Figures show rise in sexual and criminal exploitation under lockdown

By Laura Sharman | 07 April 2021

Criminal and sexual exploitation has risen ‘dramatically’ during the pandemic, new data has warned today.

New figures from Unseen's Helpline reveal that reports of criminal exploitation have increased by 42% in the past year, with reports of sexual exploitation up 25% on the previous year.

The 2020 assessment shows a quarter of potential victims of sexual exploitation were children, while minors accounted for a fifth of potential victims of criminal exploitation.

Justine Currell, executive director of Unseen and co-author of the assessment: ‘A year on from the first lockdown, the number of reports relating to sexual and criminal exploitation, and those involving children, is particularly alarming, given that overall contacts to the Helpline decreased during the pandemic.

’COVID-19 and the subsequent economic downturn affected the visibility of the threat in such places as car washes and nail bars. And as you would expect, the proportion of calls from the general public declined during the lockdowns. But this report shows that modern slavery and human trafficking is still alive and unfortunately thriving.’

The Children’s Society called for more investment in training and early help services to identify risks and support young people who have been exploited.

Iryna Pona, policy manager at The Children’s Society, said: 'We have found that knowledge among professionals of the National Referral Mechanism, (NRM) the system for identifying victims of modern slavery is patchy and that referrals are often of a poor quality. This needs to change.

'Every child should be referred to the NRM where exploitation is suspected and we want the Government to give all children – including victims of both domestic and international trafficking - access to an independent child trafficking guardian who can help them get the support they need.'

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