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What is the Victim Navigator pilot?

Specialist workers are now sitting at the heart of forces helping victims of modern slavery through the criminal justice process.

Co-designed by NGO Justice and Care along with police leaders, the pilot sees independent charity workers embedded within forces to help victims of modern slavery through the Criminal Justice System. 

The scheme is designed to both support victims through the justice process but also to improve victim engagement and trial outcomes.

There are currently 13 navigators across six forces, Border Force, GLAA (Gangmaster and Labour Abuse Authority) and the East Midlands Special Operations Unit (EMSOU) - a collaborative unit of officers and staff from Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Lincolnshire, Northamptonshire and Nottinghamshire. They also have two navigators in Romania who work to support safe returns from the UK.

Navigators are employed by the NGO and not the force in order to preserve their independence.

Around half of the navigators employed so far are former detectives.

Under the scheme, victims will have a designated navigator who will remain with them throughout the criminal justice process, providing a bridge between them and the police. The role is similar to that of a Victim Liaison Officer, but navigators will also support victims with other needs such as health, immigration or employment.

Director of European Operations at Justice and Care, Cristina Huddleston, said: “Some forces have VLOs for the duration of the investigation, if the victim stays engaged with the police, they will support them from a policing perspective.

“Some forces may have entered the National Referral Mechanism (NRM), which is the support service the government is offering. What that means is if they say yes to it, they can go into a safe house, be given a support worker for example.

“However, those who are not willing to go into NRM and who don’t want to support the police investigation, they fall off the radar, there’s very little that’s available unless they find themselves at the Citizens Advice Bureau or get support through maybe a GP – essentially it falls down to them to find it, which is why this role really came about.”

The pilot began in 2018 and as of November last year, 6,452 cases have been triaged and 427 total investigations supported with strategic advice.

Navigators were found to have directly supported 134 arrests, 30 potential exploiters who have been charged and three exploiters who have been convicted.

Through the scheme, victim engagement had been improved to 85.7 per cent from 33 per cent nationally.

Ms Huddleston said: “Within our scheme, there is that constant person who will walk that journey from the very beginning right to the end.

“Even if the investigation is finished but the trial date for example is a year later, there isn’t a silent time, we’re still there, we’re still part of their journey.”

The extent of Modern Slavery is not clear, but a recent report conducted by Justice and Care with The Centre for Social Justice estimated there are more than 100,000 victims in the UK alone. The government had previously estimated 10,000 victims.

The NRM is the government’s tool used to identify and refer potential victims of modern slavery to ensure they receive appropriate support. It is similar to the Duty to Notify referrals (DtN) with the exception that it does not require consent. Children will consequently be referred through the NRM.

According to the government’s Annual Report on Modern Slavery, published in October of last year, reports of modern slavery offences are increasing with 8,730 offences recorded in the year to March 2021, up by 5 per cent on the previous year.

Meanwhile, 2020 also saw in increase of 20 per cent of police referrals to the CPS. Of the cases concluded, the conviction rate had increased from 71.9 per cent to 73.8 per cent in 2020.

Ms Huddleston said: “From a policing perspective, modern slavery cases have high levels of disengagement from victims with the criminal investigation, [previously] a lot of investigations were being closed because the CPS would not take on those cases without a victim.

“Additionally, officers are not able to deliver the level of support that a victim may need, especially in the first month, they haven’t got the time, capacity or ability to chase referrals, or to find the right accommodation etc.”

A final report into the effectiveness of the pilot will be published this September.

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