Parliamentary group reports on trafficking and exploitation in UK

Labour Party

A Parliamentary Group has published its report on the problem of sexual exploitation in England and Wales, which it found is widespread throughout the UK.

The report ‘Behind Closed Doors’, conducted by the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Prostitution and the Global Sex Trade, urges the Government to combat the demand that drives sexual exploitation by making paying for sex a criminal offence in all locations. This is a model I have supported and campaigned for over many years.

The problem for the police and other law enforcement agencies who seek to fight this criminal activity is that by its very nature the model is transient, in other words brothel owners will operate for a short period of time in one area, before moving to another location.

In addition to these “pop up brothels” women themselves are moved across different locations, allowing the sexual exploitation to continue. This makes it incredibly hard for the Police to identify, challenge and eradicate.

Furthermore, while the size and the structure of these organised crime gangs varies, what they have in common is the methods used to source and retain women, while also ensuring law enforcement agencies do not impede the ‘work’. They use coercive measures to stop women from talking to agencies, they isolate them, use sexual and physical violence and debt bondage among an array of other despicable and cruel measures to ensure the women stay.

The report states the UK must become a hostile environment in which trafficking is not able to flourish in any way.

To achieve this it suggests several recommendations which include: The Government working to combat the demand which drives sexual exploitation. This should be done by making the purchasing of sex an offence. It also recommends that Government makes prostitution procurement websites more accountable. They must take more responsibility for facilitating and profiting from this kind of exploitation. It’s other significant recommendation is that the Government should change the law by removing the criminal offence of soliciting in a street or public space for selling sex.

However, because of the deceptive nature of exploitation and the lengths traffickers go to ensure they aren’t uncovered, all of which is outlined brilliantly well in this report, law enforcement agencies are only aware of a small proportion of what takes place.

The true scale of the problem is not reflected in the figures that are available. But we do know that still in 2018 thousands of women are being sexually exploited across the country and we must challenge the source of the problem and as a significant move in the right direction the introduction of the Nordic Model (where the purchaser of sex is criminalised not the supplier) would help.

The fight against trafficking could be jeopardised by Brexit

Labour Party

Some 16000 men, women and children were registered as victims of human trafficking within the EU between 2013-2014, according to the European Parliament Research Service. I tweeted this earlier in the week because facts and figures get banded about day in day out, but this is about people, real lives. These are people who have been identified because of dedicated and professional work of agencies across the EU who work to rescue victims of trafficking.

At the same time as these statistics were revealed, the news information service Reuters published research from the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA) which suggested Britain’s exit from the EU could hamper the fight against human trafficking.

It’s work to tackle forced labour, slavery and trafficking is under jeopardy because the picture post Brexit is so unclear. Its main concern is that the sharing of intelligence could be compromised. The GLAA’s report states: “Dependent upon worker restrictions, there may be a drop-in intelligence flows as EU nationals will seek to remain under the radar of any law enforcement/immigration activity”.

As the use of encrypted social media makes it easier for traffickers to operate covertly it becomes ever more critical to ensure effective communication and cooperation is carried out among agencies across the European Union.

Europol, has also said that the use of social media for trafficking purposes is making their work harder. It’s therefore imperative that all our agencies have the access they need to continue the fight against trafficking. The effect of a break down in intelligence flows would have a catastrophic effect on the ability to save the lives of thousands of vulnerable people who are used in this dreadful way.

Irish Labour women organise an excellent conference on the objectification of women

Labour Party
Mary with Emer Costello MEP, Nessa Childers MEP, Joan Burton TD (Irish Minister) on her right, Zita Gurmai MEP and Phil Prendergast MEPon her left

Mary with Emer Costello MEP, Nessa Childers MEP, Joan Burton TD (Irish Minister) on her right, Zita Gurmai MEP and Phil Prendergast MEP on her left

A conference organised jointly by the Party of European Socialists Women and Labour Women Ireland  to mark the Irish presidency of the EU agreed that legislation to target the buyers of sex was the best way to deal with prostitution. The conference entitled “Objectification of Women” held in Dublin on Saturday also celebrated the Irish Labour Party’s centenary.

I want to thank Labour Women Ireland for hosting a great event. The panel discussions were lively and inspiring.  I was particularly pleased to see my three Irish Labour Party MEP colleagues, Nessa Childers,  Phil Prendergast and Emer Costello, taking part in each of the three panel  sessions.

