Trafficked Victims not Being Found – Report Finds

Labour Party

The Met Police have been accused of a heavy handed approach to brothel raids and for failing to find trafficked victims, in a report, Silence on Violence, published by a London Assembly member.

The report was also published in the Guardian which you can read here.

The report criticises the police for failing to find less than 1% of victims despite an injection of £500,000 to help the predicted rise in trafficking in the run up to the Olympics. The Met has subsequently admitted that they have failed to find a rise in trafficking.

Reports like these are extremely important to assists our understanding of this most hideous crime, however it is always important to remember that human trafficking is one of the most hidden crimes and the most difficult to prosecute.

Over the years I have read numerous reports which suggest the problem of prosecuting is not that it is an unusual crime but that the victims are too often afraid to come forward for fear of repercussions.

When the perpetrators are found, to the frustration of prosecutors they are often prosecuted with different crimes than that of trafficking because the victims won’t give evidence. Besides its not straight forward, the type of crime this is means that many other crimes are bound up within it drugs, violence, etc.

The report criticises Both local police officers and the Met’s specialist SCD9 unit, which focuses on human exploitation and organised crime for failing to adopt an intelligence-based approach to trafficking and for looking in the wrong place to find victims.

One of the most significant concerns and this is something which I have been told elsewhere is the particular concern of girls and women trafficked from West Africa, thought to be the largest group of victims.  The police or the specialist units failed, the report claims, to find them. They are rarely found in brothels and are more likely to be exploited in closed communities.

The report revealed that The Poppy Project, which works with victims of trafficking, had told them that women from West Africa are the largest group they work with. Of 197 Nigerian women they have worked with since 2003 just nine were referred to them by the police.

This is a subject close to my heart, and I am concerned that we are not yet in a situation where we are even hitting the tip of the iceberg despite resources and specialist units being deployed.

Charities such as the Poppy Project do the very best work they can with limited resource, but they are only able to act when victims are brought to them.

The Police must work with other agencies to develop greater intelligence in this area to really tackle the closed world of trafficking and exploitation, and help these victims.


Bring Back Feminism

Labour Party

 Two stories in the news today, both in the Guardian, caught my eye. The first was the news that pro-choice groups are now retaliating against the gains made by anti-abortion campaigners. The second was an excellent piece by Jackie Ashley on the debate over the sexualisation of young girls.

Recent developments in the political minefield of abortion rights have been, I believe, deeply concerning. Not only are anti-abortion groups such as Life being invited to have their say on government policy but there are proposals being made within the Conservative Party to both limit the time frame within which a woman may have an abortion and also to force women to undergo counselling should they chose to seek one.

Why are these proposals so appalling? Well, in terms of the reduction of time limits, the number of abortions that are undertaken in the later weeks is actually a miniscule proportion of all abortions carried out. Undergoing a late-term abortion is a horrendous experience that no woman would take lightly and would only be done in the most extreme circumstances. The women who choose to have late-term abortions are often the most vulnerable, women who have been abused or who are unaware of their pregnancy, have very controlling families or find out their child has a severe disability.

I also oppose plans to force women who wish to have a termination to undergo counselling. This is not to say that I think counselling in itself a bad thing. Indeed, if a woman wishes to have counselling for what can be a traumatising experience it should absolutely be provided. But forcing a woman to undergo counselling simply sends out the message that this decision is not hers alone, society has a say, and society disapproves.

Surprisingly, on the subject of the sexualisation of young girls the Conservative Right and Feminist Left find themselves in uneasy agreement, albeit for divergent reasons. The Right, headed by the likes of Nadine Dorries, oppose the sexualisation of young girls because they believe sex to be nasty and dirty and the sexualisation of young girls to be something nasty and dirty happening to children.

Many of us on the Left, however, oppose the selling of padded bras for seven year olds and make up and stilettos as toys for different reasons. This is because, as Jackie Ashley says, these girls “are being groomed – not by pervy old men hanging over computer keyboards, but by today’s ideology-free, value-free consumer culture, which tells them they’re sexually hot or they’re nothing”. The sexualisation and commodification of women is a false empowerment. What kind of freedom is the freedom to take your clothes off or get silicone enhanced breasts? Men don’t feel obliged to undergo cosmetic surgery and grueling beauty routines in order to look “acceptable” within society. Women need to realise that they have simply swapped one form of slavery and societal control for another.

