Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

Labour Party

Support and interest in preventing human trafficking is growing, a conference of religious leaders, the Metropolitan Police and government officials suggested.

The three organisations joined forces to hold a global conference which highlighted the severity and extent to this truly awful crime.

The Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, said that over the last four years awareness had grown and there had been a significant increase in the number of victims coming forward, reaching nearly 400. Although this is a significant improvement its’ merely a fraction of the number (estimated at 13,000) thought to have been trafficked into prostitution or domestic servitude according to a report published by the Home Office.

The conference shared stories of those who have been enticed, sold a dream, a promise of becoming a footballer or other glamorous positions only to be trafficked and enslaved.

Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, said it is essential to build relationships with other countries to achieve the group’s two main objectives: how to deal with victims and how to deal with offenders. You can read more on this here.

Meanwhile, I attended a conference in Munich last week to discuss the report I published last year regarding the Nordic Model of prostitution. The conference included a member of the Bundestarg, academics and women who had been prostitutes. I found the conference both insightful and interesting. It also indicated that that there is growing concern across Europe over the issue of prostitution and like the trafficking conference showed in London these problems are indivisible as victims of trafficking are often forced into prostitution.

In other news, Nigel Farage has upset mothers with comments he made on LBC last week regarding breastfeeding. He suggested that breastfeeding mothers should feed their babies discreetly and sit in a corner of a room to do so.

This obviously led to a barrage of angry mothers criticising his words which he made after the London hotel Claridges asked a mother who was in the hotel’s restaurant to cover up while breastfeeding her baby.

Farage added that a lot of people felt uncomfortable about women breastfeeding and mothers should be discreet.

NHS guidelines however are unambiguous. It states clearly that mothers should be free to breastfeed wherever they feel most comfortable and should not be made to feel embarrassed about doing so.

You can read more on Farage’s comments on breastfeeding here.

In another blunder, Nigel Farage said the heavy traffic of the M4 is as a result of Britain open door immigration policy.

Absurd isn’t it? But it’s true. Nigel Farage blamed immigrants for heavy motorway traffic, claiming it’s what caused him to miss his own ‘meet he leader’ event, because the journey took him six hours instead of four.

Speaking to the BBC’s Sunday Politics Wales, Farage said: “That is nothing to do with professionalism, what it does have to do with is a population that is going through the roof chiefly because of open-door immigration and the fact that the M4 is not as navigable as it used to be.”

It’s an absurd statement and suggests Farage is clutching at straws. Making offensive statements and blaming others for his inability to arrive at his own event on time shows the lengths he is prepared to go to. Read the full story here.

Guest post on trafficking for Women’s Views on News

Labour Party

As an MEP I have striven to raise awareness of trafficking and to find ways to combat this form of modern day slavery. Earlier in the week I was invited by the online women’s news service Womens Views on News to write for their readers on the subject. Below you can read what I said.

It is currently estimated that, globally, 79 per cent of victims are trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation and prostitution, and the majority of these victims are women and children.

The heartbreaking case of Joy Vincent, investigated by Mark Townsend in this weekend’s Observer, highlights just a small part of a Europe wide phenomenon that needs to be stopped.

Joy’s case mirrors that of many women and girls trafficked in to the UK.  Joy was trafficked from Nigeria to the UK at the age of 14. By the age of 17 she was working in the underground sex industry as a means to survive, with no real means of escaping the situation.

Of course it is important to remember that the problem is not only one of women and girls being trafficked from outside the EU; there is also a high number of women and girls who find themselves victims of trafficking within the EU’s borders, both within and between member states.

Increasing the priority given to the prevention of internal trafficking on the European agenda was one of the many issues I discussed with EU anti-trafficking coordinator Myria Vasilliadou when I met with her last week.

We also discussed the importance of a joint and cohesive action on the part of member states in order to increase conviction rates for this cross-national organised crime.

Ms Vassilliadou is passionate about combating human trafficking in Europe, and in the months since she took up the post has already covered much ground.

I truly hope that her ambitious plans for further EU action to combat this abhorrent practice, including a Commission Communication foreseen for early next year, are given the necessary support across the institutions.

Alongside the appointment of Ms Vassiliadou, another key milestone at the European level in the fight against human trafficking was the adoption of a new EU Directive on the prevention and combating of trafficking in human beings and protecting its victims (see link here for more details).

I was involved in this through my work on the Women’s Rights and Gender Equality Committee.

At a more local level, a key concern in my own constituency of London is the potential that an increased number of girls and women will be trafficked into the UK during the Olympics next year.

This pattern has been seen at previous large scale sporting events such as the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Munich, where increased levels of prostitution were accompanied by a higher level of trafficked women and girls.

