Britain’s modern slavery hotline received thousands of calls in its first year of operation, helping identify nearly 5,000 potential victims. Many of those enslaved in the UK are exploited at car washes, construction sites, nail bars, and brothels.

Unseen, the anti-trafficking NGO that runs the hotline, says that it received 3,710 calls from the public and victims last year, leading to 1,450 referrals to anti-slavery groups, the National Crime Agency, and the police.

The government estimates that at least 13,000 people are victims of modern slavery — crimes including forced labor, trafficking for sexual exploitation, and domestic slavery — in the UK, though police believe the actual number is much higher.

Thomson Reuters Foundation reports:

Established in October 2016 after Unseen received 1 million pounds in funding from Google, the helpline takes calls from people reporting suspicious situations, victims seeking help and businesses wanting information about the risk of forced labor.

One in 10 of the calls came from potential victims of slavery, while about half were made by people who have been in direct contact with those believed to be enslaved, Unseen said.

Almost three-quarters of the 4,900 suspected victims uncovered by the helpline – nearly 3,550 people – were trapped in forced labor in businesses from car washes to nail bars, 774 were sexually exploited and 128 held in domestic servitude.

Police said the helpline was valuable in enabling the public to share suspicions and encouraging victims – who often fear law enforcement – to speak out and seek help.

Phil Brewer, chief of the Metropolitan Police’s anti-slavery squad based in London, said the hotline is invaluable to the authorities. “Modern slavery is a hidden crime and the UK law enforcement rely heavily on the general public to help uncover it,” he said.

Unseen’s founder, Andrew Wallis, added that “Our actions are directly supporting people out of exploitation and we must continue to provide a service that puts the victims at the heart of what we do.”

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