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Meg Munn MP - Sheffield Heeley's voice in Parliament | Welcome
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Trafficking of Women for Sexual Exploitation

Sunday, October 16, 2005

At a recent seminar organised by the European Women’s Lobby entitled ‘Trafficking in Women for Sexual Exploitation: Who is responsible?’ Meg gave the following contribution.

 

I’m pleased to be able to speak to you at this seminar which brings together people from across Europe to deliberate on a subject that to often does not get the serious attention it deserves. In my job as Minister for Women and Equality I work with my Home Office colleague, Paul Goggins, to strengthen the support given to victims of this awful crime. 

 

I congratulate the European Women’s Lobby for taking the initiative to hold this an event.  I’m aware of:

  • your long-standing interest in this area through your Policy Action Centre on Violence Against Women
  • the activities of individuals here today, such as Professor Liz Kelly, who have been working for some time raising awareness of issues arising from the trafficking of women for sex exploitation. 

 

Following the recent police raid on a Birmingham massage parlour I was struck by the media coverage, how it highlighted some of the important issues.  But the coverage was only fleeting and quickly disappeared from view.  Awareness of the problems may have grown slightly, but the need remains to raise substantially the levels of understanding among the general public and professionals about trafficking for sexual exploitation.

 

We know of the range of routes bringing these women into sexual exploitation in the UK:

  • Fictitious advertisements in the girls’ countries of origin for jobs as au pairs for which the “agency” “supplies” passports and other documentation
  • Fictitious advertisements for jobs in the legalized sex industry
  • Fictitious advertisements for marriage in the West
  • Kidnapping in countries of origin, where whole regions are still devastated by war and the collapse of economic and social infrastructures that follows   
  • Girls sold by their families - who have been known to re-sell them if they return
  • Grooming of adolescent girls in countries of origin by “boyfriends” who are part of the trafficking network
  • Diversion by pimps of females already working in the legal sex industry
  • Women locked into paying off serial debt bondage

 

Once in the hands of their “minders” the women face an appalling experience. One person went through the following:

She was trafficked into prostitution into Italy and then the UK and was threatened and verbally abused throughout the trips.  She was told stories of other women being murdered, which she believed, and was threatened with a gun and with death herself.  While in Italy she evidence of torture on other trafficked women’s bodies.  While in the UK she saw her pimp stab another trafficked victim.

 

A key point is that these trafficked and sexually exploited young women are kept in conditions akin to slavery. While they are kept captive in these brothels/houses there are no means of escape - as witnessed with the electrified perimeter fence at the Birmingham massage parlour.

 

The raid on that particular parlour arose from a tip-off from a punter and not an escapee. So the punter was on the side of the Angels? In this case maybe so.  But serious attention has to be given to the ‘demand’ side of this particular industry. One of the comments that people from a variety of background make is that if the demand did not exist here in the UK, the volume of trafficking would be greatly reduced.

 

Clearly we need to look at the part education can play in relation to: 

  • children (is it acceptable for women to be treated in this way?);
  • the wider community (the neighbours of the Birmingham parlour seemed  to have spotted signs of something not quite right);
  • law enforcement professionals;
  • immigration authorities; and
  • health and social work professionals.

 

The stories from the women and young girls forced into this area are horrifying. But there are ways out, good outcomes are possible.     

 

A few words about the POPPY project.  The Birmingham massage parlour raid allowed, Natalia Dawkins, one of POPPY’s tireless workers some airtime for her views on the issues. 

 

The Government has been working with Eaves Housing/POPPY project since 2003 to provide targeted accommodation and support for adult victims who have been trafficked into prostitution in the UK. 

 

For those of you who work outside the UK and are not so familiar with the work of the project, you might like to know:

  • over 90 women have been supported in this way;
  • Ministers have recently extended the existing funding agreement until March 2006 - safeguarding current provision pending detailed consideration of evaluation findings
  • Ministers are now looking in detail at the evaluation findings and recommendations and will take decisions about the future of the Scheme in due course.

 

This leads me into the UK Government strategy against trafficking. 

 

We have in place a comprehensive, multi-faceted approach on human trafficking. It encompasses legislation, enforcement, international co-operation and support for victims.

 

We have already introduced legislation to comprehensively criminalise trafficking e.g.

  • The Sexual Offences Act 2003 introduced wide-ranging offences covering trafficking into, out of or within the UK for any form of sexual offence, which carry a 14 year maximum penalty.
  • A new offence, of 'trafficking for exploitation', which includes trafficking for forced labour and the removal of organs, is included in the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Act 2004. This also carries a heavy 14 year maximum penalty.

 

In March 2000 a multi-agency government taskforce 'Reflex', was set up to deal with organised immigration crime.  In 2004/5:

  • Reflex conducted 343 operations during 04/05 which resulted in 1456 arrests
  • Between April 2004 and April 2005 Reflex resulted in 149 disruptions of organised immigration crime groups. This figure includes those involved in human trafficking as well as people smuggling and related activities.
  • Reflex seized £5,572,142 of criminal assets

 

Through Reflex we have established a network of overseas immigration liaison officers.

 

To be truly effective, the Government has recognised that it must also tackle human trafficking at source.

 

There are a range of schemes in source countries, involving FCO and DfID, aimed at raising awareness of trafficking, and we are also involved in capacity building work in source and transit countries.

 

We saw just this week the breaking-up of a large scale people-smuggling ring with 10 arrests. This strong intervention will be helped with the national action plan to combat human trafficking.

 

The plan will take an end-to-end approach to tackling trafficking and will cover:

  • International co-operation
  • Investigation, law enforcement and prosecution
  • Prevention (including demand reduction)
  • Victim support and protection

 

It is intended that the UK action plan should cover all forms of trafficking in human beings, in particular:

  • Trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation
  • Trafficking for the purpose of labour exploitation
  • Child trafficking (e.g. for the purpose of domestic servitude/benefit fraud)

 

We intend to conduct a formal consultation on the draft plan and this is expected to be launched next month.

 

My colleague Paul Goggins recently held a meeting with key NGO stakeholders where he outlined the Government’s strategy on human trafficking. Some of you attended that meeting.  It was an extremely informative and productive meeting and provided a useful forum for exchange of views. 

 

We need to develop further this approach to tackling this problem - through discussion, collaboration, sharing of views and information.  My role as Minister for Women enables me to lead on bringing different Government Departments together. 

 

But I know that many of you want to see a change in the UK position on signing up to the Council of Europe Convention on Trafficking.  The Government is genuinely concerned that signing up does not lead to and increases in the 'pull' factors for trafficking.  Discussions over signing up continue. 

 

But in the meantime I ask you to continue to look for the practical ways to help make the important connections across government and its agencies. That we all learn and understand better what the trafficking of people entails. These may seem small things when compared with the signing of the Convention, but nevertheless, could have a strong impact in terms of people’s lives. 

 

I will certainly draw upon the conclusions from this seminar as part of my role of ensuring that women’s interests are taken into account as part of high-level discussions. They will help in developing thinking about how best to tackle not only trafficking for sexual exploitation but also violence against women more broadly.  As Minister for Women and Equality I will continue to ensure that women’s issues are championed as part of wider Government policy.


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