Interview with BBC News

Labour Party

Below is my interview with the BBC News Channel broadcast last Saturday where I discuss the need to urgently address the issue human trafficking. In case you missed it you can view it again here:

Human Trafficking Victim Compensated

Labour Party

A human trafficking victim from Pakistan who was brought to the UK at the age of nine has been awarded £100,000 in compensation. She received the compensation under the proceeds of crime legislation and it is believed to be the first time it has been used to compensate a victim of human trafficking in this way.

This is a landmark ruling because bringing human traffickers to justice is so incredibly difficult. As I have said many times before, the very nature of the crime means it is often extremely difficult to even identify victims and therefore to prosecute offenders.

But I hope the news of compensation for this victim will encourage more trafficked victims to come forward, not because they may receive compensation but because the compensation should be an indication to them of how seriously the crime is taken by the courts.

Meanwhile, in Europe, the Commission has published the first evaluation of its report examining the EU’s human trafficking strategy. The Commission adopted the strategy two years ago and essentially it aims to protect victims who are bought and sold for sexual exploitation or forced labour or other reasons.

Human Trafficking figures rise sharply

Labour Party

The National Crime Agency (NCA) published its report last week into human trafficking and exploitation. It revealed the UK has seen a rise in the number of people trafficked for slavery or other forms of exploitation.

The figures published by the NCA show a significant increase of 22% between 2012-2013 in the number of trafficked victims.

Some of the increase can be attributed to better reporting and the NCA says that this is particularly the case with cases relating to children. High profile cases such as the abuse of girls in Rotherham have helped to create a surge in the reporting of exploited children, but the NCA admits that the 2,744 known victims (of which 602 are children) is merely the tip of the iceberg.

Investigators said that trafficking didn’t just mean where people were taken from one country to another but their figures also include victims who may have not been trafficked into another country. For example the NCA also found cases of adults forced into prostitution, labour exploitation, domestic servitude, or those who were forced to commit crimes such as making false benefit claims.

One of the other incredibly disturbing and shocking revelations from the NCA’s report is evidence to suggest some victims are marked with tattoos, the symbols of which are not clear, but the report claims symbols are possibly used to indicate country of origin or age of the victim (if the victim is over 18 or not). The report says: “Various sources indicate that tattoos are used globally to mark victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation by traffickers and pimps, but the extent to which this is used in the UK is not known.”

This is an absolutely appalling crime and we must act swiftly to prevent further crimes of this nature. Labour is ready to tackle the issue of these very underground sexual crimes and has promised to create a “specific offence of serious exploitation”. The Labour Party has also said it will make prosecutions easier.

We must also focus on the support we offer victims. These terrible crimes will affect them for the rest of their lives.

Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

Labour Party

This week saw Football Association board member Heather Rabbatts – along with the government’s Sports and Equalities Minister Helen Grant – speak out against the lack of diversity on the new commission into the future of the English football team. The body was initially made up of eight members chosen to rejuvenate the national side. It was all-white and all-male, with an average age of 57.

Rabbatts, the only female or non-white person currently on the FA board, questioned the selection process for the new commission at the weekend. She described it as “particularly ironic”, given the number of black players in the England set-up, that there is “absolutely no representation from…ethnic minority communities”.

The FA have previously been criticised for their handling of the John Terry and Luis Suarez racial abuse cases, and yesterday anti-racism organisations – including Kick It Out and Football Against Racism in Europe – questioned the selection process for the new body.

FA Chairman Greg Dyke pointed out on Sunday that steps had been taken to find ethnic minority representation (albeit without success), and then, at the eleventh hour, it was announced that Manchester United’s mixed-race defender Rio Ferdinand would join the panel.

Given how important promoting diversity will be to the new commission’s work, the initial lack of black faces does look like an oversight. It is also worrying that Rabbatts – a talented women who has helped modernise Millwall FC as well as several local authorities – had to go public to get her voice heard.

Much of the current debate around diversity at the top focuses on business and politics, but we must not ignore sport and the arts. The FA, in particular, is an organisation often accused of being out of touch with the increasingly fast-moving and globalised sport which it governs. To shake of its ‘gaffe prone’, blazer-clad image, a commitment to diversity is vital – not for cosmetic reasons, but to make it more effective as an organisation.