It is vital that the right measures are put in place now to prevent trafficking and the devastating effect that it has on victims’ lives.

To put these measures in place, resources need to be made available to bodies with the capacity to work together to prevent trafficking, such as the police, the social services and UK Borders Agency.

In this light I am proud to have led a successful campaign in 2009 to save the London Metropolitan Police’s specialist human trafficking unit.

The unit undertakes essential work in the prevention of trafficking in a challenging environment as many victims are not in a position to come forward and report what has happened to them, resulting in a low conviction rate.

Although ensuring sufficient institutional capacity is important in the fight against human trafficking, it is equally important that organisations that provide essential support services to victims of trafficking also have the resources to undertake this vital work.

These are organisations such as the Poppy Project, which provides accommodation and support for women who have been trafficked into prostitution or domestic servitude.

Appallingly, in April 2011, the Poppy project experienced a 95 per cent cut in funding when the government awarded the previous contract to the Salvation Army. The resulting loss of expertise and knowledge in providing support to women in such a vulnerable position is difficult to consider.

All in all, to have a real and lasting impact on trafficking into the future, it is important to ensure that support mechanisms are in place to assist today’s victims and that we continue our concerted effort at the European level to catch the perpetrators of this demeaning and insidious crime.

You can read the original article here.

Accolade for saving the Metropolitan Police Trafficking Unit

Labour Party

PR Week featured my work to save the Met Police Trafficking Unit as one of their three top campaigns this week.  It has also been mentioned in Campaign magazine.

The petition to save the Metropolitan Police dedicated human trafficking unit was, as regular readers will know, run largely online and mainly via this blog.  

Such recognition by the PR industry’s two top magazines is very good news for me.  It’s also a huge tribute to Jounalista, run by Holly Sutton and Sarah MacKinlay, who put together and ran the campaign.  Its success was due to their hard work, creativity and commitment.  

Although slightly fazed by being featured alongside a new luxury loo roll by Andrex, and Hamleys, one of the UK’s biggest toy shops, I am proud to see a political campaign alongside two consumer giants.

Despite its many colourful characters, intrigue, infighting and glamour that is frequently beyond anything seen in Westminster, Brussels politicians such as myself have to fight hard for recognition in the UK.   This is such a shame as the public don’t get to hear of so much of the important work being carried out by their representatives on the continent.

 Shutting down human trafficking networks and getting countries to work together to stop this horrendous trade is just one example of some of the cutting edge and far reaching initiatives that I am involved with.

 So I am extremely grateful to PR Week for featuring the campaign to save the Metropolitan Police Human Trafficking Unit, and I look forward to more contact with the magazine in the future.

Total Politics Blogger Profile

Labour Party

This blog is truly coming of age.  I have now reached the dizzy heights of a blogger profile in Total Politics. 

I am naturally very pleased to see the blog recognised in this way.  I reach far more of you through the blog than I would by going to meetings.  The blog also gives me the opportunity to talk about what actually goes on in the European Parliament.  I hope I can challenge some of the distortions which appear in much of the British media (with a few honourable exceptions, of course).

I have also used this blog for campaigning, notably the petition to keep the Metropolitan Police human trafficking unit, and conducted polls, in particular on Ryanair’s use of practically naked young women in their advertising.

I’m also pleased that the reach of the blog extends far and wide.  I get hits from all over the world, and have in the past done an interview about blogging on French radio.

Appearance on Women’s Hour plus Video showing the Reality of Human Trafficking

Labour Party

I was on Woman’s Hour this morning talking about the decision by the Metropolitan Police to reorganise the Human Trafficking Unit.  Instead of closing the Unit altogether and moving its functions into the Clubs and Vice section as we first feared, the Met has decided to approach the issue the other way round.   Clubs and Vice in its entirety is now to be moved into Specialist Crime, which includes the Trafficking Unit.  This change will take effect from April 2010, and an implementation team is to look at the best way of putting the decision into practice.

Although I am pleased the Metropolitan Police have taken some notice of my petition, I am still concerned about what the Met’s new proposal will mean in practice.  I will be posting a link to the Women’s Hour piece in the next few days.

In the meantime, you should watch this short film made by Anti-Trafficking Alliance.  The film, which is aimed at young men, shows the harsh realities of human trafficking.  Just to warn you that it’s inevitably very harrowing in parts.  Here’s the link.

The Politics Show London

Labour Party

I was pleased to appear on the London regional part of The Politics Show earlier today talking about the petition calling on the Metropolitan Police to keep open their unit dedicated to combatting human trafficking.  My thanks to The Politics Show for inviting me on to the programme and for taking up the issue of the trafficking of people, mainly women and sometimes children, into London. 

