Eleven suspected cases of ‘modern slavery’ in South Yorkshire have been reported in the past year - but police admit the true scale of the crime is likely to be much greater.
The National Crime Agency had 11 South Yorkshire cases reported to it in 2014.
But South Yorkshire Police have warned the true number of cases is likely to be ‘far higher’ because of the hidden nature of the crimes.
Across the country, the NCA investigated 2,340 such cases - 34 per cent more than in 2013.
Modern slavery can take a number of different forms, including domestic servitude, forced labour, sexual exploitation and criminal activity.
The figures have been released as part of a new campaign by South Yorkshire Police to highlight the issue of modern slavery.
In January 2014, a Sheffield family who held a man with learning difficulties as a slave were jailed.
David Rooke, then aged 44, was locked up for six years and six months, while his son Jamie, then 19, was jailed for four years.
Wife Donna Rooke was sentenced to four months behind bars.
Their victim had been attacked with a spade handle, a crow bar and a pick axe handle, starved of food, and forced to sleep on a concrete floor with no access to a toilet.
Detective Chief Inspector Bob Chapman, who leads for the force on the prevention of modern slavery, said: “It is a hidden crime which often involves a life of suffering for the victims and huge profits for the traffickers.
“Our campaign aims to highlight the various ways modern slavery occurs and ask the public to take the time to get to know the common signs that it is occurring - it happens across the country yet often it goes unnoticed.
“We’re doing all that we can to put an end to modern slavery in South Yorkshire but we need people to come forward and give us information to help us to tackle it.”
The Modern Slavery Act, introduced this year, brings together the current offences relating to human trafficking and slavery.
Key areas include two new civil orders to prevent slavery, the establishment of an Anti-Slavery Commission and provision for the protection of victims.
South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner Dr Alan Billings said: “Sadly, the word slavery is not something we can only associate with the past. It is reported over 21 million men, women and children are victims of modern slavery around the world.
“South Yorkshire has also seen a number of cases of modern slavery, and I fully support this awareness campaign to educate everyone on the signs to look out for.
“I would encourage anyone with even the slightest of suspicions regarding family members, neighbours or any individuals at risk to come forward and help the police catch these perpetrators. Those who feel they can commit crimes on vulnerable people in our communities must be stopped and punished.”
Key signs of slavery include victims being forced to live in cramped or overcrowded conditions, their physical appearance showing signs of injury and malnourishment and workers being collected very early in the day or returned late at night on a regular basis.
For more information, visit www.southyorks.police.uk/modernslavery