Earlier in the week, meanwhile, Theresa May used international Anti-Slavery Day, which took place on Friday, to announce her forthcoming Modern Slavery Bill. In order to send out the “strongest possible message” that the UK will not tolerate slavery, she said the bill will include a maximum life sentence for trafficking. The UK currently has around 4,600 enslaved people according to Walk Free’s Global Slavery Index, and a recent report suggests big increases in trafficking from Albania, Lithuania and Poland.

There were suggestions from some that May’s proposals overlook victims. Klara Skrivankova, from the charity Anti-Slavery International, said “Unless the protection of victims is put on a statutory footing, we’re unlikely to see more prosecutions”, and David Hanson MP, Labour’s shadow immigration minister, pointed out that 60% of the UK’s trafficked children go missing after being identified by authorities.

Walk Free also say that the UK’s vulnerability to trafficking is exacerbated by the “incredibly precarious living situation” our asylum system creates for refugees, and others have pointed out the difficulty of tackling trafficking while looking to withdraw from organisations like Europol or the EU Arrest Warrant.

I applaud May’s commitment to ending modern slavery, but would ask her to avoid letting Tory prejudices on immigration and Europe undermine these efforts.

Talking Trafficking on the Sunday Politics

Labour Party

On Sunday I was invited on to the BBC Politics Show. It was a pleasure as always to be on the programme. The BBC deserve credit for inviting me and the other guests to discuss sex trafficking – a topic which I feel very strongly about. I was joined by Andrew Boff, a Conservative sitting on the London Assembly, who has produced a new report on the subject.

It was a lively discussion, and Andrew had some interesting points. I have to say I disagreed with him on certain things. Given that 96% of sex trafficking victims are female, I make no bones about the fact that I think women more than men tend to be the victims of modern slavery. I have also seen, in my capacity as an MEP, the global dimension of this problem. Just last month in Ilford a police raid on a brothel revealed Asian women transported to the UK illegally, who were being paid just £5 for sexual services. I see trafficking as a primarily international issue, requiring closer cooperation across EU Member States and beyond.

Having said this I was fascinated by Andrew’s report, and am delighted that politicians across the spectrum are fighting to end modern slavery. All sorts of people can end up being trafficked – men and women, adults and children, people transported within national borders as well as across them.

There is still too little funding and not enough publicity for trafficking. It is therefore vital that politicians work together on the issue.

I’ve uploaded some clips from the show here for you to watch:

‘Reading Between the Lines’: Offical Launch of my Report

Labour Party

I’ve commissioned a report that explores the link between sex advertising in local papers and human trafficking. Today it launches.

The report has been sent to the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson. I hope the Mayor addresses my concerns identified within the report that  vulnerable women are used to advertise services. Also the report found that charities use these adverts to identify vulnerable women and offer outreach work to them once they’ve been identified. The Mayor must ensure that proper resources are available to stakeholders so that they are not reliant on using such advertisements to identify victims.

Please read this important report by clicking the image above following the link here.

Prostitution Gets a Red Card From the European Parliament

Labour Party

A campaign aimed at cracking down on the sexual exploitation of women at sporting events has just been launched in the European Parliament.

I was one of 20 MEPs who participated in the launch of this campaign organised by the European Women’s Lobby (EWL). In a message to athletes, officials, fans, journalists and decision-makers ahead of the London Olympics and the UEFA European Football Championships in Poland and Ukraine, we all held up red cards which read ‘Be a sport. Keep it fair… Say NO to prostitution.’

The police and others are concerned there will be on increase in prostitution in the run up to the Olympic Games in London.  Major sporting events are regularly coupled with a boom in prostitution, fuelled by the trafficking of women and girls. During the 2006 World Cup in Germany, national authorities noted an increase in the number of prostitutes in host areas.  The 2010 South African World Cup brought about a ‘huge’ increase in the sex trade, with the number of women and girls involved in prostitution, as well as the number of brothels, doubling.  Worryingly, there was research conducted in 2009 that had already found signs of increases in prostitution in the London boroughs hosting the Olympics.