Nicki Adams from the English Collective of Prostitutes (ECP) and I had a lively discussion in the studio with some fundamental differences about how to deal with the trafficking of women for sexual exploitation.  While I, and the 1800 people who signed the petition, believe there should be a special unit within the London police, the ECP takes a far more general view, demanding a wider look at the whole question.

If you would like to see this discussion and the rest of The Politics Show it is available on BBC  iPlayer until Sunday 6 December.

Appearance on Ken Livingstone’s Programme on LBC

Labour Party

Just to say I am due to be interviewed by Ken Livingstone on his programme on LBC this morning.  Ken will talk to me about the petition calling for the Metropolitan Police to keep their specialist unit dedicated to combatting human trafficking which I presented to the Metropolitan Police Authority on Thursday.

It is good that Ken has picked up on the trafficking issue and realised just how important it is.  This kind of publicity very much helps to raise the profile of the campaign to end this vile trade in vulnerable people.

Sign my petition

Labour Party

HUMAN TRAFFIC FISTSI have launched a petition for my campaign on the Metropolitan Police proposals to close down its dedicated Human Trafficking unit. 

Human Trafficking is the third biggest international crime after arm and drugs trading. But in the UK we are currently only reaching the tip of the iceberg and there is much work to be done to win the fight against it.

The unit is essential to this fight, and it is internationally recognised as being one of the best of its kind in tackling this crime.

Excellent work is being done by organisations like the Poppy Project who work with women forced into prostitution once they have been trafficked.

However, human trafficking does not just affect female prostitutes but also those forced into domestic servitude and other forms of forced labour. And catching the perpetrators requires the services of specially trained officers.

You can support my campaign to stop the proposal to close the unit from going any further by signing the petition.  The petition will be presented to Sir Paul Stephenson, the Met Police commissioner.

Met plans to scrap Trafficking Unit are a Disgrace

Labour Party

Trafficking PicThe plans announced by the Metropolitan Police to abolish its specialist unit dealing with human traficking – trafficking of women and children – are nothing short of a disgrace.

I woke up to hear this bombshell on the “Today” programme, which we can get in Brussels, this morning hardly able to contain myself.  Trafficking of women is to a large extent trafficking to sell women into prostitution.  These often unsuspecting women are lured away from their homes, frequently on the pretext of a better life elsewhere, only to find themselves totally in thrall to ruthless criminals whose only aim is to exploit them for gain.  It really is a modern form of slavery and should be treated as such.  I hope there will be a major outcry against the Met’s plans so that they are forced to think again.

What is more, the Met trafficking unit has been viewed as an international example of good practice.  It also takes several years to develop expertise into trafficking, expertise which would more than likely be lost if the Met were to disband its unit which has built up a range of knowledge since its inception in 2007.  The nature of the crime also means that those cases which are brought to book are only the tip of the iceberg and if more of the iceberg is to be exposed, specialist expertise is required.

There is, in addition, the matter of the Olympics in London in 2012.  The last football World Cup in Germany attracted thousnads of prostitutes who openly plied their wares as prostitution is legal in Germany.  I was, in fact, one of a number of women who signed a petition to the German Government to outlaw prostitution at the World Cup.  The general view was that a large number, more than likely the majority of those women had been trafficked from outside the host country.  For the sake of the trafficked women, we need to be extremely vigilant to ensure that the same thing does not happen in London in 2012.  It would be a massive tragedy if the Games were marred by any form of criminal element. 

The Labour Government has been very vigilant on the fight to stamp out trafficking.  When I organised my “Tackling Trafficking” conference two years ago, we were joined by the then Home Office Minister, Vernon Coker.  I therefore call on the Met to see sense and keep the trafficking unit.

I have started a petition asking the Met to rethink its plans for shutting this vital unit down. 

Please click here and sign it.

You can also follow my campaign by clicking on my campaigns page.

Demand Change on Trafficking of Women

Labour Party

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Sonny Leong (pictured) Chair of Chinese for Labour has kindly invited me to write an article on women and trafficking for the September issue of The Orient, Chinese for Labour’s magazine. Here it is:

Whilst I am a strong supporter of the Olympics, and the opportunities it is offering the vibrant capital that I call home, I am deeply concerned that the 2012 Games will spark a steep rise in the capital’s sex trade. Over 30,000 construction workers are set to work on the site over the next three years, and when added together with spectators and athletes, this could a fuel a sex-trade time bomb. 

