By Seonaid Stevenson, 18th October 2013
October 18th is Anti-Slavery Day in the UK, a day created by an Act of Parliament in 2010. By dedicating a day to raising awareness it is hoped that our parliamentarians and the public at large will be encouraged to engage on the issue and feel inspired to eliminate it. However, it is important that we take the momentum that inevitably builds up today and use it to reflect on our practice every day. The day itself will mean very little if we wake up tomorrow and allow the status quo to continue.
To illustrate how unsatisfactory the status quo is, it is helpful to refer to a report published this week by the Conservative London Assembly Member Andrew Boff. The report, Shadow City - Exposing Human Trafficking in Everyday London makes for difficult reading.
The research highlights several worrying incidents. One trafficked man who managed to escape exploitation was turned away from three police stations. A young Chinese boy, who was thought to have been sex trafficked, was advised by his local council to seek help through Gumtree. The authorities are turning a blind eye to grooming, with one social worker being continually ignored after having repeatedly begged a London council to recognise that children were being trafficked outside a number of schools in the borough. The report also alleges that two leading hotel chains are exploiting Latin Americans working in the cleaning industry, paying them well below the minimum wage due to contractual loopholes which the hotels may or may not have known about.
It is recommended that more human trafficking units are established as the Human Trafficking Unit in the Metropolitan Police is overstretched and unable to cope. Similarly, frontline staff need high quality training in combating human trafficking. More consideration should be given to male victims who are often ignored. Andrew Boff said that at least 40% of the trafficked victims are male yet insufficient male rape support services are available. He argues that "My research shows that there is total denial that the trafficking and sex grooming of boys exists, and this can be linked to the social stigmas attached to being a male victim as well as the stereotypes of being a man. Boys are often afraid to report sexual experiences that go wrong for fear they may be held responsible and blamed for what has happened. Evidence suggests that this is often the case."
Clearly, the current system is failing victims who are often unidentified and unsupported. Anti-Slavery Day 2013 is therefore an important moment to pause for reflection. We need to consider today what constitutes best practice and how we can reform the system and improve outcomes for victims across the UK. Without being flippant, human trafficking is for life, not just for Anti-Slavery Day.
Seonaid is a law graduate with a Masters from the University of Glasgow, where she won the Bruno Simma Prize for International Law.
Currently working in international criminal law, Seonaid is also a Management Committee Member of Classrooms for Malawi and blogs for Safe World for Women about human trafficking and slavery worldwide. Her key interests are in human rights, development and migration.