There was a denial that modern day slavery was an issue in Wales, according to the country’s anti-slavery co-ordinator.
Speaking to members of Blackwood Rotary Club, Stephen Chapmen said police forces initially failed to realise there was a problem.
He said: “When I first took on this job everyone was in denial. I was going to police forces and asking what they knew about slavery.
“Quite senior police officers were saying ‘it doesn’t happen here Steve – it happens in London’.
“Well, I’ve worked in London and other places – it happens everywhere. I can tell you that senior police officers were in denial.”
Mr Chapman, who was appointed by the Welsh Government in 2012, said forces believed that low figures meant a lack of a problem. A red herring, as low detection rates do not mean it is not happening.
Figures are on the rise however.
Latest Home Office data shows that 51 potential victims were recorded by Gwent Police in the 12 months to June.
This was up on the previous 12 months, when 44 were recorded.
Modern slavery was introduced as an offence under the 2015 Modern Slavery Act, and can involve domestic servitude, forced sex work, or labour exploitation.
Speaking at the meeting, held at the Maes Manor Hotel on October 1, Mr Chapman explained his role as one of bringing organisations, such as the police and other agencies, together to make Wales “hostile to slavery”.
He said: “When I’m talking about slavery I’m talking about sexual exploitation, and we all think we know about that. But it’s not just woman from Africa, or eastern Europe who have been brought here and put into the sex trade. It’s our own children, our own Welsh children, our own Welsh girls, our own Welsh boys, our own Welsh woman and our own Welsh men.
“It’s not just physical sex acts in bedrooms, it’s in front of cameras and streamed into living rooms. We could have something happening in a hotel that can be streamed anywhere in the world.
“There is also labour exploitation. It’s not just about people washing cars or working in nail bars. It’s people working in factories, building sites, hotels, you name it. Anywhere where there’s work to be done, anywhere where people can make a pound and where they can get someone to do it for nothing.”
Howard Patchell, president of Blackwood Rotary, said the talk by Mr Chapman was enlightening,
He said: “It is such a sobering topic. If people are being abused, then we need to notice it.”