HARSHER punishments for those found guilty of sex trafficking and a stronger community response have been called for by a government minister in Oxford.

Speaking at Regent’s Park College, Karen Bradley made reference to Operation Bullfinch, the joint police and social services investigation into sexual offences against a number of children and young people in the city in May 2011.

The Minister for Modern Slavery and Organised Crime said: “Modern slavery and human trafficking are crimes taking place in British towns and cities.

“Victims may endure inhumane treatment and appalling physical and sexual abuse.

“And exploitation like this can happen on our doorstep, as residents in Oxford are too aware.

“The true extent of this appalling crime is still emerging and we know many more individuals remain hidden.

“Our focus must be on the relentless pursuit of the individuals and criminal gangs behind it.”

Mrs Bradley said a Modern Slavery Bill was currently in the draft stages.

It would include longer life imprisonment sentences for “the worst offenders”.

And she said police officers should receive more training on how to spot slavery and sexual exploitation.

She added: “[The new laws] will act as a significant deterrent and help ensure more arrests and more prosecutions.”

“But society has a role to play. It is vital we are all joined-up.”

Regent’s College is holding a ‘Slavery, The Historical and Modern Perspectives’ exhibition in the Angus Library and Archive.