Although the Left and Right agree that there should be something done, it is still for fundamentally different reasons. This is why the Left should not simply sit back and let the religious Right fight this battle. A feminist voice should be heard. This is not only because a lot of the other things these groups have to say about women, such as abortion rights, is poisonous and regressive, but because you can’t change society just by banning things. In order to enact real and lasting change you need to address the way both men and women think about these issues.

More Women trafficked into Britain as the Tory-led Coalition axes the Poppy Project

Labour Party

The Tory-led Government recently announced  it is to withdraw funding from the Poppy Project, a charity providing support and accommodation to women who have been trafficked into prostitution or domestic servitude. The Poppy Project has done excellent work over the years and it is one of the biggest and most established organisations of its kind. I have had contact with the Poppy Project on a number of occasions and am full of admiration for the work they have done.

Hard on the heels of the Poppy Project axing, I was further shocked to read an article in The Guardian yesterday about one Moldovan woman’s experience of being trafficked inEurope.

The 18-year-old referred to in the article was found working as a prostitute inLondon. The British immigration officials who reviewed her case deemed her to be in no danger if she returned to Moldova  so she was sent back. Her traffickers then tracked her down and raped and tortured her. The young woman was subsequently sent to Israel and then back to the UK to work again as a prostitute.

The Home Office agreed last week to pay the woman significant damages in recognition of the crass behaviour and errors of judgment made by the British authorities. Small compensation indeed for what she has been through.

Cases like these, where vulnerable women are sent from theUK back to potentially dangerous situations in their home country, are becoming more and more common. Yet, rather than investing more in resources to help victims of trafficking, the Tory-led Government is determined to cut charities with experience in this area.

True, the government has awarded The Salvation Army a contract to provide support to trafficked women supposedly in place of the Poppy Project. However, the loss in expertise involved in this wholly unnecessary and wrong-headed move may well mean that large numbers of trafficked women not identified as such. Trafficking could therefore become ever more of a growth industry.

David Cameron claims that tackling sex trafficking is a priority for the Tory-led coalition. But his actions speak louder than words. As funding is removed from women’s organisations like Poppy Project, I am sure we will see increasing numbers of cases like the one reported yesterday in The Guardian.

It’s time for the UK to amend its out-of-date prostitution laws

Labour Party

Yesterday, The Guardian reported that France was considering amending its prostitution laws, making it illegal to pay for sex. Only a handful of European countries have opted to criminalise the clients of sex workers. Sweden is the only EU Member State to have done so.

In 2010, an attempt by Labour MPs to introduce similar legislation was rejected. A further attempt to do so by Scottish MP Marlyn Glen also fell through. I am shocked that there has not been more support for these proposals. Whilst I am against legalising prostitution like countries such as Holland and Belgium have done, I totally support introducing legislation to criminalise clients who pay sex workers.

Were clients to be criminalised, there would be a dramatic decrease in the numbers of women being trafficked for the purpose of prostitution. According to the UN, some 80% of persons trafficked are trafficked for sexual exploitation. The European Commission estimates that 120,000 women and children are trafficked into Western Europe each year. The root cause of prostitution and trafficking is the male demand for women who can be bought and sexually exploited. Evidently without the demand, the supply would not be necessary and the market would be substantially reduced.

Another huge failure of the current system is the impact on the sex workers themselves. Where prostitutes are regarded as criminals, rather than victims, measures to combat prostitution can often do more harm than good. In the UK, the criminal justice system has long permitted the use of ASBOs for street-based prostitution. This is highly ineffective. Women who fail to comply with the terms of their ASBO (and this is most women) frequently end up with a short-term prison sentence. This is very demoralising for them and can destroy their self-esteem.

For the actor Philippe Caubère to claim that sex workers ‘take care of men who mostly live in sexual misery’ shows a gross misunderstanding of the issue. Prostitution is a form of male violence against women. Caubère’s words sum up the widely held belief that men are innocent victims of sexual desires and women exist to serve them. No man has ever died from lack of sex, and no man will if France reforms its prostitution laws. I just hope that it encourages the UK to do the same.

Britain is well behind Europe in History Teaching

Labour Party

I return to one of my continuing concerns, namely the teaching of history in schools.

