UK anti-trafficking efforts need overhaul, report says


Trafficking victim Mark Ovenden said he did not think police would be sympathetic to his plight

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Britain's efforts to stop human trafficking are in a state of crisis and need a complete overhaul, a report from a think tank says.

The Centre for Social Justice says the problem in the UK is barely understood and is often a low priority for police.

It wants an anti-slavery commissioner established and the UK Border Agency to be stripped of powers to decide whether a person has been a trafficking victim.

The government says the current Home Office-led approach is working.

Seven government departments have some responsibility for dealing with human trafficking, but the report says this leads to confusion.

The CJS report called It Happens Here is due to be published on Monday and says there is a glaring lack of leadership on the issue and a shambolic misunderstanding of trafficking.

Researchers found from construction sites to brothels, large numbers of trafficked people were being exploited, but their fate never appeared in official statistics.

Agencies are accused of struggling to understand the scale of the problem.

In 2012, the UK Human Trafficking Centre said approximately 1,200 people were victims of human traffickers, a figure the CSJ says is virtually meaningless.

"From top to bottom, this thing is a catastrophic failure," says Christian Guy, head of the CSJ.

"Politically, I'm afraid ministers are clueless about the scale of British slavery."

Fear of violence

One man who is not is 26-year-old Mark Ovenden.

Jess and Hannah

The report highlights the case of two UK-born school girls it says were the "victims of modern slavery within the UK".

A group of young men met Jess and Hannah and began to flatter and treat them.

Before long, the girls were pressured and forced into performing sexual acts on the men and their older friends.

One weekend the girls were driven to a flat and told that they must have sex with whoever arrived at the property. Jess was menstruating and so was forced to sit outside the room but over the weekend Hannah was raped by 90 men.

Names have been changed. Case study submitted to the Centre for Social Justice by the UK Human Trafficking Centre

He spent nine months being enslaved by his boss, first at various locations around southern England before being taken to Sweden, where he was eventually freed by police.

"I'd been down on my luck for quite some time," he told Radio 4's The World This Weekend programme.

"I was approached in the street one day by a guy. He asked me if I was looking for any work, told me he'd be able to pay me, give me somewhere to live, to feed me. So I agreed there and then to go with him."

During a two-month stay at one site, he worked 18 hours per day, six days per week, doing heavy manual labour. He was not paid a penny.

"No-one ever spoke about money" on the site he says, and the constant threat of violence made him fearful.

A sense of isolation and a growing dependence on his boss for shelter and a daily meal reduced his desire to escape.

"When you are deprived of money for a job, you become dependent on them for your food, your transport, for everything," says Mark.

"A lot of the guys… were calling men half their age 'daddy' almost as though they'd been degraded over a period of years."

He says he was unwilling to go to the police in the UK to report his plight as he did not think they would treat him sympathetically.

He may well be right, according to the CSJ report.

The report said there were some "impressive examples" of work by local police forces on trafficking, but said in many areas officers were "unaware of the issue, or treat it as a low strategic priority".

Its researchers say they found "unacceptable levels of ignorance" among police, social services and the UK Border Agency.

One serving officer is quoted in the report as saying "there is more incentive to investigate a shed burglar… than there is a human trafficker" as there is so little pressure on the police to deal with the issue.

'Disparate legislation'

The report also says the UK Border Agency should have its role in investigating allegations of human trafficking drastically reduced as it often treats people as potential illegal immigrants rather than victims of crime.

Christian Guy CSJ head Christian Guy described the current system as a "catastrophic failure"

"There is an immigration aspect to the whole issue, but it is not the key thing," says Andrew Wallis, head of the anti-trafficking charity Unseen UK who chaired the group that investigated the issue.

"For us, the key thing is there is a crime that has taken place, we have a victim of crime so let's respond accordingly."

Most victims of trafficking in the UK come from abroad, with Eastern Europeans, Nigerians and Vietnamese figuring prominently.

Those who are rescued or free themselves often end up in safe houses run by the Salvation Army on behalf of the government.

The CSJ report highlights in particular the plight of British children.

Start Quote

The overall system we've set up is good”

End Quote Mark Harper Immigration minister

In 2011, it says, almost half of UK citizens who were trafficked were girls trafficked for sexual exploitation.

It highlights the case of a school girl who, under the control of a group of young men, was raped by 90 men over the course of a single weekend.

The report's authors say the scale of the problem and the lack of understanding of the issue means that major changes are needed.

They are calling for creation of an anti-slavery commissioner, similar to the children's commissioner, to oversee and co-ordinate the country's response and the passing of a modern slavery act to tighten current disparate legislation.

The Home Office, which is responsible for co-ordinating the work of seven different government departments on human trafficking, has defended the current system.

"The overall system we've set up is good," says the Immigration Minister Mark Harper.

"We'll continue to improve over time. This is a crime that tends to be hidden and we want to be sure people are more aware of it and that people are more effective in dealing with the victims of it and more effective in locking up the people engaged in this abhorrent crime."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    Wasn't this think tank set up by Iain Duncan Smith,concerned by social breakdown and poverty?Now he's in a position to do something about it but seems,instead,to be adding to the problem by the government's welfare reforms.

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    Why do we have a border agency? There have been fly on the wall documentaries about the BA and they do very little. They watch immigrants hop on ferries etc in Calais as they say "that they can't tackle them on foreign soil". Whilst immigrant movement is only one way, ie to the UK, do we believe that France would take a similar stance if the situation was reversed?

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    Why don't we impose proper boarder controls again?
    If we don't even know who's coming into this country & why, we will never stop things like human trafficking & benefit mules.
    The boarder agency needs more staff & resources, not more cuts.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    Slavery is alive and well in the UK, from eastern European gangs forcing women into sex, Pakistani gangs preying on white children and forcing them into a life of degradation and IDS forcing unemployed people to work for less than minimum wage. We are becoming a nation that turns a blind eye to those who are mistreated. It should shame the Political elite but they don't care.

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    The whole criminal justice system is breaking down because the Human Rights Act is being exploited by criminals

    It is now harder & more costly to take effective action against a whole range of criminals particularly those who work across borders

    The Human Rights Act must be suspended until it is fit for purpose.

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    How on earth can we be expected to police the little issues like people trafficking when there are speeding and parking offences being committed every day!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    "The government says the current Home Office-led approach is working"

    We know very well our politicians are liars and deceivers and they haven't a clue whether it's working or not. Nice tho, to hear them claiming something works. Their usual stance is to do put down the efforts of every public service. Propaganda of course.

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    EVERYTHING to do with this government is in crisis.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    The government aren't interested in tackling trafficking because:

    - Doesn't cause a public outcry, just some sympathy

    - Doesn't hurt the economy

    - Not a big story

    = Little or no action will be taken

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    improve this (or any) humanitarian issue under this government???

    FAT CHANCE!!! >: (

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    It is time that we started calling "things" exactly what they are..

    we congratulate ourselves that we have abolished slavery

    when we haven`t ,, not by a long chalk

    this so called human trafficking is nothing but


    let`s get real, and really stop it..

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    The UK Boarder Agency does not even bother to take a record of those people who enter the UK legally never mind anything else - that's how lax it is.

    When you think about it, what do they actually do ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    What are we worrying about human traffiking for?

    When Theresa May has her way in removing our human rights we will all be open to much, much worse abuse than mere traffiking.

    Arab spring?

    We need a British spring, and now.


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