During the Athens Games, sex trafficking almost doubled and there were reports of sex attacks in the athletes’ village in Sydney in 2000. In the UK, a small increase in the number of trafficked women working in the five Olympic host boroughs was recently reported by the BBC. Fortunately it seems that the Metropolitan Police Authority (MPA) has made an about turn on previous statements and now shares these concerns. A report published by the MPA in mid-July this year warned that an increase in prostitution and trafficking linked to the Games could put women at risk.

Previously, when I have approached the police and London borough councils on these issues, they have backed away from making any link between sex crimes and sporting events. Even when I used figures showing dramatic increases in the trafficking of women ahead of the Swiss Euro 2008, Liberal Democrat Councillor Terry Stacy, Islington council’s executive member for community safety, said:

 “Levels of prostitution in Islington have significantly fallen in the last two years and the area around King’s Cross has improved. But we know there is still work to be done.”

Her refusal to acknowledge any extra burden on councils in tackling trafficking and prostitution in the lead up to and duration of the Games, shows just how out of touch most councillors are with this problem. 

Where large groups of men have congregated together away from home, there has always tended to be an increase in prostitution. History is laden with evidence to verify this correlation: from wars in Roman times, and the First and Second World Wars and Vietnam War, to stag parties and testosterone-driven companies’ business trips. The question is why should large sporting events be any different? The psycho-social reasons why men pay for sex; a strange environment; hyper-masculine environment; being inebriated and overseas: these all apply to sporting events. Especially football. At a Demand Change! event, hosted by anti-prostitution groups OBJECT! and Eaves Housing, Professor Roger Matthews from London South Bank University spoke of his findings that the vast majority of prostitution business in this country is from men “experimenting” and “trying it out just the one time”. He found that business for prostitutes from regular users makes up just 10 per cent of the UK’s sex trade. 

Such findings show that the atmosphere created by one off events, such as the Olympics, are highly conducive to a rise in “experimental” behaviour. Traffickers know that amidst the hubbub and excitement of the Games there will be an increase in demand for sexual services and they will do all they can to meet this demand. For this reason, London borough councils and the police must show absolutely no tolerance towards prostitution within London. This is the only chance the authorities have of lowering the market for trafficked women and preventing traffickers from establishing themselves in the capital ahead of the Games. But unfortunatelcfl 003y the police are just not getting this.

At the beginning of this year The Evening Standard reported that Commander Allan Gibson, of the Metropolitan Police force, told a Commons’ Home Affairs Committee that his force knew rapidly when sex was being sold and could devote “a lot more” of its resources to tackling the problem, but chose not to do so. According to the paper, Mr Gibson, the officer in charge of the force’s human trafficking unit, said the Met insisted it is determined to stamp out serious criminality connected to brothels, such as people-trafficking. But this entirely misses the point. A green light to prostitution is a green light to trafficking; where prostitution has been legalised, such as in Germany and the Netherlands, trafficking has risen exponentially to meet the demand. As explained by Gunilla Ekberg, from the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women (CATW) at the same OBJECT! meeting this summer,

“Countries like Germany and the Netherlands  have concluded that they have made a gigantic mistake. They both agree that the way to go is to criminalise the demand.” 

We have had some pretty tense debates around prostitution and trafficking in the European Parliament’s Women’s Rights Committee, even amongst the Socialist group, where we can usually agree! The European Parliament cannot legislate on selling sex, hence why member states’ legislation on this issue varies so widely.  

One statement we all stand behind is The European action plan to fight trafficking of women (2005), and all of us in the Socialist group are fighting for this to be given more priority by our member states. This plan involves implementing national and international hotlines for victims of trafficking across member states and ensuring that victims of trafficking are supported, instead of being immediately sent back to their country of origin by authorities. Other than Euro politicians supporting European recommendations to tackle trafficking, it is largely up to the UK Parliament, and at the moment the Lords, to take a stand on the commercial sexual exploitation of women and to deal with its far-reaching human rights implications. This Bill is a real opportunity to make progress on reducing exploitation of women by addressing the demand factor. Across Europe, this has proven to be the only way to put an end to trafficking. In Sweden, where paying or offering to pay for sexual services, on or off the street, is a criminal offence, instances of trafficking are the lowest in Europe. A law such as this is urgently needed in the UK, but unfortunately the government has been reluctant to do it as surveys have shown that public attitudes are against such legislation. So until attitudes change, which the Demand Change! Campaign is fighting to do, the Policing and Crime Bill’s first tentative steps towards punishing any person who buys sex from a trafficked person, whether they do it knowingly or not, is the best hope that we have got.

I urge you to support this Bill in whatever way you can and keep track, or get involved in the Demand Change! Campaign here http://www.demandchange.org.uk/