An investigation by The Fuller Project and VICE World News has identified that whilst the UK was once known as a destination country for victims of trafficking, it is evident that an increasing number of British Nationals are being trafficked within the borders of the UK. Statistics from the UK Government and charitable organisations show the UK is becoming an origin country for trafficking; rather than a destination country.
British people are trafficked in a number of ways including homeless people being offered jobs that then come with threats and no pay, teenagers being groomed by gangs into criminal acts, people coerced or manipulated to act as drug couriers or dealers, and girls and women forced into prostitution.
Despite recent pledges by the British Government to tackle modern slavery, advocacy groups note that criminal networks are finding it easier to target the most vulnerable Britons rather than bringing people into the country. Whilst the reason for this is not yet known, drastic government cuts to youth and family services of almost £1 billion is believed to have made a big impact.
VICE World News and The Fuller Project report that local authorities in the UK have cut over 4500 jobs in youth work and shut down more than 760 youth centres since 2012; a result of this is that more young people have been placed at risk of becoming targets for human traffickers.
In November 2020, the National Youth Agency reported that over 1 million young people went off the radar when youth services closed or were moved online. Many charities have had to lay off employees which has left many young people without consistent support. There is a heightened risk that young people who don’t have access to youth services will be sexually exploited; not just by gangs but by relying on “survival sex” – forming relationships in exchange for accommodation.
The Salvation Army also recorded a 79% increase in domestically trafficked British people in 2020 compared to 2019.
The British Government introduced the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) to identify potential victims of modern slavery and ensure they receive the appropriate support as British Nationals are now more likely to be lured against their will than any other nationality in the UK. It provides a way for all agencies such as the Police, local authorities and non-governmental organisations to cooperate and share information with each other.
An issue with the NRM however is that it only captures victims who have been found. It is estimated that only 1 in 10 victims of modern slavery are being found. It is believed that there is in excess of 100,000 people in slavery in the UK.
Furthermore, a hurdle that trafficked British women face is that they are seen as less likely to need services such as emergency housing and other forms of specialist assistance. Some women get misclassified by the police as survivors of rape or domestic abuse as opposed to trafficking, and the NRM is not alerted thus the relevant support is not provided nor investigations into those responsible for the trafficking.
Last year, the UK became the first country in the world to publish a modern slavery statement that outlines how the government is tackling the crime in its own supply chains however it has been noted that it does not mention girls or women being forced into prostitution nor make any reference to people being trafficked domestically.
Whilst there appear to be a number of programmes being created to try and deal/prevent the issue of human trafficking like the NRM and the Tackling Organised Exploitation (TOEX) programme (a national project between the National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) and the National Crime Agency (NCA) to remove boundaries within policing and facilitate the sharing of information about vulnerable people who have been exploited), and there is an increase in working with charities like Justice and Care as well as other partner forces to bring traffickers to justice; there is clearly so much more attention and input required from multiple agencies to try to reduce the amount of human trafficking taking place in the UK (especially girls and women) as well as more support for those who have been trafficked.