The first of these on women and the media was introduced by financial journalist Margaret E Ward from the Irish organisation “Women on Air”, which aims to get more women on television and radio.  The next session tackled the thorny issue of  women in decision-making, politics and the labour market starting with a very full presentation from Nat O’Connor from the Irish think tank TASC.  Patricia King, General Officer of the SIPTU trade union, gave an inspiring and moving talk on her road to the top.  The last session, “Women as objects: European response to human trafficking and the sex trade”, looked at ways to end the exploitation, abuse and trafficking of women and girls by introducing the kind of laws  Sweden has had for over a decade whereby the buyers not the sellers of sex are the wrong-doers. Sweden has, in fact, seen a reduction in prostitution and organised crime since this legislation was put on the statute book.

My particular thanks to Sinead Ahern who organised the conference and to all the other women involved.  I came away feeling energised as well as having enjoyed spending time with such a lively and committed group of women.

 

 

 

 

 

‘A Europe free from prostitution’?

Labour Party

The European Women’s Lobby visited the European Parliament earlier this week to put forward their proposals for a ‘Europe free from prostitution.’

They have identified six key recommendations they would like Brussels to adopt. These are:

EWL’s six key recommendations to EU Member States:
1.    the suppression of repressive measures against prostituted persons
2.    the criminalisation of all forms of procuring
3.    the development of real alternatives and exit programmes for those in prostitution
4.    the prohibition of the purchase of a sexual act
5.    the implementation of policies of prevention, education, to promote equality and positive sexuality
6.    the development of prevention policies in the countries of origin of prostituted persons.

Following the EWL’s calls I said “I fully supported the adoption of a model similar to the one in place in Sweden.”

While I agree, and support the EWL’s recommendations I also believe we must focus attention, effort and resources on the issue of human trafficking which helps fuel the demand for prostitution.

If we are to tackle the problem of prostitution we must also acknowledge and fight equally hard to abolish the very violent crime of human trafficking.

Statistics show that between 76-79% of reported trafficking in humans is for sexual exploitation. This is a worryingly high statistic, and, in reality, is likely to be even higher because not every crime of this nature is reported.

I therefore support the criminalisation of all forms of procuring, and the creation of effective exit programmes for sex workers, in line with the views of the EWL.

In Sweden, legislation which criminalises those who pay for prostitutes had had a very significant impact in reducing the number of persons exploited in street prostitution, reducing it by half. In 1996, 13.6% of Swedish men said they had bought someone for prostitution purposes. In 2008, the figure had dropped to 7.8%.

Tackling this issue while simultaneously deploying more resources to help victims of human trafficking makes sense but also provides the best chance to help every victim of sexual exploitation.

Everywoman Safe Everywhere

Labour Party

Since the Tory cuts began, women have been seen to bear the greatest impact in every area of life. One area of growing concern for me is the negative effect of the cuts on women’s safety. 

The safety of women across the country is increasingly at risk. It is at risk because of reductions in police numbers, as seen in my London constituency, and it is at risk because councils are cutting back on street lights in an effort to save money.

It is also at risk because organisations which support women to leave abusive relationships or jobs in which they are sexually exploited and abused have lost their funding. These are organisations like the Derby Women’s Centre which is currently under threat of closure as a result of cuts to its funding. My colleague Glenis Willmott, MEP for the East Midlands and Labour’s  Leader in Europe, spoke out against the cuts to its funding yesterday.

A number of women’s refuges and other specialist organisations which offer a safe space for women who have been abused are also suffering as a result of the cuts. Such organisations provide crucial support to victims of domestic violence, women who have been trafficked and the homeless. Last year I spoke a lot about the Poppy Project and the cuts to its funding. The Poppy project is an excellent organisation which provides support to survivors of trafficking.

For some of the most vulnerable women, like those who have recently left abusive relationships, access to a crisis loan can be an important resource. This is especially true if a woman has had to leave behind her possessions when escaping her abuser. This type of emergency loan can assist her in starting to rebuild her life.

Recent welfare reform proposals shift the control of such crisis funds to already stretched local authorities with no checks to ensure the funding is spent on providing crisis support.

They also rather ludicrously suggest that councils could provide support in kind rather than money to people who apply for crisis funds. Women who have taken the brave move of leaving abusive partners should not have to suffer the lack of autonomy and indignity associated with receiving food parcels.

A coalition of 20 charities, including Banardo’s and Women’s Aid, has called for the ring-fencing of funds to provide crisis loans in a letter to the Guardian last weekend. You can read the letter here.

In response to the ever increasing impact of Tory cuts on women’s safety, the Labour Party is carrying out a Public Consultation.

The Consultation was opened shortly before the Christmas break but I felt given the hectic holiday period it might be a good idea to revisit it with you now we are in the New Year.

