The National Crime Agency has issued a new report that found that 5,145 potential victims of modern slavery were referred to UK authorities last year.

The record number of cases also revealed that for the first time British nationals made up the majority of victims followed by people from Albania and Vietnam. Alarmingly, the number of child victims rose by 66% compared to 2016.

The BBC reports:

Last year, 5,145 potential victims of trafficking and slavery were flagged up to the National Referral Mechanism, which identifies and supports victims.

That was the highest number recorded by the UK authorities since the figures were first compiled in 2009 – and a 35% rise from 2016.

The report found that forced labour accounted for 2,352 cases – almost half of all referrals.

The figures also showed that in a third of cases (1,744) it was suspected that people had been exploited for sexual purposes. More than 2,000 children (2,118) were referred for help, compared with 1,278 the previous year.

The NCA also found that 116 different nationalities were represented in the referrals. After British nationals, Albanians (777 cases) and Vietnamese (739) comprised the top 3 nationalities of victims.

Will Kerr, NCA director, said the better reporting of modern slavery could be attributed to the rise in the number of referrals but added that it “almost certainly represents an underestimate of the true scale” in the country.

Kerr also said that traffickers are an “evolving threat” as they often go into online spaces to find or exploit victims.

Victoria Atkins, Home Office minister for crime, safeguarding and vulnerability said she believed the new report reflects the UK government’s improved understanding of modern slavery.

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