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 53.

    The problem is obviously mufti-facetted making it difficult to deal with, all of which aids the slavelords. There are those trafficked IN to the UK and those trafficked WITHIN the UK. Then there are the many sectors in which they are forced to work: construction, agriculture the sex trade and so on.

    Maybe the UK does need a dedicated unit to deal with things properly.

  • rate this

    Comment number 52.

    The government’s opinion on this is

    The current Home Office-led approach is working

    As the facts don’t reflect this opinion I think the way forward is to change the facts until the meet with the Governments opinion

    This happens relentlessly now where the Governments opinion is more important than the facts

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    Yet another one of Blairs pet projects, the UK Border Agency, poorly set up, poorly managed, poorly led, and yet costing the tax payer a fortune.
    I have an insight into this lot and a bigger bunch of self important people you would be hard to find.
    They are NOT the FBI but merely border guards, third rate at that.

  • Comment number 50.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 49.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    of course its failing tories dont give a damn about the victims they are not rich enough so lets cut that cost as it will allow the 1% to keep even more and they dont care about victims only themselves

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    So much for the clamp down on immigration. If they are not stopping traffickers they are unlikely to by stopping economic migrants.

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    It's all about money and the fact that the goverment does not want to spend it in our country. Tell Cameron that it is for Africa in order to stop trafficking and he will sign the orders A.S.A.P. for the money to be found and spent.Charity begins at home.Cameron thinks it should all go to Africa.

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    Traffickers are not always foreigners. Its too simplistic to state that its all about border control. It is complex. Bottom line - everyone needs to be know how to spot a trafficked person. It needs a community response.

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    Trafficking & modern slavery all are linked to our multicultural society. The liberal establishment's tolerance of the cultural diversity & timidity in dealing with ethnic groups has made them bold.

    What we need is a complete reassessment of our institutions treatmen t of multicultural & establishment of core rules of behaviour in this country even if this offends some ethnic groups or religions

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    This is just another call by "activists" for more taxpayers money to be given to them to waste on their pet social program of the moment.

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    20. havadram
    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
    Police cannot instigate a prosecution through the CPS without a victim who is willing to attend court. Would have thought the editor would have known this.

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    @36 loveandpeace
    "It IS a political issue. The politicians can do something about this but it will take money and resources to do it."

    Completely agree. I should've been clearer, I'm wound up by the people using this to argue about benefits.

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    It's rather telling that the knee-jerk response of the minister in charge is
    "The overall system we've set up is good," when he's just been presented with a great deal of information that demonstrates the exact opposite.

    With such decisive people in government, is it any wonder that these problems not only refuse to go away, but steadily get worse?

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    This has (if kept under the carpet) been tolerated by UK governments since Thatcher. Falling pay to non-living levels has been an issue for many over a number of years. In general, it suits the economy and the rich. With the removal of sufficiently financed law and where regulation lacks and consists only of “codes of practice” the majority of businesses will take advantage.

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    You would firstly need a system which stopped illegal imigrants before you can deal with trafficers. As we don't we can't. Simples.

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    26. Killer Boots Man

    You, and the rest of us have to go through this farce because the Daily Mail, Sun and Telegraph demand it. It serves no useful purpose.

    Sensible profiling of arriving passengers would allow most EEA citizens to arrive in the UK with something approaching Schengen like ease, but sadly the right wing in this country, and on this HYS wouldn't have it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.


    It IS a political issue. The politicians can do something about this but it will take money and resources to do it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    A distinction needs to be made between those forced to work for no pay and those forced into illegal activities like the sex industry. The former, often illegal immigrants need to be located by closer checks on employers by the border agency etc. The latter group should be a police priority and action on the illegality take priority over issues of immigration.

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    #30 It is politicians that decide on how and if these issues are dealt with and give the necessary powers to those to tackle them. Police, UK Border Force and Agency, etc etc can only do what they are instructed to (and have powers to) do from above.


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