It interests and worries me for two reasons, the first being that I am a history graduate and believe in the value of knowing what went before and the ability that provides to evaluate the present. The second is that I have the education brief for the S&D Group in the European Parliament and therefore take an interest in education across the board. I was therefore pleased to follow the debate on history teaching in the Guardian over the past few days, especially this response on Comment is Free by Dean Smart. While Smart points out that Britain is the only country in Europe where history is not compulsory beyond the age of 14, history per se is not unpopular. We must, I believe, give considerable attention to why the UK is behind the rest of Europe when it comes to teaching history. We are also sadly lacking in foreign language teaching where we utterly fail to meet the EU recommendation that all schoolchildren learn two foreign languages in addition to their mother tongue.

What is wrong with our educational priorities? How can we give the next generation a rounded education including the subjects in which they will necessarily have to be proficient (maths and English) and those which will encourage them to think and develop the hugely important skills of communication problem solving? Dean Smart is of the view that not enough time is given to history in schools, but even so the subject remains popular. As I have pointed out before, as a nation we have a huge appetite for our past with recent television series on both the Tudors and the Edwardian era.

People are interested in history and this should be more exploited in schools. More and improved history teaching would benefit us all. The rest of Europe clearly believes this, and on this issue I truly believe we should follow their example. Michael Gove please take note.

Labour delivers reforms on bankers bonuses

Labour Party

If you haven’t already done so, you may like to read a letter in today’s Guardian from Glenis Willmott MEP, Leader of the Labour MEPs:

Fairness for All

We can see that the government has little real appetite to tackle the City’s risk-taking bonus culture (How Osborne’s tough words on bank bonuses proved to be so much hot air, 11 January). However, despite attempts by the government to water it down, new EU legislation is now in place to limit the upfront cash payments that have in the past rewarded bankers for short-term risky investments. These new rules, taken through the European parliament by Labour MEP Arlene McCarthy, aren’t about bashing bankers. They are about putting long-term interests ahead of short-term risks. So while the government has talked tough but done little, it is Labour that has delivered constructive reforms.

Needless to say, I completely agree with the letter.

Ryanair is still Plane Sexist

Labour Party

Thanks to Ryanair I seem to have achieved some notoriety.

I appear in a report in today’s Telegraph which appears to congratulate Ryanair on producing its fourth charity calendar.  The Telegraph headline “Ryanair cabin crew strip off for charity calendar” says it all. Well maybe not quite all as every singe one of the cabin crew who strip off are female.

I am quoted as saying at this time of year in 2008 that the calendar “sexualises” the airline industry and that Ryanair was maing a desperate bid for profits.”

I very much think this is the case.  You may like to read the blog I wrote two years ago which now appears to be recycled by the Telegraph 

Plane Sexist

Posted on November 21, 2008 by maryhoneyballmep

Just a year on from its Britney Spears style ad of a scantily clad school girl was formally reprimanded, Ryanair has again done the dirty in a desperate bid for profits and pimped out its “sexiest” airline stewards in a “bare all” calendar.

You might like to read my Guardian Comment is Free article on Ryanair’s advertising, or vote in the poll on the left.

The sexy calendar features Ryanair’s staff posing in skimpy bikinis wielding hoses and sprawling across aircrafts. But worse still the links I received in a promotional email took me to a YouTube soft porn-style video of Ryanair staff being stroked by greased-up men and scintillating camera close-ups. I received this depressing advert in a spam email, with no age limit, to titillate its customers to “click on the video link to bare all”. Be warned!

On a serious note, these women have no access to trade union representation. Ryanair does not recognise any worker organisation and accordingly no trade union has been able to establish itself in Ryanair to defend cabin crew. Even though some of these women could be happy to take part, who do they turn to if they’re not?

Guardian Comment is Free article

Labour Party

Yesterday I wrote a piece for the Guardian Comment is Free on the issue of maternity proposals which we will vote on later today. You can read the article here.

Honeyball’s Weekly Round up

education, politics show

This morning I could hear the ringing of “Thatcher Thatcher the Milk snatcher” being recited on blogs, via tweets and on facebook as many of us were aghast at news that the Government planned to cut free milk provisions for nursery school children.

