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Steen over-eggs the trafficking stats…

by on March 1, 2010

I HAD A SNEAKING regard for Anthony Steen, the Totnes Tory MP who has ceaselessly campaigned against human trafficking for years and who chairs the all-party parliamentary group on the subject.

Trafficking is a matter over which we should all be concerned. Sadly, though, it is a very emotive topic and prone to attract moral crusading types who have a tendency to throw any sense of objectivity to the four winds, often causing more damage than they can ever hope to resolve and making things worse, not better, for victims in a bid to use them for their own agendas.

Above all, the anti-trafficking movement – both inside and outside Government – seems to rely on sensationalism and ridiculous overstatements on the extent of sex trafficking, which seems to preoccupy it to the exclusion of other all forms of human trafficking – for labour, for organs and for domestics, for example.

So it was very refreshing to read Steen’s frank statement to the Commons in January last year that, regarding sex trafficking:

Everybody says that there are a tremendous number of trafficked women in Britain, but we have no idea of the figures. The human trafficking centre in Sheffield, which was set up by this Government – I pay tribute to them for that – spends nearly £2 million a year, but we ain’t got the numbers. We do not know how many people are involved. It is pure guesswork and sensationalism when people talk about 4,000 to 6,000 – the figure is probably in the hundreds, not the thousands. [Italics mine]

At last, I thought, some candour and sense from the anti-trafficking movement.

And his words were vindicated, of course, when former journalist of the year Nick Davies revealed in the Guardian that not a single sex trafficker – nor anyone else who had forced anyone into prostitution – was caught by the nation’s 55 police forces in their combined months-long Pentameter 2 anti-sex trafficking inquisition.

Sad, then, to now come across Steen happily engaging in the “pure sensationalism” himself in a chat to his local newspaper, the South Devon Herald Express:

He said there are an estimated 10,000 trafficked people in the UK, trapped in a desperate situation for fear of violence against their families in their home countries.

He claimed of the estimated 8,000 sex workers in London at least half are also victims of trafficking.

Over 4,000 in London alone, then – a huge escalation from the “probable” hundreds nationwide that Steen had told the Commons last year.

And as Steve points out (see comments), Steen has now told the Commons:

…the police have now identified more than 2,200 brothels in this country…there were thought to be half a dozen brothels in Croydon, but [the police] have now found that the figure is 60. All brothels apparently have so many trafficked women in them – indeed, the police believe that as many as half or two thirds of the women in many British brothels have been trafficked and forced to work there – that we might find that the figure of 4,000, which I accept, will double when we start to get more information.

Could these be the same police that decided every sex worker in every walk-up in Soho had been trafficked, which would have been more than the entire numbers ‘rescued’ (trafficked or not) in Pentameter 2. (See here).

So, what has happened in the interim, apart from Davies’s report?

Would it be tendentious to suggest that Mr Steen has an eye to the future after announcing his imminent departure from the Commons following the Telegraph’s revelations that he claimed more than £87,000 for the upkeep of his constituency mansion, for items including rabbit fencing, tree surgery, woodland consultants and bore hole maintenance?

According to colleagues, Steen’s departure will leave him plenty of time to continue his campaign work in this area, though with which organisation we can only speculate….

But if it’s with whom I suspect, we can expect a lot more ‘pure sensationalism’ in the future…

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4 Comments
  1. Where have you been? I have missed your posts.

    I wondered about Anthony Steen when he was talking in parliament recently on trafficking. He seemed very much to have changed sides for one reason or other. I am sure you have read what he has been saying in parliament

    http://www.theyworkforyou.com/debates/?id=2010-02-05a.536.0&s=prostitution#g553.1

    ** Is the Minister aware-I was not aware of this until last week, when I met some police officers concerned with sexual exploitation-that the police have now identified more than 2,200 brothels in this country? For instance, there were thought to be half a dozen brothels in Croydon, but they have now found that the figure is 60. All brothels apparently have so many trafficked women in them-indeed, the police believe that as many as half or two thirds of the women in many British brothels have been trafficked and forced to work there-that we might find that the figure of 4,000, which I accept, will double when we start to get more information. **

    While we talk about conservatives, the Conservative Nigel Evans keeps asking about internet advertising. Any idea why?

    ** To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he has made an estimate of the number of people who regularly use internet sites to solicit prostitutes; whether he has plans to seek to prevent the use of the internet for such purposes; and if he will make a statement. **

  2. Hi Steve – consecutive computer problems, both of which required me taking the thing off to a repairer – plus family issues have delayed things several months and account for the huge gap in postings. Nice to know someone missed me!

    Thanks for your contribution. For what it’s worth (very little) Poppy’s Big Brothel report gave the number of brothels in Croydon as a couple of dozen.

    The link to Steen’s speech that you quote is at
    http://www.theyworkforyou.com/debate/?id=2010-02-05a.560.0

    It’s the same debate as your link leads to, but at a different point.

    As they’ve been through the whole of Pentameter (which was itself supposed to enable them to estimate the extent of sex trafficking) and the whole of Pentameter 2 (likewise), just at what point are we to be deemed to possess Steen’s “more information”?

    I’ll edit your further information into the post.

  3. Peter Mauley permalink

    Good to see another post – keep up the work, it’s important to have a sane voice on the subject.
    OT, but – There was an article in the Times a few weeks ago in which it was stated that the Labour election manifesto would contain proposals for a ban on advertising in local papers of escort services etc., and the criminalisation of the printing of the phone booth cards – I hope you will post on that at an appropriate time.

  4. Peter – no sooner said than done!

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