The hidden nature of Modern Slavery means that existing data on the crime is significantly incomplete, and it is difficult to estimate the true number of victims in the UK. We know that even when discovered, victims can be wary to identify themselves as having been trafficked due to the coercion placed on them by their traffickers.
In 2017 the Home Office suggested that there may be at least 13,000 people living in Modern Slavery, however National Crime Agency officials have since asserted that it is far more likely to be in the tens of thousands.
Since the Modern Slavery Act came into force in 2015, the number of victims identified has grown year on year as a greater focus is given to uncovering incidence of Modern Slavery. This growth suggests that those cases we are aware of are just the tip of the iceberg, and that the true scale of the problem is far larger.
The National Referral Mechanism (NRM) data from the National Crime Agency provides a snapshot into how many victims there may be in the UK. These figures represent not only just those who have been discovered and removed from a situation of trafficking, but also only the number of this group who decide to enter into the National Referral Mechanism. Many potential victims will decide not to enter into the NRM for a variety of reasons.
In 2017, there were 5,145 referrals into the NRM compared to 3,804 in 2016.
Of these, 2,454 were female and 2,688 male.
There was a significant increase in child referrals, with 2,118 minors being referred last year compared to 1,288 in the previous.
Labour exploitation - which includes forced criminality - remains the most commonly reported form of Modern Slavery at nearly 48%. However this has a significant male/female split, with women far more likely to be a victim of sexual exploitation than men. 68% of reported cases of female exploitation were categorised as sexual exploitation.
For a more detailed evaluation of NRM data, you can visit the NCA website.