Getty Mariana Pacho López / Empalagarmedemar
It’s the hidden crime whose scale is notoriously difficulty to figure out but new research suggests that up to as many as 13,000 people are living in the UK under slave conditions. These people, who have been trafficked to the UK often believing they are coming for a better life and a new set of opportunities, are instead finding themselves in bondage, working as prostitutes, domestic slaves and as workers in fields and factories.
In response to this, the Home Office has launched a new strategy to tackle the problem, including new specialist teams at major ports and airports tasked with the job of spotting potential victims, and new work to help local authorities fight instances of children trafficked for sexual exploitation. The Home Office says they will build on the frameworks that are currently used to fight terrorism and organised crime, which will complement the Modern Slavery Bill, currently going through Parliament.
Home Secretary Theresa May said: “The first step to eradicating the scourge of modern slavery is acknowledging and confronting its existence. The estimated scale of the problem in modern Britain is shocking and these new figures starkly reinforce the case for urgent action.”
But new figures out today show that many police forces are failing to use the new powers they were granted in 2010 to tackle sex trafficking. Only one in five forces in England and Wales have used the new laws, which were brought in to criminalise paying prostitutes who were coerced into providing sex.
Dr Sarah Kingston, from Lancaster University, who carried out the study, said:
“Police attitudes towards sex workers has highlighted that some officers view prostitutes as offenders rather than victims. Fears of traffickers or captors may have also impacted on victims’ reluctance to report their abuse to the authorities … Some victims have suffered physical violence from their captors; others are threatened or told that their family and friends would be targeted if they did not comply with their demands. Indeed, the control and power that traffickers can have over their victims can hinder the police’s ability to tackle the issue.”
Let’s hope this renewed enthusiasm to fight trafficking really delivers – and sees perpetrators severely punished and victims receive the help they so desperately need.