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Meg Munn MP - Sheffield Heeley's voice in Parliament | Welcome
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Women Against Trafficking

Saturday, May 20, 2006

At an event organised by the Methodist Church Women’s Network on the topic of trafficking of women and girls in Europe Meg gave the following speech. 


The title of today’s conference, “Encouraging, enabling and equipping the Methodist Church to take action on the trafficking of women and girls in Europe”, gives you a challenge. As an active Methodist myself, I want to commend the Women’s Network for organising this conference, which I understand is one of three, on a subject that does not get the attention it deserves. 


I know that this forms part of the Methodist Church’s response to “Churches in Europe against Trafficking in Women” (CHASTE).  I spoke at a CHASTE seminar in March, where I welcomed their attempt at bringing a fresh perspective to the issues raised by trafficking. Their seminar, and these conferences, are welcome, ensuring that what actually happens to the victims of trafficking becomes more widely known, and to ensuring that action is taken on all fronts to address this abhorrent crime.  


As Minister for Women and Equality I work closely with my Home Office colleague, Vernon Coaker to strengthen the support given to the victims. When dealing with trafficking action must be at a number of levels: Europe, UK and local. 


Following the recent Ministerial re-shuffle I am now based at the newly created Department for Communities and Local Government. This Department brings together for the first time the responsibilities for local government, social exclusion and neighbourhood renewal with new responsibilities for communities, race, faith and equalities.  


I know that many people here today are looking for facts about trafficking and also what the Government is doing to tackle it.  


Routes into trafficking

One of the things that strikes me about human trafficking is the sheer number of routes by which women and girls are brought into the UK for sexual exploitation - and the awful existence they experience once here:

  • Fictitious advertisements in the 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 marriages

  • 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 so called “boyfriends” who are part of the trafficking network.

Trafficked victims’ stories

Once in the hands of their so-called “minders”, the women face an appalling experience. One women was trafficked into prostitution into Italy and then the UK. She was threatened and verbally abused throughout the journeys, told stories of other women being murdered, threatened with a gun and with death herself.  While in Italy she saw evidence of torture on other trafficked women’s bodies.  While in the UK she saw her pimp stab another trafficked victim.  


These trafficked and sexually exploited young women are kept in conditions akin to slavery. 


The ‘demand’ side

There’s more I could say about the ‘supply’ side of trafficking, but I want to say something about the ‘demand’ side. I’ve talked to people working with trafficked women, and they say that if the ‘demand’ side did not exist the volume of trafficking would be greatly reduced. No ‘demand’, no money to be got by the pimps and smuggling chains. 


Government published in January its strategy for prostitution. It addresses the ‘demand’ side forcefully, challenging stereotyped views of prostitution and makes clear that the law will be rigorously enforced against those who commit sexual crimes. A key element of this strategy is to change people attitudes. It’s crucial to move away from the notion that it is the ‘oldest profession’ and that it has therefore to be accepted.  


Women involved in prostitution are vulnerable to sexual crime given the risky situations inherent in their daily lives. Such women often live isolated lives and, for a variety of reasons, feel there is no-one they can trust to help them.  


The situation, of course, is so much worse for women who have been trafficked into this country for sexual exploitation. Sex in the City, the POPPY Project report published in September 2005, found that between 2,972 and 5,861 women were selling sex from parlours and saunas across London.   


Role for education


There is a big role for education in tackling not just the ‘demand’ side of things, but also the trafficked women.  There is a need to work to improve education in many areas: 

  • With children (we should challenge perceptions - is it acceptable for women to be treated in this way?);

  • In the wider community;

  • With law enforcement professionals;

  • Immigration authorities; and

  • Health and social work professionals. 

Victims’ complex needs


The victims of trafficking have needs which are inevitably complex. We will only be able to meet them if we have available the range of services that can be tailored to the individual victim, and if the agencies involved can work together successfully. 


Women will have health needs - physical and psychological. They need to feel safely housed. If these needs aren’t met women are unlikely to feel able to give an account of their experiences to the police. This is crucial if we are to bring the traffickers to justice. Providing for the victim and gathering evidence for prosecution, are inextricably linked. If we can do better on the one side then we may be able to move more effectively on the other.   


We must also look to the longer term needs of victims as to how they can pick up their life again whether in this country or in their home country. To help a number of women along this path, the Government has been funding ‘Eaves Housing for Women/the POPPY Scheme’ since March 2003 to provide safe shelter and support for adult female victims who have been trafficked into prostitution in the UK 


To date, over 100 women have been supported whilst they recover from their ordeal and prepare to return safely to their communities.  Support through the POPPY Scheme is provided temporarily, or in return for co-operation with the relevant authorities. This approach is in line with that taken by many other European countries.

 

UK Action Plan


We have a comprehensive, multi-faceted approach to human trafficking.  It encompasses legislation, enforcement, international co-operation and support for victims. It is set out in the ‘UK draft Action Plan on Trafficking’ which was subject to a public consultation exercise earlier this year.   


The Action Plan takes an end-to-end approach to tackling trafficking.  In addition to victim support which I’ve already mentioned it covers:

  • International co-operation

  • Investigation, law enforcement and prosecution

  • Prevention (including demand reduction). 

It also covers 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). 

The Plan builds on the work the UK Presidency drove forward last year in developing an ‘EU Action Plan on Trafficking’.  The EU Plan was adopted by the Council of Ministers in December, and was a major achievement of our Presidency.  It focuses on measures where coordinated EU-level action can have a real impact in the fight against people trafficking, including common standards for data collection, increased sharing of intelligence and EU-wide information campaigns. 


Legislation


In the UK we have already introduced legislation to comprehensively criminalise trafficking. 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. 


Enforcement


This April, we established the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA), bringing together the National Crime Squad, the National Criminal Intelligence Service and parts of HM Customs & Revenue and the Immigration Service.  People trafficking is one of the agency’s top priorities.  SOCA is a powerful new law enforcement body with a budget of over £400million with over 4,000 people working for it.   


This new service follows on from the multi-agency Government taskforce called 'Reflex'. This dealt with organised immigration crime, and was set-up in March 2000. I’ll mention just some of its activities from 2004/5:

  • Reflex conducted 343 operations which resulted in 1456 arrests

  • Between April 2004 and April 2005 there were 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.   This network allows us to build an intelligence picture, which we can then act on in partnership with other countries, using international police co-operation such as Europol to take effective enforcement action.  


Prevention and international co-operation


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 the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for International Development. These are aimed at raising awareness of trafficking, what actually happens to the girls and women involved.  


Council of Europe Convention


I know there is much support for the UK to sign the recent Council of Europe Convention on trafficking. We have not yet made a decision about signing. We are considering how we might implement the Convention safely and fully without undermining our ability to control our borders and guard against abuse.  


I know there is support for reflection periods and short-term residence permits for trafficking victims. We have reservations about these provisions, but do not disagree with the underlying principles. The POPPY Scheme already has a reflection delay, during which victims can start to recover and make informed decisions about their future. We also have a flexible, discretionary immigration system which enables us to hold off removal action or grant individual victims a temporary period of stay if warranted by their case.   


Concluding remarks


Working on this issue is not just about strategies for Government, but understanding the issues and working at a local level, in your communities.   In Government we believe the best way of moving forward on these difficult issues is together - we all bring different perspectives to bear, have different networks to draw upon. 


I’m pleased to have had this opportunity to address you and I look forward to hearing about the various conclusions you may come to - from this conference and the other two. Helping to raise the issue of trafficking for sexual abuse is important and I wish you well.


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