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19 May 2011

Trafficking no more

This Saturday, 21 May, marks the 224th anniversary of the inaugural meeting of the anti-slavery movement in London. With an MPs debate yesterday on trafficking in the UK finding children are being sold for up to £16,000, calls are once again being issued for there to be a radical shake up of the system to help victims.

The most recent and accurate research collected by senior police officers on trafficking in the UK is stark. Operation Acumen found there are an estimated 11,800 trafficked women in England and Wales - with 17,000 migrant sex workers identified during police investigations.

Yesterday, the BBC reported on a MPs debate on trafficking estimating children are being sold in the UK for up to £16,000. Addressing MPs in the House of Commons later, David Cameron said: "We need to make sure we do everything we can to stamp out this repulsive practice."

In March, the government signed up to the EU human trafficking directive. The strategy to combat trafficking has been postponed from March to June this year according to The Guardian

An article in The Observer at the weekend reported 90% of specialist staff had left the central team responsible for tackling trafficking and that funds previously supporting victims of trafficking was also being cut.

Despite nationwide police operations in 2006 resulting in hundreds of arrests and the formation of a Human Trafficking Centre, the centre's closure and subsequent re-emergence into a number of agencies and now to the new national crime agency betray its low priority, say campaigners.

"The net result is that it is just going lower and lower down someone's else's policy agenda…".says Timothy Brain, former senior police constable dealing with trafficking nationally.

Campaigners also highlight that because of the complex nature of the crimes and the often hidden nature of those caught up in it, proper intervention is often difficult.

Anthony Steen, chair of the Human Trafficking Foundation said: "In Wilberforce's day slavery could be seen. Now it is hidden from view but no less prevalent. "

Frank Field MP, who chaired the debate on human trafficking with MPs, said: "The modern day slaves that [human trafficking] has created are voiceless and vulnerable. They are stowed in the untouched shadows of our communities."

Despite the challenges, Alliance member The Salvation Army was recently chosen by the Home Office to deliver a trafficking programme from across England and Wales from July this year. Already working with those who have been trafficked through its safe housing programmes, funding from the Government will help provide emergency accommodation, outreach and detached support. 

The services will also draw on the expertise of other groups for independent accommodation, secure living and therapeutic help. 

Mai, a female victim of trafficking from Thailand who has been helped by The Salvation Army's services, said: "I arrived on a tourist visa to visit friends. I wanted to learn English and make a new life for myself. Once I arrived in England, I was introduced to a Thai lady. She took my travel documents. She said she had bought me, she owned me and that I had to pay back the debt."

"I was forced to work 24/7 as a prostitute and to take drugs; things I didn't want to do. With the help of the Thai consulate and the Home Office, they were able to find me support and accommodation with The Salvation Army. The Salvation Army supported me financially, emotionally and physically, getting me the medical attention I required after the trauma I had endured."

An estimated 600,000 - 800,000 people are trafficked across international borders each year. In March, Christian Aid, Tearfund and the Archbishop of Canterbury held a meeting to commit to taking action on sexual violence under the Silent No More campaign

A Tearfund report linked to the campaign looks at how the church can help in preventing and reducing the impact of sexual violence globally.

CARE (Christian Action Research and Education) is also running an awareness campaign focussing on human trafficking for sexual exploitation -tackling demand and making sure victims are cared for and protected.

  • The Silent No More campaign is also supported by Restored, a Christian organisation raising awareness of violence against women in the UK and globally, and The Anglican Communion
  • Stop the Traffik - coalition campaign to help stop the sale of people, trafficker prosecutions and protect victims  
  • Love 146 - raising awareness and resources to combat child sex trafficking
  • A21 Campaign - run a shelter for trafficked victims in Europe
  • Hope for Justice - campaigning to bring about an end to Human Trafficking - through rescuing victims, prosecuting traffickers and raising awareness