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Punter Identification of, and Aid to, UK Human Trafficking for Sexual Exploitation Victims

by on January 26, 2009

[Evidence to Public Bill Committee on the Policing and Crime Bill]

1 Introduction (Summary) 

1.1 This submission consists mainly of such evidence as I have been able to collate through the web to demonstrate the actual and potential aid given by ‘punters’ to victims of Human Trafficking for Sexual Exploitation (HTfSE) by identifying them to the authorities or aiding their escape.

This, in my submission, would be considerably prejudiced by the Bill in its current form, which would deem a client guilty of a strict liability offence at the point of arranging sex for payment with a sex worker ‘controlled for gain,’ which may well be by telephone or through the internet before he or she has met the sex worker concerned.

1.2 This evidence does not pretend to be comprehensive. It relies in part on local newspaper accounts, several of court cases, with all their limitations, and in part on official reports of various bodies. All net addresses viewed January 22-26, 2009.

2. Recent Evidence from the Media of Specific Rescues

2.1 The media covers by no means all cases, and though I have read many, I do not pretend to have read all newspaper accounts or all official reports. Even when a case is contested, and covered by the media, the original intelligence leading police to make enquiries is generally not revealed in court, and is covered by the phrase “As a result of information received” by police, for fear of rules concerning hearsay evidence. Consequently, it is rare for tip-offs by punters leading to police raids to be made public in the courts. Even when this occurs, it is not necessarily covered in the media reports, which, of necessity, cover very long proceedings in very short accounts, with the courts primarily concerned with the guilt or innocence of the parties and only rarely with the means by which the police gather originating intelligence.

2.2  The most overt recent press account is in the Wiltshire Gazette dated December 19, 2008, which tells of three persons jailed for nearly four years for human trafficking in Swindon and South Wales following a raid resulting from a punter’s tip-off. DC Amanda Carver of Wiltshire Police is quoted: “This investigation was triggered by anonymous information received from a caring ‘punter’ and has undoubtedly curtailed the existing operations of these convicted persons and stopped their expansion….I urge other ‘punters’ who suspect that young persons are being used within the premises to contact either Wiltshire Police direct or Crimestoppers anonymously in order that we take the necessary steps to protect those involved and prosecute the offenders….We hope that this case will encourage others to come forward safe in the knowledge that Wiltshire police are committed to investigating any allegations received of this nature….”

2.3 The Aberdeen Press and Journal reported on January 9 this year the case of a 29-year-old Thai woman forced to work in brothels in Plymouth and Taunton until rescued by a client in a Plymouth Crown Court case. As a result, five women and two men are awaiting sentencing on February 5, 2009, having admitted their parts in the events.

2.4 Mr Anthony Steen MP drew attention to a Paignton case in the Bill’s Second Reading. This was not a ‘punter rescue’ as such, as the woman managed to escape from her alleged (I believe the case is still live) captors and entered a nearby pub, where persons raised the alarm, but is illustrative of police requesting and receiving help from punters.

Superintendent Chris Singer appealed in the local Herald Express: “Our appeal is for those who have knowledge of this address, either by working there or visiting for sex, to make contact with us and pass on any information about anyone they suspect may be of interest to us. Their help could possibly safeguard the interests of people who may be innocently drawn into this hateful and inhuman trade in sex exploitation.”

According to Mr Steen’s speech, six punters came forward and volunteered evidence.

3 Other Media Accounts of Punter Rescues + police requests

3.1 The Daily Mirror journalist Anton Antonowicz (now its US correspondent though then writing in London) reported on February 21, 2007, that On my desk are the testimonies of women trafficked from Eastern Europe and Africa to work as prostitutes. Many were able to tell their stories because they convinced a punter they were being held against their will.”

The piece gives an interesting example of a Lithuanian 19-year-old who may have had difficulties communicating with English punters but is finally rescued by a fellow-Lithuanian: “Jiera, 19, was trafficked into prostitution when she was only 17 and promised a holiday in London. What followed was a year-long nightmare before she escaped with the help of a Lithuanian client. He took her to the Lithuanian embassy and she was referred to Poppy…”

3.2 Fiona Mactaggart MP, who told the House on the Second Reading that she knew of no instances where action taken by punters had been confirmed as leading to the rescue of trafficking victims, was quoted in the Daily Mirror on January 18, 2006, saying “Men who encounter a woman they think has been trafficked commonly report it.

“I think the reason is because men don’t think what has happened to the woman is right, even if they think using prostitutes is right and something they are prepared to do.”

3.3 DCS Nick Kinsella, head of UKHTC, announcing Pentameter 2 in June, 2006 in the Daily Telegraph, stated it would require “good local intelligence” from police and the public. …He urged “punters” to tell officers if they believed that a woman was being forced to have sex with clients.”

