Recent figures indicate an increase in the number of victims of human trafficking and modern-day slavery in the UK. Yet a recent report from the Human Trafficking Foundation has accused the government of failing to provide adequate protection to individuals who have been trafficked, often leaving them exposed to further exploitation or vulnerability.
Discussions around human trafficking and slavery have emphasized the need to broaden the definition of what counts as abuse and the importance of ensuring that people who may come into contact with potential victims are able to identify the risk. A better understanding of what amounts to abuse may by one of the reasons why figures produced by the National Crime Agency (NCA) show there has been an increase in reporting of potential victims of trafficking. This trend is expected to continue but it is concerning that, according to the Guardian, 'the majority of potential survivors chose not to be referred,' and are, therefore, still not being accounted for in assessing how many individuals are at risk.
The increase in exploitation may also be linked to 'new recruitment methods (e.g. using social networking and dating sites),' identified by the NCA report, which may make younger age groups more readily targetable. According to the NCA, 'labour exploitation was the most common type of trafficking [... and] sexual exploitation [also] continues as a key risk during 2015.' Children are identified as being more at risk 'than previously thought' for both adoption and sexual exploitation. Therefore government protection needs to be able to adapt to multiple and variable needs of those at risk.
Within this context, it is all the more alarming that the Human Trafficking Foundation (HTF) report found that that 'survivors of abuse in modern day slavery are not looked after by the government and are exposed to homelessness, thus becoming an easier target for traffickers.' There is particular concern that the rising number of referrals to the National Referral Mechanism, highlighted above, only lead to a short and inadequate period of protection. The Guardian highlight that, although the government offers an initial 45 day period of "reflection", in which victims are offered accommodation in safe houses 'there is no obligation to monitor outcomes for people once they leave". Thus, whilst the numbers of those at risk may be increasing, there is also a lack of adequate protection to prevent individuals at risk from falling into a cycle of harm or to help get them out of it for good.
The HTF report highlights that, despite much discussion around modern slavery and human trafficking, there remains a continuing 'disparity between theory and practice.' Instead of a short injection of help, which is offered but then quickly taken away, the report suggests a period of monitoring for up to two years; and that monitoring should not be determined by whether the individual is in the UK or has returned to their country of origin.
The hope going forward is that the discussions and reports put forward by groups such as HTF and the real issues and shortcomings they have identified, will assist the government in providing more long-term protection solutions. There are also a number of organisations that offer assistance and services to people at risk or who have suffered previous harm. People who feel they may be at risk are encouraged to reach out where and when they feel they are able to. Nonetheless, vulnerable individuals should not be required to search for appropriate support and such other agencies do not absolve the government of the need to address and resolve failings such as those identified in the HTF report.
For those who have concerns about themselves or others the NCA advise contacting Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 for non-urgent reporting on information relating to human trafficking and modern slavery, which can be done anonymously. For any urgent information that requires an immediate response individuals should dial 999. An uncertain immigration status can also lead to individuals feeling trapped into staying in harmful situations, individuals should seek legal advice on their immigration options where possible to assist them in accessing safety.