HUMAN TRAFFICKING is often cited as the world’s fastest growing international crime. It’s a crime that comes in multiple forms and it’s happening across the globe, including here in Manchester.
That’s where Stop The Traffik comes in. They are a global, awareness raising organisation, with a branch in Manchester.
Manchester: Stop The Traffik was set up in 2009 by Julia Pugh who became engaged with the issue of trafficking whilst working at a drug rehabilitation centre in Thailand.
Julia Pugh, Manchester: Stop The Traffik coordinator said: “There was a cross section of the community that was missing which was mostly women and girls.”
They were being recruited to work at restaurants in the cities and essentially became trapped – charged for their uniforms and being subject to large fines.
On her return to the UK, she realised trafficking was happening in Manchester too. So, she put together a group “to be responsive for what they were seeing in their own community”.
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime defines human trafficking as, “the acquisition of people by improper means such as force, fraud or deception, with the aim of exploiting them”.
Exploitation can take various forms. According to the Global Report on Trafficking in Persons (2016) the most common exploitation types in Western and Southern Europe (which includes the UK) are sexual exploitation (65%) and forced labour (23%).
A total of 15,200 victims have been detected in this region between 2012-2014, with 33% of them having been trafficked from Southern European countries.
Women accounted for the largest group of detected victims at 56% compared to 18% who were men which points to women as a particularly vulnerable group within Europe. However, the number of male victims has been rising on an international scale where there has been an 8% increase between 2004-2014.
Whilst most trafficking victims identified in the UK appear to come from abroad, some (18%) are trafficked domestically, from one part of the UK to another. The Global Slavery index estimates that 11,700 people are currently enslaved in the UK.
This goes to show that trafficking is a universal crime that can affect anyone from anywhere. There are so many types of exploitation, some of which lend themselves better to specific type of victim.
An example being forced begging in children, where they are made to go out and beg and give anything they get to the trafficker.
Julia Muraszkiewicz, Manchester: Stop The Traffik coordinator said: “It’s quite an interesting one for the community to be aware of because if we are throwing in a few pennies, while we’re passing a child that’s begging, maybe just stop and try to speak to them and find out a little bit about their background.”
National Referral Mechanism:
Last year 89 people living in Manchester were referred to the National Referral Mechanism (NRM), a framework for victims of human trafficking and modern slavery. These victims receive a 45-day reflection and recovery period with access to specialist support.
In Manchester, the most common form of exploitation amongst the 89 victims referred was sexual exploitation with 41 having experienced this.
It is hard to know if the data is reliable because it up to the victim whether they enter the NRM. There are potentially large numbers of victims that are not referred, either by choice, or because some areas are not referring victims at all. It is therefore difficult to get a clear picture of this crime, which makes it harder to combat it.
Hannah Flint, Modern Slavery Network coordinator said: “The biggest challenge about knowing how big the issue is, is that nobody knows. There aren’t any facts because it’s a hidden crime, victims are scared to come forward or haven’t been discovered yet, or don’t want to go on the radar even if they are helped.”
Mrs Muraszkiewicz, elaborated on why victims don’t always come forward: “One mechanism that traffickers use is that they indoctrinate their victims to be distrustful of the police.”
Community action is therefore essential and the public need to be alert to the signs of trafficking so they can spot victims and help them by reporting what they have seen.
She uses the example of someone who is kept as a house slave to demonstrate why public awareness is key.
“With domestic servitude where that person who’s working as a house slave may never leave the house, there’s no way a policeman or woman would ever come across that victim. The postman or the milkman who comes to the house everyday may be able to spot it and they could report it to the police.”
Stop The Traffik therefore do a lot of work with people who they see as “frontline professionals”, those who are in the “ideal place” to come into contact with victims.
They train nurses and midwives to identify trafficking victims, specifically victims of sexual exploitation, who are likely to visit healthcare facilities if they contract an STD or fall pregnant.
One of the organisation’s campaigns is ‘Traffik Free Chocolate’ which tackles the issue of child labour in the cocoa industry.
Around 70% of the world’s cocoa is produced in African countries (The Cocoa Foundation: 2014). There are over 2 million children working on cocoa plantations in Ghana and Ivory Coast alone. It is estimated that more than 500,000 of them are working under abusive conditions (Tulane Report: 2015).
The chocolate campaign seeks to empower the public to make such exploitation difficult for the traffickers, from here in the UK.
Stop the Traffik organise chocolate fondue nights where people can enjoy some Fairtrade chocolate while learning more about forced labour in the cocoa industry and how they as consumers have the power to prevent this by buying only Fairtrade chocolate.
This highlights the power of individuals to make a difference which is perhaps an aspect of the issue that does not get enough publicity. People need to know and understand the power that they have as consumers if meaningful progress is going to be made.
Publicity and Legislation:
In 2015 the Modern Slavery Act came into force, which consolidates the offences of trafficking and other forms of modern slavery into one legislation. The Act also increased the maximum prison sentence for such offences from 14 years to life.
The Act covers modern slavery in supply chains like those involved in the cocoa industry. Under the Act any company with a turnover above £36m must report on what steps they have taken to ensure modern slavery is not prevalent in their business or supply chains.
The Home Office has created duty to notify forms to anonymously collect information about trafficking.
Mrs Flint pointed out that: “Anyone can put in these duty to notify forms and say ‘I’ve just seen a Vietnamese lady who I believe was a victim of sexual exploitation’. There’s nothing about her name, her date of birth, anything that would identify her but it would help in getting a better picture of how many victims there are.”
Greater Manchester Police has its own Modern Slavery Unit made up of various agencies including, the Police, local authorities, the Department for Works and Pensions, immigration and the fire service.
Greater Manchester Police have also trained nearly 100 victim liaison officers, so victims have immediate access to someone with specialist training who understands the complexities of the crime.
Mrs Flint, who works for the unit, stressed the necessity of a multi-agency approach, because it enables them to assess which agency is best placed to deal with certain aspects of each case.
In the last year the unit has seen the number of charities referring victims double, which shows that Manchester is becoming a hostile environment for traffickers.
Mrs Flint said: “In terms of specialist response we are now better equipped to try and do the best for victims should they emerge in the city.”
Communities and the Stop App:
The final part of the multi-agency network is the community.
Mrs Flint said: “Without the community actually nothing’s going to change.
“Nobody lives in isolation so unless communities know what’s going on there won’t be any change at all.”
Change can begin with spotting the signs of trafficking and reporting them. Stop The Traffik give some helpful guidance, on the signs to look for, on their website which include: properties where the curtains are closed most of the day and frequent visitors to residential premises.
Stop The Traffik have also created the Stop App in partnership with IBM to enable the public to input information about what they’ve seen and what they know about trafficking. It allows the community to share their knowledge and learn from one another.
“Knowing what trafficking is, is really key and then knowing where to report it, whether that’s to the Police, Crimestoppers or to the Stop App,” Mrs Flint said. “It’s the people power behind any technology that really makes a difference.”
Trafficking is now more widely publicised, which can only be a good thing if we are going to stop the traffickers. So, what are the priorities going forward?
Mrs Flint said: “I’m optimistic that it is on the national radar. It’s a huge step forward that there’s the Act and the taskforce. The challenge now is keeping trafficking on the political agenda and it not being drowned out by issue of concerns about immigration.
“We can make it harder for people to be trafficked. In the UK we do have some success of that.”