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by on April 18, 2011

AS LONDON’S Eaves/Poppy charity launches a £450,000 appeal in the wake of the loss of the Government’s £6m contract for the aftercare of trafficking victims to the Salvation Army, let’s take stock of a situation that seems to have got just a little out of hand…

According to the Serious Organised Crime Agency, 156 persons were confirmed as sex trafficked in the UK (pdf) in the 21 months to last December 31, or about seven or eight a month.

So across the entire UK, less than 90 actual sex trafficking victims a year are found – the sort of number that could easily be housed in a reasonably modest hotel. Find some such hotel in a pleasant location with extensive grounds, provide it with appropriate security and counselling services, and enable its inhabitants to communicate with the authorities, lawyers, folks back home and embassies: job more or less done, you might think.

One victim is one far too many, of course, and individual cases can be appalling, but this is hardly the pandemic of the gargantuan proportions routinely ascribed to it by certain politicians and NGOs.

Less people probably fall down disused mine shafts, but not a lot less, and we’ve no such kerfuffle about them.

On the face of it, more sinister is that 54 of the 156 victims (or two or three a month) were under 18, of which only 30 were over the age of consent (though none prepubescent). However, the international criteria for child trafficking is different and much broader than that for adults, and one would expect such cases to be prioritised.

Nor were all those confirmed trafficked – adult or child – necessarily subjected to any sexual abuse in the UK: a significant proportion will have been detected at ports and airports by specially trained Border Agency personnel on arrival.

But let’s not be over simplistic. These final figures are the end product of a big exercise to separate out the deluge of false claims from genuine. There were no less than 537 claims of sex trafficking referred to the National Reporting Mechanism, averaging over 25 a month, during that 21 month period, of which only 296 (14 a month) got past the first hurdle of persuading the authorities that:

a reasonable person would be of the opinion that…there were reasonable grounds to suspect the individual concerned had been trafficked

…which entitles the applicants to board and lodging for 45 days reflection. This suggests many spurious claims are referred, despite referrals only being made by the UK Border Agency, the police, social services, the UK Human Trafficking Centre or a very limited number of NGOs.

Of the 14 claims a month that survived that initial stage, more were weeded out on a more detailed examination, so eventually less than 30 percent of the original referrals have been confirmed trafficked. The report is silent over those awaiting processing.

Maybe that hotel needs to be significantly larger to accommodate the exercise of separating out false claimants. And perhaps we’ll add a crocodile-infested moat to the security provisions. But while we’re about it, let’s wipe away the crocodile tears pouring from the faces of Poppy Project devotees.

Now I’m sure the Poppy Project has done wonderful work administering to the needs of women trafficked for sex. Sweet fanny adam for men trafficked, whether for sex or not, not a lot for women trafficked for labour, but if you were a woman trafficked for sex (or, more recently, domestic servitude), Poppy has been fine. At least, in London it has. But then, so it should have been, given the millions upon millions poured into it by the last Government. (Whatever did happen to trafficked men under Labour?)

Nor, as I understand it, did Poppy deal with children. Which is quite a shortcoming, as they appear to make up about a third of confirmed victims. 

Poppy has not been quite so fine, though, when it’s overstretched itself and appeared in the vanguard of propagandist campaigns to further outlaw commercial sex – an extremely complex and emotive area, the history of which is crammed with unintended and often fatal consequences, and an area best left to experts rather than the dilatants of either Poppy or, it seems, the Home Office.

The problem for Poppy is that it is tasked to deal purely with victims, so its staff effectively deal with the emotional equivalent of Groundhog days, if you can imagine them set as bonfire nights in an A&E department in which all the victims are members of one sex. Given the added culture of an all-female staff, it has, of course, been a wonderful breeding ground for radical feminism. Indeed it would have been astonishing if it was not, it’s probably all that’s kept those working there sane.

All this would have been containable had it not started to seriously influence Government policy, not in the field of the care of trafficked women – in which Poppy had appropriate expertise – but in the field of criminal justice policy, in which it did not.

Poppy knows little about sex work and appears to know even less about criminology.

Nevertheless, this did not stop Poppy investing money (not the taxpayers’, we have been assured) in dodgy research leading to some very dubious publications indeed. Whilst barely aspiring to contain the academic rigour of a comatose dormouse, these documents were nevertheless taken as gospel and used vigorously by certain influential Labour MPs, such as Harriet Harman, Vera Baird and Fiona Mactaggert, any one of whom could have been elected – judging by their behaviour on this issue – precisely to confirm the archetypal male chauvinists’ fantasy of what women would do given power. Only Jacqui Smith – who was, thank God, Home Secretary – seems to have stood in the way of every male in the country being dragged out forthwith and drowned in the Thames.

A bit like the cast of MASH suddenly taking over Congress and telling everyone that war’s dreadful and should be criminalised, Poppy’s cry to adopt the Swedish practice of criminalising all men who purchased sex was understandably well received in certain quarters that were unfamiliar or uncaring or both over either the history of legislation in this area or the likely consequences.

Poppy’s outpourings culminated in the notorious Big Brothel report, which mysteriously disappeared from its website some months ago. Ostensibly a survey of brothels in (you guessed it) London, Big Brothel’s methodology was crammed with childish blunders, scattered between the now familiar emotive, unattributed quotes, supposedly from disillusioned and damaged sex workers or, in this case, brothel bosses, that have become the organisation’s stock in trade, complete with a policy dedicated to emphasising extremes rather than informing the reader.

On Poppy‘s downside, to these works we can add a tendency to phone their lawyers at the merest hint of public criticism.