I agree with the EWL’s position that prostitution is a form of violence against women which hinders the realisation of gender equality.  Women in prostitution face regular violence and rape, as well as lower life expectancy and serious mental and physical damage.  The abuse of women’s bodies and sexuality inherent in the system of prostitution feeds into a broader pattern of widespread violence against women.

I am a big supporter of the London Olympics and can’t wait for games to start, but I hope with awareness raising campaigns such as this, and the support of the police in London, we can make sure that we don’t see an increase in the trafficking and sexual exploitation of girls and women this summer.

The Whistleblower – a Tale of Trafficking: Corruption, Cruelty and Crime

Labour Party

The Whistleblower (2010) is a powerful story charting the role of a peacekeeper, played by Rachel Weisz, in post war Bosnia. The film is apparently inspired by true events, which reveal the darkest depths of politicking as a country, Bosnia, is re built following years of war.

Weisz plays a Nebraskan police officer who is offered the opportunity to relocate to Bosnia for six months in order to help train the local police force.

Typically bright eyed and bushy tailed Katy (Weisz) arrives in Bosnia with the expectation of rebuilding civil society. But with astonishing speed she uncovers the reality; a world of corruption, cover ups and multi million pound  government contracts, neatly sewn up in a multinational diplomatic farce.

The true horror though, is that she uncovers a sex trafficking racket. The haunting scenes of girls being bought and sold for sex, abused in the most abhorrent of ways is extremely harrowing. Worse still she finds many of her colleagues are behind the ring of exploitation, but they enjoy diplomatic  immunity. And so her attempts to alert those at the top are ignored.

Perhaps what is so haunting about this film is that it’s based on true events, indeed the actress herself is reported to have spent time with the real Kathryn Bolkovac to help her performance.

Although the film was released over a year ago, I have only just managed to catch up with it. I was sceptical to be honest for all sorts of reasons, i.e. would it seek to glamorise prostitution? Would it deal with this serious issue merely in a light hearted way? Would I feel frustrated that it didn’t adequately convey the incredibly frightening experience the young girls were forced to endure?

Well in truth, it’s about as far from Hollywood as you can imagine. It paints a frightening picture and provides a distressing account of the life the girls are forced to endure, it explores their inability to trust even those who they should have been able to reasonably expect would protect them and we see how vulnerable they are.

But it also illustrates how powerful political forces can be and how easy it is to hide corruption. Weisz’s character’s frustration is compounded when she is not only ignored by her superiors but forcibly removed from continuing her investigation.

It reminds us that trafficking is a hidden crime, supported by layers of people, sometimes several rackets who may have conflicting reasons to offer support. It should serve as a reminder that women across the world are exploited, trafficked, humiliated and abused and the international community has a duty to do all it can to protect victims and do all it can to stop it.

But as the film illustrates only too well, money talks and a prestigious multi million contract to help rebuild a war torn country isn’t going to help the vulnerable victims of this vicious crime.

Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

Labour Party

It was a busy time for the EU this week, after talks to resolve the financial crisis in Greece broke down and then President Sarkozy suffered humiliation when France was downgraded by the credit ratings agency from its gold plated AAA rating. It was a crushing blow for the President ahead of his bid for re-election this spring.

Vincent Moss has a succinct view of last week’s euro politics here.

The first ever opera to focus entirely on sex trafficking will be premiered in the North West this spring in Liverpool. As regular readers of this blog will be aware, raising awareness of human trafficking has always been an important part of the work I do precisely because it is such a hidden crime, yet it has such devastating effects.

There has not even been a performance yet and it has been nominated for the Human Trafficking Foundation media award at the House of Lords last October. It will be premièred in Liverpool on Wednesday 7 March 2012. The venue is to be confirmed. As soon as I find out I will endeavour to let you know. You can read about the opera in full here.

There is some evidence that the pay gap between men and women is beginning to close. Marketing Week has the full story here. If the results are true this is an exciting time of change that we must celebrate. One set of figures, for example indicate male entrants earn an average of £20,864 but women start on £21,900. This is a reversal of last year’s trend, when male graduates were earning £22,800 in contrast to women earning £21,400.

