A Cause for Concern: The Surge in Human Trafficking & Slavery

February 24, 2014 3:30 pm

We have come to the end of January. For most of us, January connotes a month of healthy eating and exercise; of dealing with the dreaded post-turkey coma; and one in which we resolve to make ourselves better. This month, political parties have begun their journey to elections, altering their manifestos and perfecting speeches.We have witnessed some of the worst global weather for 100 years, anxiously awaited Schumacher’s recovery and observed disturbing protests in the Ukraine.

Although, perhaps unknown to the public sphere; January was also a month dedicated to heightening awareness of two continual, brutal and expanding social problems closer to home. Two issues customarily unknown to the collective moral conscience of the UK: Human Trafficking and Slavery.

5472985473_5856f57e5c_bDuring the period April-June 2013, the National Crime Agency found 383 individuals referred to the NRM, comprising individuals from 52 countries of origin – all suspected of being victims of human trafficking.

Globally, awareness institutions have vetoed two definitions for these socially harmful disciplines:

Human Trafficking is the illegal practice of procuring or trading in human beings for the purpose of prostitution, forced labour, or other forms of exploitation.

Slavery is a state of subjection, kept under the authority of a person or institution.

There are three vital questions to ask when analysing the true impact of these problems on UK society.

We throw our words around, pretending that we are ‘politically educated’, but do we truly know the depth of the meaning of these dangerous societal issues? Are we able to empathise or even begin to understand the perils of victims? And, most importantly; are we ignorant of a practice happening right beneath our noses, and could it be happening to someone we know?

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The dictionary definitions of these two illegal concepts scarcely cover the multitude of injuries; physical and mental, that human trafficking victims and slaves suffer, even in our current digital age. Bizarre, isn’t it, that you could be sitting in bed on your laptop browsing Facebook, when the person next door could be starting her first shift as a prostitute, far away from her mother and home country. It is a terrible, yet unfortunately realistic idea to consider that the UK is a place where human trafficking and slavery still exists.

It is especially shocking to contemplate this happening in the UK, when faced with the disparities between these issues and our everyday lives. The differences appear colossal and unbelievable; and seem consequently unrealistic. The spread; which has driven MPs in the UK to warn the government earlier this month of its amounting scale and distribution; is perhaps something we believe happens in poorer, more politically corrupt areas of the world.

In January 2013, America set the ball rolling for heightened awareness of these two issues. President Obama named January ‘National Human Trafficking and Slavery Awareness Month‘, dedicating a series of talks by organisations and awareness campaigns to be spread across various states. He builds on the 2007 U.S Senate decision to name 11th January ‘National Human Trafficking and Slavery Awareness Day’. Since its induction, the UK has failed to follow suit, despite the growing number of human trafficking and slavery cases in this country. Yes, Anti-Slavery day is October 18th, but how much of the UK is actually aware of this? I know I wasn’t, not least until I looked further into the issue.

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Nevertheless, it is misguided to suggest that it is the fault of the individual, and that we are ignorant of human trafficking and slavery on a personal level. The real problem is the past lack of awareness raised, and the sparse publication of cases across national media. We have only seen an upward trend in reports from the start of 2013 to the present, and only towards the end of this period has media coverage been adequate. The problem is, with past media cover-ups and a mere lack of media knowledge, can we as a nation truly capacitate the volume of cases and the amount of victims? Especially, contending with past coverage, if their cries for help are not received or are poorly reported? Was the previous covering up of cases by authorities due to the sheer amount of problems an eventual outcry may have posed for them?

However, in 2014, we seem to be finding answers. During January, reporting has increased, and more awareness has been raised about the two issues. This is largely through the exposure of a series of cases through national media. This new-found awareness has also slightly improved the situation for victims: the stories have denoted an increase in the trial and punishment of convicted human traffickers and slave drivers.

On the 8th January, The Express reported the conviction of human traffickers alleged to have brought 44 women into the UK for sex trafficking. On the 19th of January, The Independent released information concerning the failure of the Home Office in raising awareness of the issues; in particular, criticism of the Modern Slavery Bill, and of the need for new management to raise awareness for victims.

Many critics and organisations support the removal of the Home Office from its position of authority on the issue, and offer the UK Human Trafficking Centre up as replacement. Having a victim-focused organisation in charge may pose more benefits for those affected than past constraints.

Similarly, on the 27th of January, BBC News reported the imprisonment of a man and a woman for trafficking two prostitutes out of a flat in Cardiff Bay, according to Newport Police. The victims, trafficked from the Czech Republic, as well as the female perpetrator, were alleged to be part of a plan for a prostitute ring in the area’s sex industry.

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Although this coverage rather brutally highlights the problem, it quite rightly exposes them, and their horrific tendencies, to the public sphere. In Scotland, where similar stories of sex slavery have been released, proposed laws to end human trafficking have the support of 45,000 signatures.

The future looks brighter, perhaps, for the awareness of human trafficking and slavery; although perhaps, the same cannot be said for the swelling number of victims. The issues are very concerning; but hopefully, with the involvement of organisations such as Amnesty, UKHTC and other institutions; the voices of victims may be heard above the cries of previous political incompetency regarding them.

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