And all this is sad, because one gets the impression that despite all its dodgy dossiers, pseudo-research, claptrap and love of lawyers, there is an extremely good team at Poppy doing some excellent work for women who were never – and have no intention of being – sex workers, some of whom have been deeply traumatised as a result of their experiences. If only one could find this team beneath the noise. A better case for a rebranding exercise I have yet to discover.

Those anxious to dip into their pockets to find the £450,000 that Poppy is currently seeking, supposedly to keep itself afloat, would do well, however, to do two things.

One is to bare in mind this story from Washington’s Village Voice. It’s not about Poppy, and whether there are any parallels to be found, I’ll leave entirely up to you.

The other is to look at the list of charities and other UK organisations devoted, in whole or in part, to the lot of trafficking victims. This is by no means an exhaustive list. Soon, one feels, our 90 sex trafficking victims a year will have one each if they haven’t already. Even if you add those who were victims of other forms of trafficking, such as for manual labour or domestic service.

So, having paid our millions from the tax pot to the Sally Army, dig deep (and oh so wide), please, and all aboard the gravy train for: CHASTE; Stop the Traffik; UK Unseen; Eaves/Poppy; the NSPCC; Barnados; LAST (Leeds); CCAT (Croydon); The Madeille Trust; ECPAT UK; The Scottish Refugee Council; The Church of Scotland; Amnesty International UK; The Church of England; STOP (Trafficking UK); City Hearts (Sheffield); LOVE146 (Bournemouth); The Helen Bamber Foundation; City Light (Brighton); ATLP (the Anti-Trafficking Legal Project); BAWSO (Cardiff, Newport, Wrexham etc); Anti-Slavery International (London-based); Trafficking Awareness Raising Alliance (Glasgow); Act Against Injustice (Manchester/Merseyside); the Human Trafficking Foundation (London); Housing for Women (London); Aphelia (Worthing); Leeds Women’s AidAfruca (Africans Unite Against Child Abuse, London and Manchester); CARE (London); Beyond the Streets (Southampton-based network of 50 projects); Kalayaan (migrant domestic workers, London-based); Migrant Helpline (for potential trafficking victims, dial 07766 668781); Migrants Rights NetworkRights of Women (London); Safe and Sound (Derby); ACT London ForumThe Children’s SocietyUnchosenThe AIRE Centre; the Wales Strategic Migration Partnership; the Welsh Refugee CouncilAshiana (Sheffield); the Womens and Girls Network (London); the International Organisation for Migration (offices in London, Bristol, Glasgow and Leeds), and Her Equality, Rights, Autonomy (HERA, London).

So there we are. Forty-six support organisations for 186 victims of all forms of trafficking found per year in the UK, or an organisation to themselves for every four victims. Not counting little things like SOCA and the UK Human Trafficking Centre, and divers private sector clamber-aboards-and-let’s-be-seens like the Body Shop. My apologies to the many I’ve undoubtedly left out, cyberspace being finite.

The duplication of effort and reinvention of wheels among that lot must be enormous. 

As Dr Brooke Magnanti states in her new Sexonomics blog:

…funding for studying trafficking is enormous – in 2009, it was funded worldwide to the tune of nearly a billion US dollars. This is a total greater than the amount of grant money awarded to study lung cancer, which of course, is also devastating, and affects far more people. And spending on trafficking since 2000 has dwarfed the grant awards on such important international health concerns as malnutrition, malaria, or tuberculosis – conditions that kill millions of people worldwide every year, and affect hundreds of millions more.

Now, given that the above assembly of NGOs may be able to cope with our non-existent deluge of trafficking victims (as well as sink the Queen Mary beneath their weight), I’ll just draw your attention to one non-judgemental organisation that doesn’t deal specifically with trafficking or abuse the issue to fill its coffers, but I suspect spends a lot of its time trying to deal with the consequences of the nonsense poured forth and endlessly recirculated between many of the above.

The aim of the UK Network of Sex Work Projects is

To promote the health, safety, civil and human rights of sex workers, including their rights to live free from violence, intimidation, coercion or exploitation, to engage in the work as safely as possible, and to receive high quality health and other services in conditions of trust and confidentiality, without discrimination…

The UKNSWP recognises and supports the rights of individual sex workers to self-determination, including the right to remain in sex work or leave sex work.

I’m sure it could use extra funding, and it can be found here

[This article was corrected on April 19, 2011, at 23.35 , replacing an original figure of 1,254 claims of sex trafficking over the 21 month period (and consequential amendments to percentages). The 1,254 figure relates to claims for all forms of trafficking. A further correction was made on April 27 from 175 to 186 for the total number of confirmed victims of all forms of trafficking per year and further chartities working in this field were added at this point. New charities are added as they come to light – sp]
  1. Peter Mauley permalink

    Great post Stephen, welcome back.

  2. “an organisation to themselves for every four victims”

    WOW! Wish sex work orgs could get that kind of funding!

    great research…I may cite it in an upcoming post 🙂

  3. Paddison permalink

    The list of organisations you supply is wholly inaccurate. For one Citylight Brighton no longer exists. Unchosen whilst a great organisation doing valuable and important work is not providing direct assistance to trafficked persons. The Act London Forum is a campaign raising awareness and does not provide direct assistance. This is the same for LAST and CCAT. There remain very few organisations who actually provide direct support services for individuals who have been trafficked such as accommodation, counselling, educational/vocational support. The majority of the organisations you have referred to do not provide such direct assistance.

    • drachefly permalink

      So they’re choosing not to help them. I don’t see how this really changes the overall point, that this is a massively over-served demographic.

  4. Cityman permalink

    Thanks for the valuable information – I have just posted this link to the Taxpayers Alliance.
    Unfortunately, the madness will not end until hardline feminists back off or the Government takes them on – & there is no sign of that anytime soon.

  5. Thank you, great article and information.

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