At last it seems the media and the authorities too are waking up to the appalling new wave of modern day trafficking which is actually happening in the UK right now as I write and you read. All kinds of people are trapped in this dreadful situation where they are forced to work for up to 18 hours a day and are often paid nothing for months on end and then are totally dependent on their ‘masters’ for all their needs.
Occasionally stories surface like the deaths of workers on the sands of Morecambe Bay some years back but then the topic ceases to be newsworthy and it all slips back into the grimy underworld.
How does this happen we are probably all asking ourselves? Intimidation is key and many people who find themselves the victim of trafficking just cannot see a way to escape. Some survivors of this treatment tell of workers being slapped with shovels and threatened with pickaxes if they ever tried to stand up for themselves. Thus begins a cycle of degradation that may well continue for years and can end in the ultimate crime.
The added complication is that the UK police force is, at present, not very well equipped to deal with a trafficked person if they should present themselves at a police station or at a UK border control point. There are stories of sex workers making a break for it and then because they are not in possession of passports are immediately arrested as an illegal immigrant. In fact police have admitted there is little incentive for them to trace trafficking rings because it’s not one of their priorities and doesn’t help with performance statistics. One officer said that it was more productive to hunt a shed burglar than assist in hunting down the perpetrators of people trafficking.
Is this the way to treat someone who is often a victim of modern day slavery? The new report entitled: ‘It Happens Here’ will be published on 11th March 2013 in the UK and is very critical of how this problem is being dealt with. The government says only 1200 people have been trafficked but author of the Centre for Social Care and Justice Christian Guys feels the system is failing to deal effectively with a problem whose roots probably lay far deeper than what we can see on the surface. He says the government really has no understanding of the extent of this problem right across the country.
How do you spot a potential modern day slave owner or victim of slavery? Do people really know what signs to look out for? In addition, those who do manage to break away and have their stories listened to find the aftercare and support nothing less than shameful.
The CSJ is campaigning hard for a commissioner to be responsible for this problem as right now responsibility is spread across seven different government departments and inevitably some confusion will result. Right now it is the UK Border Agency who often makes a decision as to whether someone is a victim of trafficking or simply an illegal immigrant and because of their role their focus is inevitably on immigration issues.
People caught up in trafficking or modern day slavery are victims of crime and should not be treated as criminals themselves but perhaps frustratingly, the minister Ben Harper is quite scathing about this new report and seemed only interested in trotting out clichéd comments when interviewed by the BBC.
When I first researched this topic for my novel The Uncounted, I knew it was my duty to expose what was happening in this country and if you have been affected by the news then may I suggest you read the book which is available on Kindle and as a paperback. Click here and then share this blog post so no one is left in the dark that modern slavery is happening here too!