UK ‘SEX SLAVES’ FLEE TRAMPLING HERD OF RESCUERS
THIS WEEK’s revelations in the Daily Telegraph and More 4 news of the disappearance of two-thirds of the migrant sex workers “rescued” in the UK’s ‘Pentameter’ anti-sex trafficking raids comes as no surprise.
The two Pentameter inquisitions, in 2006 and 2008, involved all 55 UK police forces and rendered coituses interruptus from Lands End to John O’Groats, as well as in Ireland. There were some 1,300 raids on premises, largely brothels, but a mere 255 women “rescued” were deemed trafficked – a tiny fragment of the 4,000 supposed sex trafficking victims the Home Office had promised in its dodgy dossier.
Of those 255, only 37 – less than 15 percent – accepted offers of support. Another three dozen returned to their home countries voluntarily, while 16 were deported.
The remaining 166 (65%) refused offers of help and left the police facilities, their whereabouts now unknown.
The Home Office stated that due to the nature of trafficking, “a significant number of victims are unwilling to engage or accept support.”
But their reasons for declining help are controversial: Abigail Stepnitz of London’s Poppy Project, claims mechanisms such as debt bondage, threats to families back home and the reputations of their domestic police forces forced the 166 to leave the safety of the UK police.
Academics, such as Belinda Brooks-Gordon of Birkbeck College, London, on the other hand, point to increasing evidence that the vast majority of migrant sex workers are acting voluntarily, and that significant numbers of these “trafficking victims” may not be victims in the conventional sense at all.
Certainly many are known to have returned to the sex industry, whatever their reason.
This, though, raises the interesting question of what the UK deems sex trafficking. For almost uniquely, in UK law, no coercion, force or deceit is required for someone to be deemed a sex trafficker of adults: anyone knowingly aiding an adult sex worker’s trip into, around or out of the UK causing them to work in brothels is deemed a trafficker. In certain circumstances, one can even be deemed a sex trafficker for taking a person to a public toilet, even if they want to go there.
Little wonder, then, that few such persons regard themselves as ‘victims’.
For a very refreshing view of trafficking, consider this extract from a transcript of a broadcast by Elena Jeffreys (right), of the Australian sex workers’ union Scarlet Alliance, a while back. Sex work is decriminalised in large parts of Australia:
The vast majority of migrant sex workers in Australia are from an Anglo background, from the UK. The second largest demographic would be from New Zealand and America. And yes, there is also a demographic of sex workers from South East Asian countries, Thailand, South Korea and China, and other countries around the region as well.
Most of the women that are coming into Australia for sex work are accessing visas independently. Some of the women coming in to Australia for sex work are accessing visas through migration agents, or third-party contracts where they will agree to have all of their flights paid for, their accommodation paid for and generally their food paid for, and a lot of their transport paid for when they get to Australia. And they have a place of work when they get here. And in return they will work for a period of time paying off the debt contract to the migration agent that has helped arrange their visa and their travel and their transport.
Those debt contracts, the overwhelming majority of those debt contracts, are trouble-free and arranged in a way that both the sex worker and the person arranging the visa are happy at the end of it, and have a good relationship, and the person has a great time working in Australia, pays off their contract, stays and earns some money, sends money home, saves up some money while they’re here, and…has an amazing story to tell their grandchildren about the time that they travelled to Australia, and how much fun and how interesting it was.
Some of those debt contracts have been arranged in a situation where people have taken advantage of the vulnerability and the perceived lack of rights that an individual who’s coming in to Australia for sex work may have, and some of those contract fees are ridiculously over-priced. This is when situations arise that we understand as human trafficking. When a person has been deceived, when their freedom is being curtailed, when their income is being withheld, and when they’re basically in slave-like conditions, where they don’t have control over their labour in a slave-like situation, with the person who has arranged their contract.
And that, I think, is what most sane people regard as trafficking. Sadly though, sane people don’t work at the UK Home Office.
Futher questions thus arise: what are the implications for the Policing and Crime Bill, now in the Lords, as trafficking paranoia underpins the Government’s proposals on sex work in it?
And if the welfare of these 116 persons is what we have at heart, how has this been improved by depriving them of their workplaces? After all, innumerable studies show that sex workers are far safer indoors than on the streets, even if English is their first language. And what of the other women who have lost their workplaces in these 1,300 premises “visited”?
Yet it is on the streets where the Home Office seems to have left them, having prosecuted innumerable persons who were giving them shelter among the diverse “variety of offences” that were not trafficking but were charged after the Pentameter inquisitions to make the paperwork look at least a little better.
The question of whether the Pentameter raids created more victims than it rescued will, I suspect, never be answered.
In Kicking Down the Door,” Andrea Ritchie, Director of New York’s Urban Justice Centre’s Sex Workers Project, said:
Anti-trafficking efforts should be community-based, led by people familiar with sex work and other sectors where there is vulnerability to trafficking, such as domestic work, agricultural labour, and service sectors, people who have experienced trafficking, social service providers, and immigrants rights advocates. This kind of approach would not only be more effective, but would build community and empower people who have been trafficked rather than subjecting them to the additional trauma of raids, arrests, and detention.
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