Over the coming weeks, lots of us will head to town and city centres to prepare for Christmas and buy presents for loved ones. As we go out and about it’s a good time to remind ourselves that while the festive season may be a time of joy and excitement for us, there are many people for whom it is a time of desperation and hopelessness.
When we talk about modern slavery, sexual exploitation, labour exploitation and county lines are the forms that most commonly come to mind. But there are lesser talked about aspects of modern slavery that we could be passing by on our high streets, such as forced begging.
How much thought do we give to the person on the street who’s begging for a bit of change? Most of us probably associate begging with rough sleepers and homelessness, and perhaps the sight is so familiar that we don’t give it a second thought.
So, aside from basic human compassion, why should we think twice?
Well, if we look closely, we may find that what we’re seeing is modern slavery happening right under our nose in the form of forced begging. Forced begging is not unusual but most of the time we simply don’t notice it. In fact, many of us may not know that forced begging exists. However, it’s a horrendous form of exploitation carried out by criminal gangs who not only exploit, threaten and abuse victims but subject them to further humiliation and degradation by forcing them to beg on the streets.
Sadly, the festive season is a profitable opportunity for these criminals. With more of us on the streets, spending money and perhaps feeling more generous towards others, it’s the perfect time for gangs to send their victims out to beg.
In a typical forced begging scenario, victims are transported by offenders to specific locations to beg for money which is then taken by the offenders. Victims of forced begging are often children and/or vulnerable adults. Many are foreign nationals but they may also be vulnerable UK nationals such as people who are homeless or have addiction problems. Some indicators of forced begging include:
- Beggars being transported to and from their ‘pitch’.
- Signs of abuse and physical violence.
- No obvious signs that they are homeless/sleeping rough i.e. not surrounded by their possessions and sleeping paraphernalia.
- An adult in charge of a large group of children.
- A group of adult or child beggars that is moved daily to different locations but returns to the same location every night.
- A group of adult or child beggars using public transport, walking together up and down the length of a train or bus to beg.
Christmas doesn’t have to be a good time for criminals. If we all take a second look and think twice it could be a time when there are more of us around to spot something amiss and call it out.
If you suspect a case of modern slavery, or think you may have identified a victim there are a number of ways you can report it:
- Contact the Modern Slavery and Exploitation Helpline on: 08000 121 700
- Contact Crimestoppers on: 0800 555111 or via https://crimestoppers-uk.org/give-information/forms/pre-form
- To report non-emergency suspicious activity in your local area call 101
- If there is an emergency and you believe someone is in immediate danger call 999
Do not attempt to intervene yourself - you may put yourself and others in danger, including the potential victim.