Honeyball’s New Year Round Up

Labour Party

Welcome back and happy New Year to you all. Having a little break gave me some time to reflect on the news, both the headlines and those stories that get buried for one reason and another.

As the Christmas hype kicked in, a clever campaign launched in an effort to get children’s toy shops to drop its sexist promotion of kids toys.

One of the culprits, the world famous Toy store Hamleys, righted its wrong before Christmas amid headline grabbing news.  The campaign which was led by Dr Laura Nelson took umbrage at the toy store which had divided children’s toys into those suitable for boys and those for girls.

The problem was less about the colour of the toys, rather the way in which they had been segregated. For example, the complaint found that girls’ toys were orientated towards domestic, caring and beauty activities”, the boys’ was “geared to action and war, with little scope for creativity”.

Although I was of course pleased that Hamley’s acknowledged its mistake, I am disappointed that still in 2012 gender roles are delineated so early in a child’s life and in such an overtly sexist way.

You can read a report on the story here.

And if gender stereo types in children’s shops didn’t infuriate us enough, our Christmas bodies were also threatened with humiliation with unrealistic advertising campaigns. In fact they were so unrealistic some were attacked for not being real. I know it hardly seems possible does it?

The ladies fashion store, H&M was accused of using computer generated mannequin bodies with real women’s heads plonked on top. It all looks impossibly perfect, and totally unrealistic and it only becomes clear that these images have been computer generated and when you line up images side by side and notice that they are in fact, one-and-the-same.

This is wholly irresponsible, particularly considering its clothes are aimed at young women and late teens. Jane Martinson’s blog for the Guardian was one of the few pieces I saw on this. As Martinson’s blog points out, this kind of advertising only exposes the constructed nature of beauty, feminism and health.

It is articles like Kate Allen’s in last month’s Guardian that I don’t often get a chance to read carefully adn reflect on. But I’m pleased I did. Her feature charted how women have been one of the worst groups to be hit by the recession. And it’s easy to forget that many mothers out of work have left a skilled job, which not any Tom Dick, Harry or (Henrietta) can fill.

The case studies Allen uses show what a desperate situation many women are in. There are 1.09 million women unemployed in the UK, it’s also worth remembering that this figure is rising since the height of the recession bit and is at the highest point for more than 20 years.

Groups like the Fawcett Society remain an important institution in highlighting the “triple jeopardy” women face as a direct result of the austerity cuts. As Allen’s article indicates  triple jeopardy doesn’t just refer to the cuts to jobs women must contend with but ‘cuts to services and benefits, which women generally use more, and being left to “fill the gaps” that services and benefits no longer reach, such as caring for older people.’ You can read the article in full here.

I hope this year brings a boost of confidence to the millions of women seeking work.

And I, of course, will continue the battle against human trafficking especially for the purposes of sexual exploitation and domestic servitude.

Towards the end of last year I was angered to learn that trafficked people are being treated as criminals in this country an inquiry led by Lady Helena Kennedy QC.

The inquiry calls on the government to introduce legislation and criminal justice policies which will tackle trafficking as a specific crime and support its victims.

It found the victims of human trafficking, including women forced into the sex industry or trapped as unpaid domestic servants, are being unfairly treated as criminals and illegal immigrants, an inquiry has found.

The investigation by Lady Helena Kennedy QC concluded that ‘the police and immigration authorities fail to see the thousands of women, men and children trafficked into Britain as the innocent victims of organised crime whose own basic rights have been breached.’

Although the report was for the Scottish office of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, it called on both the UK and Scottish governments to introduce legislation to tackle the issue and crucially to support its victims.

We know enough about this crime to know how afraid people are in coming forward, if they feel they will not be supported or worse still feel vilified then this hidden crime will be even harder to tackle.

We must continue to fight the perpetrators and support in the strongest way possible the victims. You can read the article here.

I hope this year sees a shift in many areas, for women, for victims of violence, and we must remember that there is also much to celebrate – The Olympics is on its way to London in exactly 200 days.