Sophie Mei Lan.
Slavery should be a thing of the past but it isn’t. Thousands of British children (and adults) are being groomed every year into domestic servitude and sexual exploitation, amongst other crimes.
Whilst this figure is widely disputed, as are most figures in a highly covert crime, it gives us an insight to the enormity of the problem.
That’s not to mention last year’s Savile scandal or Rochdale grooming case. Plus 2011 saw the first conviction under the new slavery offence – Section 71 of the Coroners and Justice Act (2009) – when four people were convicted of forcing a group of destitute men into servitude (www.jrf.org.uk) – it appears that slavery is still prevalent today.
The Children’s Commissioner Sue Berlowitz recently released a report stating that 16,500 children were at risk of sexual exploitation.
But it was as late as March last year, until the British government signed up to the EU directive on trafficking. Perhaps many officials thought Wilberforce had abolished slavery in 1807. Those working on the ground with victims may tell you otherwise.
“There are more slaves than there was in the time of Wilberforce,” explains Jen Baker, head of City Hearts charity which provides safe houses for trafficking victims.
The latest government figures also suggest a rise in human beings being trafficked into the UK for the purpose of domestic servitude and illegal organ removals.
I have spent the past few years working with people who have survived human trafficking and there is no ‘one’ story or ‘one’ background that people come from but there is a definite link with employment and poverty. Human beings are not only trafficked into the UK but around and within the UK. Trafficking is not an immigration or a ‘foreign’ issue (that’s not to say that better border control could potentially save victims) but it is a serious organised crime.
I have spoken to many young women who have been forced to skip childhood and education as they were conned into coming to the UK, we have also aired an exclusive on Channel 4 news where men were being forced to “work as slaves.”
I also worked closely with ITV News to help reveal the extent of grooming and internal trafficking in the UK (which linked into the Rochdale grooming trial and scandal of some private care homes.)
Most recently a lot of emphasis has been placed on the Olympic games and the potential for traffickers to exploit the influx of tourism as well as need for skilled labours but trafficking is not just a thing of last summer – it goes on around us in many forms – where people may be ‘pimped’ from party to party or people may be forced to work for little or no money and kept in squalid housing conditions.
Trafficking is a global problem and according to the International Labour Organization, Forced Labour Statistics Factsheet, an estimated 2.5 million people are in forced labour (including sexual exploitation) at any given time as a result of trafficking. The amount of ‘known’ victims in the UK is relatively low compared to other countries but nonetheless, there are 17,000 migrants working in UK brothels. There are believed to be 400 women out of this who are victims of trafficking and a further 4,128 women who the police to believe to be ‘vulnerable.’
It is essential to raise global awareness of the problem through campaigns targeting vulnerable people across the globe, and even Hollywood is set to release a film entitled The Whistleblower, based on a US woman who uncovered sex trafficking whilst she was working in Bosnia.
More focus however, needs to be on victim care as they are often scared, traumatized and usually don’t speak fluent English. There are a few UK based charities that assist the police with a care centred approach but for many victims who are discovered in other countries – there is nothing.
Nick Kinsella who founded the United Kingdom Human Trafficking Centre (UKHTC) which has now transferred to the Serious Organized Crime Agency (SOCA) said;
“The most effective way of combating human trafficking is through a multi-agency approach. We must remember that Trafficking is a serious organized crime – it is not an immigration crime. It is a form of modern day slavery.”
Read the story of a survivor in our award-winning article: “Sex Trafficking – a family affair”