehumanised and treated as a commodity, or bought and sold as ‘property’, or if they are physically constrained or have restrictions placed on their freedom of movement.
There is no ‘typical’ victim of modern slavery. Victims can be men, women and children of all ages, ethnicities, nationalities and backgrounds.
They are forced into a situation through the use or threat of violence, deception or coercion. Victims may enter the UK legally, or on forged documentation, or they may be a UK citizen living in the UK who is then forced into slavery.
Modern slavery covers a range of exploitation including; human trafficking, sexual exploitation, forced labour, debt bondage, domestic servitude, criminal activities, child labour, child sexual exploitation and forced and early marriage, police said.
Modern slavery has also been observed as a part of county lines drug dealing.
Watch the video above – produced by Unseen charity and the BT Group – for more information on how to spot modern slavery.
Is modern slavery an issue in Sussex?
In a recent case, police raided two homes in St Leonards and Hastings and found at least eight people believed to be victims of labour exploitation.
The raids came as part of an investigation into alleged modern slavery involving bringing workers from Eastern Europe to care homes in East Sussex and Kent.
So far this year, 25 people were identified as potential victims of modern slavery or human trafficking by Sussex Police, according to figures from the National Crime Agency (NCA).
According to Det Sup Riley, there are a range of factors that make modern slavery difficult to deal with.
“It’s real challenge for us to say to them you are being exploited.
“They have got a roof over their head they are being paid it’s difficult to persuade them that they are a victim.
“We are used to dealing with people who disclose their predicament to us to have us investigate it.”
How can you spot the signs of modern slavery?
Physical appearance: victims may show signs of physical or psychological abuse, look malnourished or unkempt, or appear withdrawn.
Isolation: victims may rarely be allowed to travel on their own, seem under the control or influence of others, rarely interact or appear unfamiliar with their neighbourhood or where they work.
Poor living conditions: victims may be living in dirty, cramped or overcrowded accommodation, and/or living and working at the same address.
Few or no possessions: victims may have no identification documents, have few personal possessions and always wear the same clothes day in day out. What clothes they do wear may not be suitable for their work.
Restrictive freedom of movement: victims have little opportunity to move freely and may have had their travel documents kept from them such as passports.
Unusual travel times: you may notice people being dropped off or collected for work on a regular basis, either very early or late at night.
Reluctant to seek help: victims may avoid eye contact, appear frightened or hesitant to talk to strangers and fear law enforcers for many reasons.
They may believe they do not know who to trust or where to get help, fear deportation, or violence to them or their family.
'Maybe something does not fit right'
Mr Lancashire said: “Maybe you will see something that does not fit right.
“The idea is to get that information in to the police so we can compare it to what we know and investigate it as soon as possible.
“If it is a car wash have they got the right equipment?
“Do they seem to be working for hours and hours?”
He is calling on the public to be aware of things in their peripheral vision, where signs of modern slavery might be present.
How to report modern slavery
If you think you or someone you know is a victim of modern slavery, you can report it online or call Sussex Police on 101 (always call 999 in an emergency).
You can also report it in person at your local police station.
For more crime news from your area, click here