Last Updated: 14 March 2011
Created: 14 March 2011
This week I have taken part in a debate on child slavery and human trafficking in the UK and abroad, an issue I have highlighted in Parliament on a number of occasions. In many ways the UK leads the way in tackling human trafficking. However I believe we need greater awareness, better protection of victims and stronger laws to ensure we bring these criminal gangs to justice.
It is very difficult to identify the actual scale of human trafficking across the world, due to the hidden nature of the crime. The most recent official estimate puts the figure of the number of women trafficked to work in brothels and other premises in England and Wales at 2,600, although organisations who work in this field believe the actual figure is four times this estimate.
I have real concerns about the way we deal with victims of trafficking. When rescued, victims are often wrongly treated as criminals themselves, for either drug or immigration offences, at a time when they are most in need of help and support.
There are also problems with prosecuting perpetrators of human trafficking as investigations are often not taken forward if victims do not provide, or withdraw their statement. The main reasons why statements may not be provided is that victims live in fear of the gangs who controlled them, and are waiting to swipe them back once released back into the community. Unless we give victims confidence that they will be provided with sufficient protection, we will struggle to get the evidence we need to break the grip of the gangs.
Whilst most people would acknowledge that this is a horrific issue, they wrongly believe it doesn’t happen in their area. But in reality it occurs right under the noses of local communities. Gangs often target some of this country’s more affluent, new-build estates, for safe houses, cannabis-cultivating factories and brothels. Taking advantage that neighbours don’t necessarily know each other, so people won’t notice when strangers come and go at different times. We all need to be aware of this and not be afraid to report suspicious behaviour. The reporting of human trafficking is crucial if the United Kingdom is to be successful in its effort to combat this brutal crime.
We also need to address the issue of sex offences abroad by UK citizens. Our record of prosecutions of British citizens for child sexual abuses overseas has been described as ‘appalling’ by ECPAT UK. The ‘3 day loophole’ that allows known sex offenders to travel abroad for up to three days without notifying the authorities, must be closed. It is vital that we do more on this issue because it relates to our citizens perpetrating horrific crimes abroad.
It is essential we continue to see progress on this crucial issue as behind every statistic is a real life horror story and we must all step up our efforts as a matter of urgency.