CASES of people being abused, trafficked or used as slaves are on the rise in Oxfordshire and are happening right under your nose.

The hidden crimes, together known as modern slavery, are exploiting people all over the county – with people of all ages affected, from as young as 10 to up to 60.

Latest figures show Thames Valley Police are recording three modern slavery crimes every week and have seen a 400 per cent increase in reports in the past year.

In Oxfordshire, there have been 30 reported cases of people being sexually exploited, trafficked, ordered to smuggle drugs or forced to work as a slave. There were 120 reports across the force area in the past two years.

A total of 12 reports were made to police in Oxford, 14 in Cherwell and West Oxfordshire, and four in South Oxfordshire and Vale of White Horse districts.

In response to the rise in modern slavery, Thames Valley Police today launch their 18-month Hidden Harm campaign to raise awareness of the abuse hidden in the heart of communities.

Detective Superintendent Nick John urged members of the public to 'open their eyes' to spot the signs of the hidden crimes.

The force's head of protecting vulnerable people, said it was a "common misconception" that slavery didn't exist anymore, adding the belief "couldn’t be further from the truth".

He added: "Modern slavery is happening in this country and, more specifically, right here in Thames Valley.

"The problem with modern slavery is that victims can be of any age, any gender, nationality or ethnicity.

"The signs aren't always easy to spot. People sometimes don't even know they are being exploited and that's just the way it is.

"The range of areas covered under modern slavery is vast. There is no single victim, there is no single group that is responsible.

"We can have victims as young as 10, and victims as old as 53 who are involved in this."

Det Supt John said that while many of the crimes on the rise, the vast majority were undetected and unreported.

He added victims were often 'emotionally, psychologically, physically abused' which had a 'significant' impact on their confidence to speak out.

Modern slavery is the illegal exploitation of people for personal or commercial gain. Victims are tricked or threatened into work and many feel unable to leave through fear or intimidation.

The signs that someone may be a victim of modern slavery aren’t always obvious, but there are some things that can be noticed.

Someone looking scruffy or injured, acting anxiously or afraid, living in overcrowded or poorly maintained accommodation and working long hours or wearing unsuitable clothing could be a victim.

Det Supt John said even if a member of the public had small suspicions of modern slavery, they should report it as it could be the "final piece of the jigsaw".

He added: "We rely on information from members of the public in order to identify these crimes, safeguard victims and bring offenders to justice. We cannot do this alone.

"Open your eyes to abuse, help us to help vulnerable victims."

Thames Valley Police said modern slavery was a complex crime, which was reflected in the outcomes of cases.

The force said nearly a third of the crimes recorded were still under investigation.

The Modern Slavery Act 2015 received Royal Assent in March 2015 and while the force has not yet prosecuted anyone under the legislation, 212 victims have been identified.

As the force launch their awareness campaign, Oxford City Council's board member for community safety Tom Hayes will put forward a motion to full council tonight.

Mr Hayes will call on the Government to change the law to extend their support for victims of modern slavery to longer than the current timescale of 45 days.

He will say: "It takes victims of modern slavery longer than 45 days to start putting their lives back together.

"The modern slavery support system must put the needs of vulnerable people at its heart.

"This council calls on the Prime Minister to increase support for victims of modern slavery from 45 days to one year."

Mr Hayes will add the number of victims is the "tip of the iceberg", saying "victims are hiding in plain sight".

He will also call for victims not to be forced to leave safe houses until a plan for ongoing support is implemented, and for them to be supported into work, housing and education.

Modern slavery: what is it?

Modern slavery is the illegal exploitation of people for personal or commercial gain. Victims are tricked or threatened into work and many feel unable to leave through fear or intimidation.

What are the different types of modern slavery?

Modern slavery covers a wide range of abuse and exploitation and takes many forms including:

* Sexual exploitation: victims are forced to perform sexual acts against their will, for example prostitution, escort work and pornography.

* Forced labour: victims are forced to work long hours in poor conditions for little or no pay, often under the threat of violence. These people can be working in many different places such as nail bars, car washes and the construction industry.

* Criminal exploitation: victims are controlled and forced to commit crimes such as theft, cannabis cultivation or drug trafficking.

* Domestic servitude: victims are forced to carry out domestic chores or childcare, usually in private households, for little or no pay.

The police rely on information from members of the community, not only to identify when crimes are taking place but also in order to ensure officers have enough evidence to bring offenders to justice.

If you think someone you know may be a victim of modern slavery tell someone.

Modern Slavery Helpline - 08000 121 700 (confidential)

Police - 101 or 999 in an emergency

Crimestoppers - 0800 555 111 (anonymous)

Cases involving modern slavery in Oxford.

* In September 2016, travellers were jailed for exploiting a man described as "vulnerable" and forcing him to do back-breaking work. Christopher Joyce, 82, and his daughters Mary Joyce, 61, and Helen Collins were convicted of forcing Nicholas Iliff to perform forced or compulsory labour at the Redbridge Hollow travellers site where they all lived.

A jury also unanimously convicted all three defendants of conspiracy to defraud Mr Iliff after opening an account in his name and claiming £139,000 of his benefits over 13 years.

The 52-year-old victim, who lived in a brick shed described as unfit for a human, was paid very little for menial and demeaning tasks, while the travellers pocketed his benefits.

Judge Zoe Smith jailed Christopher Joyce and Mary Joyce for 21 months each. Collins was handed a seven-month sentence, suspended for two years.

*Police officers raided Athena Guest House and eight other premises in Cowley Road in 2015 after intelligence emerged the premises were being used as a brothel. Officers also said they discovered children were being sexually exploited.

* In March 2015, police offered support to two women after removing them from a suspected brothel in Cowley Road.

Seven police officers and two special constables raided the property and found two women. Telephones and two laptops were seized but no one was arrested at the time.

* In January 2016 Alexandra-Valentina Mirea was deported to Romania following an investigation into a Cowley brothel.

A 24-year-old woman was arrested in December 2014 after police raided an address in Rymers Lane, Cowley, where it was suspected women were working as prostitutes.

The woman was found to have links to three other brothels, two in Cambridge and one in Leicester.

What Oxford City Council is doing...

Oxford City Council has also appealed to the public to spot the signs of modern slavery in the wake of the Hidden Harm campaign.

In the past the authority has passed on information to report crimes to hoteliers, taxi drivers, faith groups, health and housing agencies, drug treatment workers, MPs and councillors.

The council claims hundreds of people across Oxford have benefited from this information.

*All city council staff are required to have adult and child safeguarding training, which includes modern slavery.

*Hotel Watch was set up in 2016, to train hoteliers in how to spot the signs of exploitation, including child sexual exploitation and modern slavery, and what to do if they believe something suspicious is happening at their premises.

*Taxi drivers: The Bullfinch Serious Case review highlighted the need for a consistent approach to taxi licensing.

The city council worked with taxi drivers to spot the signs of exploitation, and report crimes.

Safeguarding training is now mandatory as drivers cannot receive a licence to operate a taxi in Oxford without passing the training.