MORE than 40 protesters have staged a silent walk through Portsmouth city centre to highlight the shocking practice of modern slavery - as last year saw record numbers of reported victims in Hampshire.
Anti-slavery group Stop The Traffik Portsmouth organised the walk as part of the global 'Walk For Freedom' day of action this Saturday. The protesters set off from Guildhall Square at midday, talking with shoppers along their route to Commercial Road.
According to Home Office figures, more than 180 potential victims of slavery have been reported in Hampshire over the last five years.
In 2017, 51 adults and 30 children were reported as being potential victims of modern slavery in the county.
Jodie Meakin, an organiser of Stop The Traffik Portsmouth, said: 'When I realised how persistent modern slavery is in our own country, I couldn't turn a blind eye.
'This isn't something that happens just overseas.
'There has been case after case around Portsmouth.'
The organisation is working with Hampshire's Modern Slavery Partnership, a group of services combating the hidden crime . Founded in 2015, the partnership now consists of more than 30 organisations, including Hampshire police, Portsmouth council, and the Diocese of Portsmouth.
Hazel Newton, coordinator of the Modern Slavery Partnership, said: 'The issue is so big it is really important to raise awareness.
'That includes raising awareness amongst vulnerable people so they don't become victims.
'People who have been exploited before are particularly vulnerable - they remain vulnerable of becoming victims of modern slavery again.'
Stop The Traffik Portsmouth's work includes supporting the police to visit potentially exploitative businesses across the city.
Jodie said: 'I have visited businesses and reported concerns myself.
'People should feel they can speak up - that simple concern could be the missing piece of the puzzle.'
This is the second year Portsmouth has taken part in the 'Walk For Freedom', which is organised by anti-slavery group A-21.