New service to support victims of exploitation launched on Anti-Slavery Day

The Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) for Thames Valley has today (18/10) marked Anti-Slavery Day by launching his new service to support victims of all forms of exploitation.

The Willow Project is part of ‘Victims First’ and is one of a number of services for victims commissioned by the PCC. It will be delivered by Thames Valley Partnership under a two year contract with the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner.

Modern slavery includes child trafficking, forced labour, debt bondage, sexual exploitation, criminal exploitation and domestic servitude.  In a PCC commissioned report* released last year, evaluation data from support services estimated that in 2016 there could be around 2,500 victims of modern slavery in the Thames Valley.

The Victims First Willow Project will support victims of all forms of exploitation across the Thames Valley.  This includes modern slavery, human trafficking and other forms of exploitation such as those exploited by County Lines drug dealing.  Support workers from the Willow Project will work with victims and their families to provide crisis intervention, advocacy and long term practical and emotional support.

The service will also provide support to Thames Valley Police and other partner organisations including training on exploitation and modern slavery and attending police raids and other operational activity to provide assistance to the victims.

Anthony Stansfeld, Police and Crime Commissioner said “I am pleased to be able to fund a service designed to meet the specific needs of victims of exploitation.  These individuals will have experienced significant trauma and will often require long term support to move forward with their lives. 

“Modern slavery and exploitation is often a hidden crime and for that reason we don’t know the true extent of it across the Thames Valley.  Working with partners, my office continues to raise awareness of the issue in order to identify victims, provide support and effectively tackle this dreadful crime. I am pleased that with the creation of the Victims First Willow Project we’re able to offer victims the dedicated support they need”. 

Nicola Bell, Programme Manager for the Willow Project said “I am delighted to have been appointed as Programme Manager for the Willow Project to provide support across the Thames Valley for those affected by exploitation.  Whilst there are national programmes of support in place such as the National Referral Mechanism, we have found that this is not always appropriate for every victim and therefore there is a need for this to be complimented by a local option of support to ensure long term outcomes for victims and prevent further exploitation. 

“The Willow Project’s expertise, coupled with our passion and heart for the exploited and vulnerable, ensures that the individual receives compassionate, holistic support and fills a much needed gap in a professional and caring way to those who are often overlooked or misunderstood”

Victims of modern slavery and exploitation can be referred to the Willow Project through Victims First on 0300 1234 148 or www.victims-first.org.uk

The service will also provide specialist support to victims of other forms of serious crime who have developed complex needs as a result.