The decision was barmy because it was never going to be something that would save them that much money. Yet no sooner was David Willetts, the University Minister, on the Andrew Marr show this morning defending it than Number 10 had issued a U-turn. In fairness it can’t have been easy for Willetts to defend a policy which was changing as the words left his mouth. Nevertheless it indicates that the Government is in utter chaos and Andy Burnham rightly said: “It is utterly shambolic.

For thePrime Minister to overrule the Department of Health in this way raises serious questions about his confidence in his health minister.” You can watch this mornings interview here about 40 minutes into the show.

Also this week Michael Gove seems unable to shake off the controversy over his school cuts plan. Vincent Moss in today’s Sunday Mirror reports that Gove’s legal experts have warned he could lose a multi million pound legal battle.

A lawyer, according to Moss has told the  Education Secretary that councils have “‘a fairly strong case” if they sue according to details leaked to the Sunday Mirror.You can read Vincent Moss’ report in full here.

I was concerned to learn that a Conservative Council is calling its council house tenants to advise them that if their property is considered to big for their needs they maybe asked to move out, under the coalition governments plans. It doesn’t need me to say this is a dangerous road to go down, senior members in the coalition are actively and openly unhappy about this and have voiced concerns.

Simon Hughes criticised the Government saying his party would “need a lot of persuading” to back it. You can read the report here.

The Tories’ Real Record on Women’s Rights

Labour Party

I have been reading with some amazement recent statements on women from senior Tories, in particular David Cameron and Theresa May.  In David Cameron’s speech to the Conservative Party spring conference last month, he emphasised how “family-friendly” his party’s manifesto would be with the “right to flexibility to everyone with children”.  Last week Theresa May used the occasion of International Women’s Day to make a “pledge of support for women” in the Guardian online pages. 

All fine sentiments, but female voters beware!  Beyond Cameron and May’s words, there is little sense that there is any support for such policies in the core of the Tory party, or little evidence that the party leadership have the will to implement them.  Indeed, as I have blogged before, the voting record of Tory MEPs on women’s rights issues since David Cameron became leader is appalling, and exposes the fact that really nothing has changed in the Nasty Party.

For example, in 2006 Tory MEPs voted against a Report on combating violence against women, which included provisions on making rape within marriage a criminal offence, eliminating female genital mutilation, and encouraging cross border cooperation on so-called “honour” crimes, all matters mentioned by Theresa May in her Guardian article as commitments of a future Tory government. 

Yet it seems her MEPs do not share these concerns.  As recently as 2009, the Tory MEPs abstained in a vote urging member states to improve their national policies on combating violence against women, where the importance of recognising rape within marriage as a criminal offence was again underlined. 

On childcare, the EU adopted Employment guidelines as part of the EU’s Growth and Jobs strategy in 2008.  These guidelines included targets for flexible working, and access to childcare, surely a key element of Cameron’s pledge of the “right to flexibility to everyone with children”.  Again, this failed to get the Conservative MEPs’ backing.

In February of this year, the Tories voted against a report which included provisions on the need to tackle the gender pay gap – another issue Theresa May purports to be in favour of – and to link maternity and paternity leave.  The Tories in the European Parliament explicitly disagreed with the call to establish paternity leave across Europe, and against linking paternity and maternity leave to ensure fathers are able to take time off as well.  The report in question also contained a provision on one of David Cameron’s priority policies, combating persistent sexist stereotyping and degrading images.  Again the Tory MEPs voted against.

David Cameron said last month in his speech that as a parent he “dreads switching on the television and being bombarded with commercial messages”.  However, in 2008, the European Parliament discussed the issue of advertising and stereotypes in the media.  Member States were urged to ensure that marketing and advertising did not uphold discriminatory stereotypes, and consider the impact of advertising on children and teenagers’ body image and self-esteem, and yet 15 Tory MEPs still managed to vote against this measure.

I continue to be amazed at the disingenuousness of Cameron’s approach.  If he and his party were serious about family friendly policies and women’s rights, they would not let their MEPs vote so brazenly against these reports which recognise the importance of these issues. 

Perhaps it should come as no surprise that, with a general election drawing near, the Tories suddenly remember that they need to try and appeal to women, who do make up over 50% of the electorate, but I would urge female voters not to fall for these well-scripted sentiments, when time and time again it can be shown that they are not supported by the Tories in any way that matters.