Time Magazine After Darrell Simester, then 30, went missing on vacation at a south Wales seaside resort in Aug. 2000, his family didn’t see him again for almost 13 years. They never gave up trying to find the “vulnerable” and “timid” Simester — and their perseverance eventually paid off. In March 2013, an anonymous tip-off led Simester’s family to a two-berth caravan in a stable yard just outside Cardiff, Wales’s capital city. There they found him, now aged 43, in dirty, torn clothes and with teeth missing – but otherwise okay.
Simester’s case sparked a major police operation codenamed Operation Imperial. In police raids in September, two other men (one Polish, one British) were also found living in poor conditions at or near the same site where Simester had been found. Three men have subsequently been arrested and released on bail, all charged with false imprisonment, conspiracy to hold a person in servitude and conspiracy to force a person to work. A 42-year-old woman has also been released on bail.
Rather than being an isolated incident, the U.K. Home Office said in a statement that the case serves as an “appalling reminder” of the extent to which slavery has reappeared in the country. A report released on Oct. 17 by the Global Slavery Index says that it is estimated there are as many as 4,000 people enslaved in the U.K. – and that more could be done to help them and others from sharing their fate. While slavery — or human trafficking — is often thought of in terms of female victims of sexual exploitation, the statistics suggest that the gender distribution is relatively even. Of the 2,255 potential human trafficking victims identified in the U.K. in 2012, 40% were male. And in addition to sex, the trade in human beings for financial gain can involve forced labor, domestic servitude and even organ harvesting. In 2012, some 87% of the 507 potential victims of forced labor exploitation in the U.K. were male.
To put human trafficking in its international context, it is the third most profitable business for international organized crime after the drugs and arms trades – and is globally estimated to generate profit margins of billions of dollars per year. As of June 2012, the International Labor Organization estimated that 20.9m people are victims of forced labor and sexual exploitation worldwide. And the 2012 U.N. Global Report on Trafficking in Persons says that men and boys are estimated to account for approximately 25% of trafficking victims detected worldwide. But as the report points out, official statistics represent only the “tip of the iceberg” as criminals generally go to great lengths to conceal their activities. [...]