Modern slave trade is booming in the UK
‘Modern slavery booming in Britain’
Wed, 12 Jun 2013 14:07:13 GMT
The UK justice system is losing the fight against modern slavery by prosecuting victims of human trafficking rather than the criminal chieftains, a major new study will warn,
The findings of the study commissioned by the Anti-Trafficking Monitoring Group (ATMG) and seen by The Independent suggest that a unified law on the crime is required to make it easier to prosecute. And it comes at a time when the number of trafficking victims indentified is soaring and criminal convictions for the offence have plummeted.
The ATMG is a coalition of bodies established to scrutinise the government’s progress in tackling modern slavery.
Under the current regime, many trafficked people are prosecuted for crimes they are forced to commit as “widespread” evidence shows, while the criminal bosses who enslave them go unpunished.
The ATMG believes the practice of unlawfully punishing victims is common, despite existence of legal protection for them, according to the report.
One woman was imprisoned for 12 months for possession of a false passport and having documents used for fraud, despite Judge Guy Kearl QC stating, “I accept that you have been a victim of trafficking and you were exploited.”
In another case of trafficking from Vietnam for cannabis farming, the defendant was sentenced to 24 months, despite the judge acknowledging he had been coerced.
“Until the government makes tackling trafficking a priority it won’t be effective in prosecuting traffickers and protecting the victims. Our evidence suggests that many trafficked persons are prosecuted for crimes they were compelled to commit while their traffickers enjoy impunity. This is unacceptable. The UK is obliged by the law to investigate traffickers and protect victims from criminalisation”, said Klara Skrivankova, trafficking programme co-ordinator at Anti-Slavery International.
The report says “countless” examples where the police “did not recognise the crime at all” were highlighted to ATMG charities. It says human trafficking is “not a policing priority,” despite the government’s commitment to make Britain a hostile environment for traffickers.
Cases where trafficked children were re-trafficked on release from Young Offender Institutions were also identified by the group, which said it was concerned about a “revolving door” effect, leading to vulnerable children becoming victims twice.
“We consistently see child victims of trafficking not being given adequate protection and support. There continues to be a gap in the understanding of frontline practitioners who just aren’t well-enough informed about how to recognise and deal with cases of trafficking”, said Chloe Setter, head of advocacy at ECPAT UK.
“Prosecutions of child traffickers are rare, leaving children without justice and their perpetrators free to re-offend. This sends out a dangerous message that the UK is not tough enough on child trafficking.”
The number of trafficking victims identified in Britain continues to rise. In September 2011, 36 victims were identified, while by February 2013, 83 were found in a month. At the same time, the number of traffickers successfully prosecuted is plummeting, with just 8 convictions in 2011, half as many as in 2010 and a third of those in 2008.