‘The Hunt for Britain’s Sex Traffickers’
The opening instalment of Channel 4’s three-part documentary The Hunt for Britain’s Sex Traffickers last night was plagued by dodgy research and an apparent complete inability of its makers to question the world around them.
Its opening words produced the first gaff : “In the first operation of its kind…”
For Pentameter 2 – the combined operation by the UK’s 55 police forces whose story it purports to tell – was not the first operation of its kind.
The original Pentameter began in 2005, with its operational phase between February and May 2006, discovering 88 trafficked ‘sex slaves‘.
For God’s sake, this is a simple question of fact.
The gaffs were to continue, notably when the off-camera female narrator announced that it is believed that 80% of the women in Britain’s brothels are foreign, a statistic once attributed to London’s brothels alone and generally accepted as being way, way above the national average, which is currently placed by the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), no less, at a rather generous 60% and by TAMPEP, the organisation of outreach, day centres, clinics and other professionals working with sex workers at closer to 40%.
In the hurly burly rush of putting a daily paper to bed, such mistakes can perhaps be understandable. But there can be little excuse in a documentary series based on footage of an operation that finished on March 31 two years ago, which should have given Channel 4 time to deliver a copy to every household in the nation with every frame hand painted in oils.
The age shows. During a briefing, police are told there are an estimated 4,000 trafficked sex workers in Britain. At the time of Pentameter 2, that was the official guesstimate – rightly much mocked by anyone who’d read the rationale (if one can call it that) behind it. But the new estimate for England and Wales is less than 2,600, and even that is questioned by many.
Unquestioning assurances were given that raids were often the only way to discover and prosecute traffickers. No mention of publicly available information that less than one in five UK sex trafficking victims escape as a result of a police raid.
Quote of the piece was from the officer in charge of a briefing, however, who announced to his throng of officers that, insofar as the sex workers are concerned: “we will accord them victim status and treat them as victims as long as they co-operate.”
How were they treated if they didn’t co-operate? Sex workers in brothels commit no crime, only those managing the brothel or knowingly owning it do so. It is not only the traffickers, it seems, who have vays of making you talk.
And what of those who did not consider themselves victims? Did they want victimhood thrust upon them? They were certainly going to get it from this crew.
Two or three foreign women who more clearly fitted the frame of trafficked – or who at least were clearly unhappy in their role – were interviewed, of course, but what of the rest?
An ACPO report has just informed us that 230 out of 254 brothel sex workers they checked recently (210 of them foreign) were not trafficked. What did these sex workers – many of them migrants with non-existent or often poor English – think of Gloucestershire Constabulary (or anyone else’s constabulary) suddenly arriving and closing their workplaces, confiscating the takings and arresting their bosses?
How more vulnerable were they thus rendered?
But oh no, this Channel 4 crew slept through the story.
Meanwhile, the old, stereotyped message is reinforced – young foreign women are uniformly naïve, pretty little things totally incapable of taking care of themselves in the big, wide world, and their proper place is back in their homelands with mum and dad.
And I think I’m right in saying that never, throughout the whole hour of The Hunt for Britain’s Sex Slaves, did the D word crop up. Though many of Pentameter’s “sex slaves” were ultimately either deported or pressurised to voluntarily return home under threat of deportation.
I wonder if the D word will crop up tonight or tomorrow, when Channel 4 is threatening to perpetrate the remaining, remarkably predictable, instalments? I very much doubt it. No mention yet of even the Border Agency, which seemed as fixed to police raiding parties in Pentameter raids as Siamese twins.
Is it me or is there not something distinctly uninvestigative about modern UK TV documentaries when they follow police matters? It’s almost like the early days of black and white BBC TV, when political interviews consisted of charming ladies and gentlemen from Aunty turning up to have tea and crumpets with ministers and their wives and discussing nothing more political than fashion and cricket. Like Steve Scott’s unctious Nightwatch dribble.
Do none-journalists have to be trained to not ask questions, I wonder? Maybe they’re paid by competing channels to sabotage audience figures?
Anyway, we know the outcome of Pentameter 2. By last October, two years after its launch, when award-winning journalist Nick Davies wrote a piece on it, it had failed to result in the convictions of a single trafficker who had forced anyone into prostitution in the UK. So The Hunt for Britain’s Sex Traffickers strikes me very much as Channel 4 making the most of a poor investment.