Rachel Aston brings the facts

Human trafficking is the recruitment and transportation of people, usually to another country, by force or coercion, for the purposes of exploitation.
Human trafficking is the recruitment and transportation of people, usually to another country, by force or coercion, for the purposes of exploitation.

The issue of human trafficking has recently gained increased prominence in the media and in Parliament over recent months. But just what, exactly, is it all about?

What is human trafficking?
Human trafficking is the recruitment and transportation of people, usually to another country, by force or coercion, for the purposes of exploitation, including forced labour and sexual exploitation. The trafficking of women for sexual exploitation, and prostitution in particular, is a world wide problem, sadly including the UK. It is difficult to assess the extent of the problem in the UK given its secretive nature but it has been estimated by the Home Office that anything up to 1420 women a year are trafficked into the UK, although others suggest numbers are higher. Last year 49 people were charged with trafficking people, out of whom 32 were found guilty and the rest are awaiting trial. Women are trafficked into this country mainly from Central and Eastern Europe and Asia. It is estimated that 80% of people involved in prostitution are now foreign nationals, with the majority probably having been trafficked.

How are women trafficked?
Some women are forcibly abducted and trafficked from their country and some are even sold by so-called boyfriends. Some will also have experienced violence and abuse prior to being trafficked, either as part of their 'grooming' or because they were already close to violent men involved in trafficking. Traffickers also employ other methods to lure women oversees, for example by advertising domestic employment opportunities abroad, or by approaching women in clubs and bars with the offer of employment and accommodation abroad. Some women may be aware that employment will be in the adult entertainment industry and even prostitution but will not be aware of the extent to which the traffickers will control their lives once they arrive at their destination. Sadly, the draw of Western life may blind women to such risks.

Once women arrive in the UK, some with false papers, they are hostages to their traffickers. Traffickers often keep women in debt bondage and tell them that they owe money for the journey, accommodation and food and will have to work as prostitutes to earn the money to pay them back. Often the amount of money 'owed' has extortionate 'interest' added and does not match the real costs incurred. Other forms of control include passports being taken, being locked up, being threatened and/or abused and having threats made against their families back home.

What are the causes of human trafficking?
Women are trafficked primarily to be sexually exploited by men, and the link between trafficking and prostitution is inextricable.

"[T]he male demand for the sex of prostitution is the most immediate cause of the expansion of the sex industry without which it would be highly unprofitable for pimps and traffickers to seek out a supply of women. It is indisputable that a prostitution market without male consumers would go broke."

The universal use of and demand for prostitutes provides traffickers with an opportunity to make money by turning women into commodities. Men who traffik women are often involved in organised crime, and trafficking is merely one other avenue of criminal activity.

The number of men using prostitutes has doubled over the last decade, thus creating greater demand. Men use prostitutes for a number of reasons, for example if they have difficulties in forming relationships or are lonely; they want to experiment sexually or want escapism; they have a desire to exert power over another person; they are influenced by an over-sexualised society; or simply that they have given into the temptation to sin. Those who have sex with trafficked women are part of the trafficking process, whether they realise the woman has been trafficked or not.

What is being done to prevent human trafficking?
The trafficking of a person for sexual exploitation was made illegal under the Sexual Offences Act 2003 and carries a maximum prison sentence of 14 years. In April 2006 the Government brought together the work of several Governmental departments to create the Serious Organised Crime Agency, tasked with tackling organised crime including human trafficking under the banner of organised immigration crime. The Government this year also launched a public consultation outlining its proposals for the UK's action plan, which includes carrying out further research into trafficking, raising awareness in countries where women are trafficked from, addressing the issue of prostitution in the UK in its Coordinated Prostitution Strategy and supporting projects that assist women who have been trafficked. One such project is the POPPY Project, which houses and supports victims of trafficking, as well as carrying out research and producing reports on many aspects of trafficking.

The Government has taken another important step, along with many other countries, in signing and ratifying the UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, more simply known as the 'Palermo Protocol'. This is a is a code of behaviour adopted by the United Nations as part of the United Nations Convention Against Organised Crime. After expressing some reservations, the UK Government signed up to and ratified the Convention and Palermo protocol, which demonstrates a commitment to permitting the victims to remain temporarily (or even permanently) in the country, to 'provide for the physical, psychological and social recovery of victims of trafficking in persons', and to help them in giving evidence against their traffickers. However, the UK has not yet signed up to the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings, which is 'a comprehensive treaty mainly focussed on the protection of victims of trafficking and the safeguard of their rights.' The Government has been reluctant to commit, particularly to Article 13 of the Convention, which grants all victims an automatic residence permit and reflection period of at least 30days in which to recover and/or consider giving evidence against their traffickers.

Many organisations, Christian and secular, are campaigning on the issue. CARE has joined the Stop the Traffik coalition, founded by Oasis, along with Tearfund, Christian Aid, The Bible Society, CHASTE, Spring Harvest and Soul Survivor. The aim of the coalition is to raise public awareness of the issue of trafficking and to call on governments across the world to take action against traffickers and their networks and to protect the victims. The hope is that one day no one will be forced into sexual slavery.

Why should Christians be concerned about human trafficking?
Luke 7: 36-50 tells the story of Jesus' encounter with a prostitute and his warning to the Pharisees not to judge her. Women trafficked into prostitution do not need our judgement. Rather, we are called to be compassionate (Colossians 3:12) and to help the oppressed (Isaiah 1:17).

We can do this by:

  • Praying!

  • Supporting the work of organisations who work with victims of trafficking, such as the POPPY Project, Churches Alert to Sex Trafficking across Europe (CHASTE), The Salvation Army and National Christian Alliance on Prostitution (NCAP).

  • Joining the Stop the Traffik Campaign

This article is reproduced with permission from CARE. CR

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.