4 Information from Agencies Aiding Trafficking Victims

4.1 Poppy and its associated rescue-orientated London organisations, Eaves Housing and the Lilith Project, which aid many of the women discovered to have been HTfSE victims in and beyond the capital, have long campaigned for the criminalisation of clients. For this reason, it would seem unlikely that an informed client, having rescued a trafficked person, would refer him or her to Poppy given a less political alternative, such as the Salvation Army, which has a special project to aid trafficked persons but which does not campaign so overtly..

4.2 Nevertheless, Natalia Dawkins, manager of the Poppy Project, , told the BBC: “We have had referrals where women have actively sought help and been assisted (to escape) by a punter.”

4.3 In August 2008, the Poppy Project, , published Routes In, Routes Out, .information “collated from the case files of 118 women supported by the POPPY Project (on either an acute or outreach basis) long enough to have developed a trusting relationship with their Senior Support Worker between March 2003 and July 2007.”

4.4  Paragraph 5.4 of Routes In, Routes Out covers trafficking victims’ methods of escape from their captors. Of the 118 case files, some 26 failed to identify the means of escape. Of the remainder, nine women escaped with the aid of a punter. The report states: “The majority of the women taking part in this study said they did not consider seeking support from the men purchasing sex…. The reasons given…consisted of…being frightened of the ‘customers’ and not expecting them to help given the exploitative context, and the inability to ask for assistance due to their spoken English being limited.” It would seem surprising, however, that given their appalling circumstances so few with basic language skills would choose to forgo what is clearly their best chance of escape.

4.5 However, a close examination and consideration of the accompanying chart of means of escape suggests that punter involvement may well be considerably understated in this study. Punters are perhaps more likely to tip-off the police (as in the cases outlined in 2.1 and 2.2 above) rather than to take the additional risks involved in aiding the woman directly – even if practical – so punters may also be initially responsible for some of the 20 or so rescues identified as having taken place through police raids. Police are also known to gather intelligence information by monitoring forums such as Punternet to which punters contribute.

4.6 Crimestoppers’ CEO, Mick Laurie, said (April 2006): “These women who are victims of trafficking…are held against their will…The only other people who may know what is happening to them are the men who use their services….” He was joined in this press release by film director David Baksh, who said: “Seeing prostitutes is not something most men would want to shout about – or stand up in court and testify to,” but describes punters as “the girls’ best hope of rescue and the police’s best source of intelligence.”

The release concerned a film Balsch had directed for Crimestoppers, viewable over the web through a spoof porn site.

Crimestoppers’ 2006 review stated: “the film with its compelling voice-over and Crimestoppers call to action has resulted in significant information relating to brothels.”

Some supporters of the Bill point out that the Bill does not prevent punters approaching Crimestoppers anonymously. However, even given confidence in Crimestoppers’ offer of anonymity, the Bill would obviously increase the liability of the punter to arrest and prosecution, especially in an age of DNA testing and talk of a Home Office system logging every internet and telephone communication, which could be perceived as easily leading to a punters’ arrest  despite his absence from a brothel at the time of a raid.

5 Parliamentary Reports

5.1 The Joint Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights expressed the dilemma faced in Volume 1 of its report on Human trafficking in 2005-6. To quote paragraph 148 (brackets mine): “those who use prostitutes can provide a vital source of intelligence, as well as a route to rescuing trafficked women, and must be encouraged to come forward. While sexual intercourse without consent is clearly an offence, we consider that men who have used the services of trafficked prostitutes should not be discouraged from reporting to the authorities their suspicions that the women concerned may have been trafficked. While we note and welcome Mr Coaker’s view that those who genuinely come forward to identify trafficking victims would not be prosecuted …[the committee was at that time considering the possibility of a rape charge], it is clearly inconsistent for the authorities to suggest that men who use the services of a prostitute who has been trafficked will be prosecuted…and at the same time urge such men to report such activity to the authorities or a helpline. While we understand and recognise the reasons why politicians of all parties have called for prosecution of such men…., it does appear that this may have been counter-productive…”

Counter-productive or not, this did not stop the Home Office trialling a poster campaign in Westminster and Nottingham in May 2008, suggesting strongly (and wrongly) that men using trafficked prostitutes were de facto rapists:

For an interesting contrast to the UK Home Office attitude, focussed on optimising the rescuing of trafficked persons rather than criminalising large sections of the population, I commend the following study IOM study from the Czech Republic.

Its aim was not “demand reduction,” but rather “to find out who the client actually is, what are his motivations for seeking prostitution, how he perceives his relationship with the prostitute, how sensitive he is to the signs of trafficking in human beings, what he knows about the phenomenon and last, but not least, to what extent he would be willing to act, if he encountered it.”

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