A new initiative has been launched in the UK to raise awareness of modern-day slavery among the Romanian community living in the Midlands.
Global anti-slavery charity Hope for Justice is working with Street Pastors to raise the profile of this issue and to signpost potential victims to support.
The charity has seen a rise in the activities of Romanian crime gangs over the past year, with many of them illegally trafficking vulnerable young girls from Romania to the Midlands, and forcing them into sex work.
One Hope for Justice investigator, based in the West Midlands, said: “The Romanian community across the region is ever growing.
“Since Operation Fort, when we worked alongside police to foil the largest modern slavery and trafficking gang in UK history, we have noticed Romanian crime gangs filling the vacated void.
“Young women are being particularly targeted, with gangs recruiting them into sexual exploitation.
These victims have difficulty reaching out for help for all sorts of reasons, including fears of being deported, misinformation instilled into them by their gang masters, or language barriers.”
As part of the new partnership with Street Pastors, leaflets will be distributed at locations where vulnerable people are known to attend. This literature will inform people about modern slavery, explain how to spot the signs, and signpost victims to support that is available at Hope for Justice.
It is also hoped that this partnership will act as a pathway, with referrals being made to the charity, so that its investigative teams can act.
Investigators are deployed across the region to respond to referrals of potential trafficking cases and to proactively identify victims. They work closely with the police and other agencies to share intelligence, prevent exploitation, rescue victims, and support survivors.
Community blogs and social media groups are also being identified as a platform to increase awareness, circulate information and improve visibility so that victims have access to help.
The investigator said: “These Romanian crime gangs are highly organised and structured.
“Young Romanian girls are being contacted online and drawn into false relationships. They are tricked to come to the UK, only to be recruited into sex work when they arrive. They are made dependent on drugs or alcohol, and placed into sex work, with their services being advertised online. But all the while, their movements are being controlled by their ‘boyfriend’ – a trafficker.”
He added: “This new stream of our work opens up huge potential for identifying those who are vulnerable and at risk. We are really pleased to be working alongside Street Pastors to identify victims of slavery and to signpost them to the support that is available. We are also working closely with the police, sharing information with the aim to see more people rescued from exploitation.”