Five-fold increase in number of trafficked women seeking help

There's been a five-fold jump in the number of human trafficking victims seeking help from a voluntary organisation in Northern Ireland.

Women's Aid works alongside police and other authorities when victims of human trafficking are identified.

It says in 2021 it received 47 referrals compared to more than 230 presently, with around 150 children or dependants of those involved also under their care.

The figures come as the PSNI revealed that six victims were presented to them following an investigation into criminal gangs exploiting young women from Romania and trafficking them into Northern Ireland.

Three people, a 36-year-old woman and two men aged 29 and 35, were arrested on Thursday following police raids in Greater Belfast.

Noelle Collins is the Team Leader at Women's Aid in Belfast.

"When women come to us it's usually very basic needs that they need," she told UTV.

"It's about getting a clean bed, something to eat, new clothes, a shower and just settling them in. That is our short term work with those women.

She added that women are also taken to any appointments by those at Women's Aid.

However, Ms Collins said that when it came to presenting information to the police or even her own organisation, some were very reluctant to do so.

She blamed this on a lack of trust.

"Police in their country of origin may have been the first to abuse them, to rape them, and women would tell these stories," she said.

"They also need to understand that we (Women's Aid) are not a statutory agency so we have to gain their trust so they will talk to us and that is how it has worked."

Women's Aid also revealed that there has, within the last week, been a case of organ harvesting involving a woman who has arrived in Northern Ireland.

It is understood that it did not take place in Northern Ireland but in transit.

Ms Collins said: "We know that it has happened for many, many years. This is the first case that we are supporting."

The National Referral Mechanism is a UK-wide framework use to identify and refer victims of trafficking and slavery.

Women's Aid said when it first started working with other agencies, the referral period was around 45 days. That's now sitting at around 500 days.

The National Crime Agency (NCA) works across the UK and with other international partners.

Katherine Taylor from the NCA has urged the public to be vigilant in certain locations for signs of modern slavery or trafficking.

"You might see it in your local car washes, nail bars, in doorstep services that are offered, but we would encourage you to report any concerns or suspicions that you have."

As police try to clamp down on those responsible, it's recognised that this is an evolving problem that won't be going away any time soon.

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