Look out for ‘forced begging’ on the streets of London this Christmas
One Christmas Eve
A couple of Christmases ago in an English Cathedral city, one of The Clewer Initiative’s Diocesan leads noticed a Romanian woman begging in a shop door. It was Christmas Eve and the woman was very nervous, constantly looking around to see if anyone was watching. She had very few personal belongings with her and was not dressed suitably for winter.
Thanks to the vigilance of the project lead, the local police were contacted. It transpired that she had arrived in the city centre a few hours earlier with four other Romanians. They had travelled more than 100 miles in a minibus driven by their captors and were being forced to beg.
It took all afternoon but by the end of Christmas Eve, she was being looked after in a safe house by The Salvation Army and began the long process of entering the National Referral Mechanism. Sadly, none of the other people in the minibus were interested in going with her. They chose to remain with their captors.
Forced begging – a lesser-known form of modern slavery
Forced begging is growing in prevalence and particularly at this time of year. Many criminal gangs see the festive season as a big opportunity to make money. With more people than usual out on the streets, spending money and perhaps feeling more generous towards others, it’s a perfect time for gangs to send their victims out to beg. So, what exactly is ‘forced begging’ and what are the signs to look for?
When we talk about modern slavery, forced begging doesn’t usually come to mind. Most of us probably assume that the people begging are rough sleepers and homeless. We wouldn’t naturally think “exploitation” or “modern slavery.”
In fact, forced begging is a horrendous form of exploitation carried out by criminal gangs who not only exploit, threaten and abuse victims but subject them to further humiliation and degradation by forcing them to beg on the streets.
In a typical scenario, victims are transported by offenders to specific locations to beg for money which is then taken by the offenders. Victims of forced begging are often children and/or vulnerable adults. Many are foreign nationals but they may also be vulnerable UK nationals such as people who are homeless or have addiction problems.
Some indicators of forced begging include:
- Beggars being transported to and from their ‘pitch’
- Signs of physical abuse and violence
- No obvious signs that they are homeless/sleeping rough i.e., not surrounded by their possessions and sleeping paraphernalia
- An adult in charge of a large group of children
- A group of adult or child beggars that is moved daily to different locations but returns to the same location every night
- A group of adult or child beggars using public transport, walking together up and down the length of a train or bus to beg
- Beggars with identical signs / posters e.g., same pieces of cardboard, same handwriting, same messages
Over the coming weeks, as many of us head to town and city centres, we need to step up our vigilance and start looking more closely at the vulnerable people who are begging in our town and city centres.
If you suspect a case of modern slavery, or think you may have identified a victim there are several ways you can report it:
- Contact the Modern Slavery and Exploitation Helpline on 08000 121 700
- Contact Crimestoppers on: 0800 555111 or via https://crimestoppers-uk.org/give-information/forms/pre-form
- To report non-emergency suspicious activity in your local area call 101
- If there is an emergency and you believe someone is in immediate danger call 999
Do not attempt to intervene yourself - you may put yourself and others in danger, including the potential victim.