The findings from the Consultation will be used get a clearer picture of the cumulative impact of tory decision making and to develop legislative measures that could be used to make women safer. It will also be used as an opportunity to consult on Labour’s proposals for a new Personal Safety Bill.

The consultation is chaired by Vera Baird QC who will be supported by Kate Green MP (Shadow Minister for Equalities) and Stella Creasy MP (Shadow Minister for Crime Prevention).

If you would like to find out more about the consultation or take part, please visit the Everywoman Safe Everywhere website. Together we can make Britain a safer place for women.

The Daphne Programme is at risk

Labour Party

I  was disappointed and incredibly concerned to hear that the Daphne Programme is once again at risk of being withdrawn. Daphne is one of the key tools in preventing violence against women at the European Level.

I have talked about the great work of the Daphne programme several times before. This fantastic programme is aimed at the protection of children, young people and women against all forms of violence and at attaining a high level of health protection, well being and social cohesion for vulnerable groups.

Just a few of the issues the programme deals with are the prevention of domestic abuse, trafficking, sexual exploitation, female genital mutilation and sexual assault.

The programme has been running since 2000 and is now in its third cycle. In 2011 the budget allocated to the project was just over 18 million Euros or around 0.001% of the overall EU budget for the year.

Violence against women is believed to have affected up to 45% of the EU female population. It is estimated to cost EU Member States as much as 16 billion Euros every year – or one million Euros every half hour.

The difference to people’s lives that has been made by investing the equivalent of just over 1% of the total cost felt by member states into the Daphne programme is massive. I simply can’t understand why the commission isn’t instead increasing its support for this programme.

In the UK alone, funding has been provided to over 120 organisations since the programme began. These range from the Met Police and several London Boroughs to charities such as Banardos, Refuge and Childline.

Some of the vital projects that have received funding from the Daphne are Eaves Housing for Women who assessed the health needs of victims of trafficking. Funding has also been used to advance cooperation between Member States on issues such as missing children.

A cut in EU support would be another blow to charities working in the prevention of violence and abuse. So many, like the Poppy Project which I have long been a supporter of, are already suffering following he recent UK government cuts to their funding.

Coalition for a European Year to End Violence against Women

The issue of violence against women is not going away in the EU. In light of the danger faced by the Daphne programme it even appears support for bringing it to an end is getting weaker.

This is why I support the European Women’s Lobby’s Coalition for a European Year to End Violence against Women. A dedicated European Year would refocus attention on a problem that continues to persist across Europe yet is increasingly ignored. It would definately mark a step towards a more proactive approach to ending violence against women.

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.

The European Court of Human Rights is Fit for Purpose.

Labour Party

Ken McDonald’s opinion piece in the Times today is quite simply wrong. Far from measures being needed to reduce the reduce the scope of its jurisdiction, the ECHR is one of Europe’s success stories.

McDonald’s main argument as to why the court is “no longer fit for purpose” is that is now has a backlog of 150,000 cases growing at 20,000 per year. While this is not perhaps an indication of an organisation fully in charge of its workload, it does show just how popular the court is with the people of Europe. Surely it is obvious that the solution to an oversubscribed service is to expand the service rather than curtail it? Surely that would be more beneficial than restricting people’s access to justice because the violations of their human rights weren’t really “serious enough”?

 Politicians and journalists frequently complain about the democratic deficit of the EU and how the structures of governance are not accountable to the people. The ECHR however, is actually a body that is reachable by all citizens of the EU and its role is to respond to their most fundamental of needs, the upholding of their human rights.

 This leads me to McDonald’s next argument, that the court is now overstretching itself in terms of the breadth of cases it is willing to hear. What he forgets, however, is that much as the rights to not be killed, tortured or imprisoned without trial are extremely important human rights they are not the only ones. The European Declaration of Human Rights is far more expansive than that. In order to properly uphold the law of the EU, the Court is actually obliged to consider all cases brought to it in which the claimant believes their rights to have been violated according to that law.

 Finally, the author also argues that the ECHR is in the impossible position of trying to apply the same law to former Soviet dictatorships as to the ‘nice, friendly’ countries of the West. This is a gross misrepresentation of the state of affairs within Europe. While the UK certainly has better human rights standards than other parts of the continent it is by no means exemplary. Consider for instance the deporting of victims of trafficking, the discrimination against same-sex couples and the slow erosion of civil liberties in recent years. The number of cases brought against the UK government in the ECHR (443 judgments since its creation) shows that the UK is also in need of an impartial overseer in matters of human rights protection.

Human Rights are dictated by moral reasoning – on this point Europe has reached legal agreement. It is right that all of Europe should be judged by the same standards of justice. That is the purpose of the ECHR and one for which it is fit.

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.