660-human-trafficking2-AP

Image from: http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2014/05/19/modern-day-slavery-america-must-fight-epidemic-human-trafficking-here-at-home/

Slavery ‘in every town’

It is a testament to the difficulty of solving the problem of exploitation that slavery still persists today in Western countries, albeit behind closed doors. A recent Home Office campaign to increase awareness of hidden slavery activity shows three of the most common: agricultural labour, sexual exploitation in brothels, and domestic servitude in a home (BBC 2014b). Human trafficking, particularly from Eastern European and for the purposes of the sex trade, is on the rise. Home Secretary Theresa May said: “It is difficult to accept that modern Britain is home to slavery, but this appalling crime is taking place here – often out of sight – in shops, fields, building sites and behind the curtains of houses on ordinary streets” (BBC 2014b).

There are some cases that do not meet a formal definition of slavery but that in practice may come close to it. For instance, there are traffickers who may facilitate the illegal passage of migrants into the country with the promise of work on arrival. Once in the UK they are organized into work for no pay and are essentially treated as indentured labour. They may not be violently prevented from leaving, but the circumstances (not having any legal status or basis upon which to claim help from the State) practically prevent them from doing so. The problem is compounded by a lack of language skills, which means that victims of slavery find themselves with few options in getting free of the grip of the traffickers. In domestic service situations, contact with others is curtailed by the nature of the work. Sometimes the victims of slavery are left pregnant and with nowhere to turn (BBC 2014b, Case Study “Sandra”).

In addition, slavery is not entirely a migration issue. Often the vulnerable or those with some level of mental or emotional problems are targeted. One vulnerable British man with a low IQ was forced in to a situation of slavery by a couple, who physically beat him. The pair were sentenced to 11 years (Yorkshire Post 2014).

There is good news, however: in the Queen’s Speech this year, new powers were promised to combat the problem of slavery. A new bill is being proposed which will demand that offenders pay compensation to victims ‘for the exploitation and loss of dignity that [they] have suffered’. The bill could also defend victims against prosecution for crimes that they may have committed while under duress, such as prostitution, drug use, theft, and an array of other activities that would normally be an offence (BBC 2014c).

For the victims it may be too late to wind back the clock, but it is hoped that the bill will deter future exploitation and provide some measure of recognition to those affected.

BBC, 2014b. ‘Campaign targets modern slavery in UK’. Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-28570874

[Accessed on 9th November 2014]

BBC, 2014c. ‘Queen’s Speech features nee anti-slavery court powers’, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-27684245

[Accessed on 9th November 2014]

Yorkshire Post, 2014. ‘Slavery is happening in every town and city in Britain’. Yorkshire Post, 9th Jan 2014. Available at: http://www.yorkshirepost.co.uk/news/features/slavery-is-happening-in-every-town-and-city-in-britain-1-6361601

[Accessed on 9th November 2014]

Image: from http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-19969954

[Accessed on 9th November 2014]

Joy Ejiofor

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