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 33.

    As usual, these thigns are chroniclly underfunded and understaffed then the ministers that control funds blame the people doing their best.

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    Everything this government and the previous one does is in response to news items. But they ignore the need for Food Banks, virtual slavery,both in house and across borders, and the poor who have to decide whether to eat or heat. Yet the wealthy who earn more than average get tax cuts. Shame on us all.

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    How can the government say the Home Office led approach is not working when the Home Office is a part of the government?They are,in effect,saying the government is not working.........which is about right!

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    It's disgraceful that some of those commenting are using this report to play politics. People trafficking is sickening in itself - please do not use it to point score in other arguments which, to me, seem far less significant.

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    It is hard to comprehend the depravity of human trafficking and slavery.

    The fact that this is going on in the UK reflects a society maybe descending back into the Dark Ages.

    It is hard to see with overstretched Law and Welfare agencies, open borders and increased poverty how things can be made better.

    I just hope they can.

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    The stupid woman Mrs May who is effectively in charge of the Border Agency will do nothing...this is the woman who wants our Human Rights to be no action will be taken. Instead she will concentrate on her bid to become the new Tories leader!!!! God help this Country because all the alleged Christians in the Government sure as hell aren't. This Country is a disgrace & getting worse.

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    I would hazard a guess that #2 would be the first to complain if they had to queue for more than two minutes for the extra checks & records they suggest are lacking or would complain about civil liberty infractions with the government keeping records on their movements.
    This is an enormous problem that no one is specifically responsible for. dealing with.
    A helpful insightful comment none the less

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    On immigration: When I return from holiday I have to wait in a long queue to stand and look at a camera while they check and scan my passport. This is despite the fact I have been through security checkpoints at the departure airport and all of my details are listed on the flight manifest. So this begs the question, how do they not know who arrives in the UK?

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    It should be widely published any trafficked people can report themselves to the police for an immediate return to their homeland, no risk or charges to them. Given the one mentioned above did not think he would get sympathetic treatment from the police. Let it be clear we, our authorities will help out of the country all foreigners that ask.

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    One of the best examples of the uselessness of the piolice is the story of a trafficked girl who eventually managed to escape and went straight to the local police station, where she was arrested for not having a passport. With thick jobsworths like this involved, what hope is there of getting anything positive done?

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    There are two reasons why there is little official interest in this crime.

    1. It does not affect the children of rich people.

    2. It springs from high unemployment and UK employers like high unemployment as it gives them more power over employees.

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    What an indictment on our Society. We have supposedly come so far, even as far a single sex marriage but have got no where really. You cannot legislate away such evils. I hesitate to say such practice seems of late encouraged by immigration.

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    @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. "

    I've always wondered how this can be with imigration in general. Arenn't all passports chipped these days or at the very least have unique numbers. Surely a quick scan into a computer will record all ins and outs of the UK, fraud aside.

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    Human trafficking is a crime, so it is up to the police to investigate and prosecute regardless of whether pressure is being applied or not .

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    So what - this is Tory Britain - only the elite matter - plebes count for nothing!
    But they may spin a bit here and there to pretend they have morals and care about victims.
    Anyway it will stop soon as there will soon be enough desperate poor here to fill the requirements

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    Just another example of this government not being in touch with reality. The last government made so many problems for us and the next will take us further into oblivion. It is not enough any longer to just talk and make the right noises plus throwing more tax payers money at a good idea that will not work. We have to take back our country and close our borders. Time for a British Spring. NOW

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    For shame!

    This is one crime that makes me ashamed to be human. And we seem to have a government that lacks the determination and staying power to end it.

    How can we call ourselves civilised while this goes on?

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    The border agency have been ravaged by successive Governments for years, they are severely understaffed and under funded. They are an easy targets but the real culprits are the ministers in charge. Though i'm not sure what the border agency could do about people being moved about IN the UK...

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    The Centre for Social Justice wants to stop slavery, the organisation that was brought into being by Iain Duncan Smith........who wants people to be forced to work for nothing. Is this what is classed as irony?

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    This government is in favour of slavery. They force the unemployed to work for hugely profitable companies for no wages.


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