A new three-year project tackling Modern Slavery has been launched across the Northumbria area. The Liberty Project is being delivered by Changing Lives and will support adults who have experienced grooming and exploitation for financial gain.

Modern Slavery is a complex crime that can involve multiple forms of exploitation, including criminal exploitation, forced labour, forced begging and domestic servitude, as well as trafficking and sexual exploitation. It is a crime that can be difficult to identify, with victims who have become trapped in exploitative situations.

The Liberty Project is funded by The National Lottery Communities Fund. The funding will allow Changing Lives to provide dedicated support for all survivors of exploitation. Support will be tailored to each person, with a focus on helping them to process and recover from trauma and to reintegrate into their communities.

Ian Fiddes, Lead for the Liberty Project, said: “Modern Slavery is a difficult crime to tackle, as it is often ‘hidden in plain sight’. The Liberty Project has been designed to support people to recognise that they are experiencing modern slavery and to safely leave exploitative situations. In partnership with Northumbria Police, we will also support survivors through the prosecution process where criminal proceedings are pursued.

“Our team of specialists will use a range of approaches to support people, including Trauma Recovery Programmes and 1-to-1 interventions. We have already received positive engagement from communities across Tyne and Wear and Northumberland and through our outreach work we hope to be able to identify hidden victims of exploitation.”
The Liberty Project sees the charity working collaboratively with Northumbria Police, who will be providing training for professionals and agencies that may deal with Modern Slavery. Specialist designated liaison officers will also support survivors through the prosecution process.

The launch of Liberty follows a successful pilot in 2018, funded by the Police Crime Commissioner’s Victims Fund. The pilot saw Changing Lives and Northumbria Police work in partnership to support survivors of Modern Slavery, through both recovery and criminal trials.

Police and Crime Commissioner Kim McGuinness said: “When public services are cut back, criminals move in, and nowhere is that more true than in modern day slavery. As a region we’re looking to reverse that trend and tackle those who make money out of human suffering, especially the new county lines drugs gangs that want to target our towns and cities.
“The work of Changing Lives is hugely important in supporting people who are forced in to crime, and I’m proud to be supporting them on this.”

As part of the three-year Liberty Project, Changing Lives will establish a Northumbria-wide steering group, bringing together key community agencies such as Northumbria Police, Safeguarding Adults and Social Services. The steering group will ensure that lessons learned from this project and intelligence around exploitation are shared, leading to lasting and sustainable changes.

Laura Seebohm, Executive Director at Changing Lives, said: “At Changing Lives we have a long history of supporting people who have experienced grooming and sexual exploitation, with five projects tackling this issue nationwide. We have seen the impact that exploitation has on people and their communities, and the challenges survivors face when their cases are taken to court. Our experience of working with people facing multiple types of disadvantage (who are often more at risk of exploitation) allows us to identify Modern Slavery more readily.

“We know that for many people, Modern Slavery conjures up images of international trafficking. Yet we also know by speaking to people who access our services, that this is not always the case. Trafficking, exploitation and other forms of coercion are taking place across the North East right now. The Liberty Project is a chance for us and our partners to come together to tackle this issue, ultimately making the North East a safer place to live.”

If you suspect someone is experiencing modern slavery and they live in Tyne and Wear or Northumberland, you can contact Changing Lives team
on 0191 273 8891 or e-mail central.office@changing-lives.org.uk.

For support outside of the region, contact the Modern Slavery Helpline on 08000 121 700.

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