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 113.

    With our slack border controls im surprised that there's any need for human trafficking.

    The government is too busy giving 'aid' to other countries instead of protecting the UK and its citizens.

  • rate this

    Comment number 112.

    99 and 104
    Aside from the ethnic point that you are trying to make, I think there seems some confusion here between the UKBA and security. UKBA staff were formerly Customs/Immigration officers.Its not the UKBA (actually UKBF now) who man security and confiscate items from passengers baggage - UKBF officers seize items from passengers bags that contravene UK laws on prohibitions and restrictions

  • rate this

    Comment number 111.

    It is becoming increasingly evident that a thorough revamping of the Border Security services in the UK is required. Both in light of the opening of borders due to EU migration policy, and the continuing rise in cross-border illegal activity. While our Border Security should still project a welcoming and helpful image, welcoming and helpful does not mean 'rubber-stamping' access without checks.

  • rate this

    Comment number 110.

    The real root of this problem is that we are broke. We cannot afford to sort it out.

  • rate this

    Comment number 109.

    Soroptimists established the Purple Tear Drop Campaign to raise awareness of trafficking in the UK and have been amazed by lack of willingness to accept this has is a serious issue in this country. It affects so many lives especially women and girls. When rescued they need support and not to be prosecuted. For more info

  • rate this

    Comment number 108.

    //imagine if you responded to an ad for a working holiday in some country, visa included, and ended up as a sex slave in a brothel, only to have that country's old godgers moan about immigrants.//

    pity you think stigmatise the old as having certain views, and those with certain views as being old.

    quite revealing of the blinkered and bigoted mindset of many so-called 'liberals'.

  • rate this

    Comment number 107.

    The thing is with the law is that only honest and upright people don't break it.

    It doesn't matter what legal system you have it will be exploited by CRIMINALS ! For money.

    With serious offenders getting slap after slap on the wrists while Poll Tax dodgers are sent to prison means there is quite simply nothing for traffickers to fear, no matter what legislation is created to stop it!

  • rate this

    Comment number 106.

    I have since, my return, done some research as to manning of the security at the airport and find my observations were correct.
    I would have thought that you could have worked out what area of society I was implying, (given that the moderators had censored my earlier post!)

  • rate this

    Comment number 105.

    Just another case of this Government level of incompetence when dealing with real people, what this Government has given up 'Marching their Right-Wing Jack-Boots' over the sick and disabled, now it seems it's the turn of those who are brought to this island against their will to suffer at the hands of this useless broken Parliament.

  • Comment number 104.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 103.

    Like many other issues raised on the BBC site the problem is that we are broke. So we do not have enough money to solve it. We are bankrupt. Soon we shall not be able to afford a decent health service, or pensions, etc etc

    Meanwhile the bankers keep paying themselves literally millions!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 102.


    Peoples rights won over years of serfdom & tyranny are being eroded by a govt determined to see what was commonplace in the middle ages return to Britain.//

    Like the MStaffs killing, these things were going under LABOUR!!

    But I see the left is out in force on the marking today...I suspect I know how general public opinion outside left/BBC land sees this.

  • rate this

    Comment number 101.

    We'll really find out about the next scale of trafficking come 1st Jan 2014.

  • rate this

    Comment number 100.

    @99 Peter Buck

    Which area of society was that? Do you have figures to show that the UKBA is made up of people from that one area of society? Or could it have been that your observation was simply that, an observation based on partial information in a stressful situation (queuing is stressful). If it was, then your observation does not have much evidential value.

  • rate this

    Comment number 99.

    My very recent experience at our main airport led me to view, (whilst queueing), just who it is that mans our border security. The majority seem to come from just one area of society.

  • rate this

    Comment number 98.

    A simple solution to both this and illegal immigration would be to offer those caught a simple choice - deportation or 20 year's hard labour.
    The problem would probably vanish away overnight.
    Do you think we could get rid of the human rights lawyers the same way?

  • rate this

    Comment number 97.

    There are some very weird people voting on this HYS.

  • rate this

    Comment number 96.

    @93 Peter Buck

    Thank you for the clarification. Can't help think that you are inviting your fellow travellers to draw a specific conclusion from their observations. Have you drawn such a conclusion? If so, please share it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 95.

    The CSJ seem to be in favour of letting everybody in and checking whether they have been duped by criminal exploiters or not later. The authorities do need to urgently sort out the problem of domestic slavery but easing up on immigration is only providing the criminals with more victims.

  • rate this

    Comment number 94.

    The Centre for Social Justice founder also co founded interest rate swaps which led to hedging and speculating. Interesting!


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