When Ross said he was going to be in the UK, I wondered what on earth it was going to be about, it turned out the focus was human trafficking. Ross indicated that the UK is fast becoming the favourite destination for traffickers, with children bought into the country to UK to work on cannabis farms and women sold as sex slaves.
Apparently, there has been a marked increase in children trafficked by Vietnamese drugs dealers for the purpose of maintaining the cannabis farms. Ross went with the police to raid a suspected cannabis farm in South East London. A normal house in a normal street, that contained an enormous number of cannabis plants. They also found a young boy, who job was to look after the plants, water them and turn the lights on and off every 6 hours. He had been trafficked and his case was not unusual. Apparently, the Police raid 140 cannabis farms every week, and around 1/4 of those are run by Vietnamese organised crime. That was it basically, even though the show only lasts for an hour, I felt the focus on this aspect of trafficking was inadequate. That said, it is estimated that 2.5 million people are being trafficked worldwide and 90% of them are women trafficked into to slave trade and thus Ross turned his attention to that aspect.
Ross met Alicia a young girl, forced into prostitution at the age of 9 in Kenya, at 15 she was bought to England by an Englishman who promised to help her. Instead for 6 weeks she was forced to sleep with 3 - 4 men a day and was scared of him. Alicia was relatively lucky, after 2 months she escaped to London where she now lives with a foster family. Her situation was not untypical, it is estimated that 70% of women working in the sex industry in the UK are trafficked. These women are effectively trapped by fear in a foreign country with no friends or family. A sex slave is estimated to be worth £100,000 a year and thus is very lucrative for the traffickers. Shockingly, most of the women are trafficked by men from their own country and sold to men from their own country. They are often kept compliant, by threats to their family, or by invoking local custom. Am example of the latter being a young Nigerian girl, lured to England with the promise of a cleaning job, but forced into the sex trade and kept there via a fear of black magic. In all case the women are subjected to violence and intimidation and treated very badly. A Police officer Ross spoke to told an awful story of a girl forced to have an abortion and sent back to work the same afternoon.
Ross met with Police in the UK who are attempting to halt the business as well as going to the source of a lot of trafficked girls, Romania to try to determine why trafficking was occurring. We learned that since the fall of communism the main growth industry in Romania, in the absence of any alternatives is trafficking with Italy, Spain and the UK being the main destinations. Romanian police are fighting back with, it seems, a considerable amount of success. Their operations involve co-operation with Police in the destination countries as well as ongoing education for young women and their families to allow them to spot potential traffickers early. Ross met a young Romania girl who was lured to the UK with the promise of a job, but ended up in a brothel where she was beaten and forced to sleep with multiple men everyday. She managed to contact her parents, who contacted the Romanian police, links between the 2 forces were invoked and the girl was ultimately rescued. She indicated that there were 12 other girls in the brothel, all Romanian, the implication being that they were unlikely to have been there voluntarily.
Ross travelled to a prison in Bucharest to meet a trafficker and determine why he was doing it. The simple answer was money. According to the trafficker, who was serving a 4-year prison sentence for his crime, there are no other jobs in Romania and that it was easy to do. He was unrepentant indicating that prostitutes had no worth, other than the money they brought in for him, so he didn’t have a problem with it. Given the economic situation in Romania, the likelihood of his continuing once he is released from jail is high. That said, due to preventative measures there has been a dramatic decrease in the number of women being trafficked out of Romania instead women are being brought out of China, Thailand, Nigeria and Lithuania.
What I found most shocking about the whole hour was that there are a lot of women involved in trafficking, luring the women in, organising rapes or generally benefiting from the spoils. It defies belief. The Poppy Project a fantastic organisation helps young women that have been trafficked, but they are only seeing the tip of the iceberg. For me, this was probably the most unsatisfactory programme of the series. There was just too much to cover in an hour and nothing was really covered in enough depth, it would have been useful to focus a bit more on the causes and what can be done/is being done to stop it at source.
Already feeling despondent, I stumbled upon an awful documentary on the Child Sex Trade in the USA (on Current TV). The shocking statistics that the documentary opened with were the USA is the largest destination for people who want sex with children in the world. Over 330,000 children are trafficked in the USA every year and efforts to eradicate it are frankly, not good enough. I was unfortunately aware of the US’s ‘dirty little secret’, but what this documentary did really well was to show a case study of a young girl, from the age of about 5 to the current day and the impact trafficking and sex abuse had had on her. Needless to say, things haven’t gone well, but putting a real face to the stats served to drive the documentaries point home.
The 'point' in question being:
Penalties in the US are similar for the most serious sex offence, through to misdemeanours. The policing and enforcement of this is taking resource and focus away from child trafficking and the rescue of vulnerable children.
Despite laws that state juveniles are unable to consent to sex, children caught prostituting themselves are prosecuted as criminals. This despite the fact that pretty much 100% of them are not doing it voluntarily. Strangely, the rate of arrest amongst the ‘punters’ who are paying for sex with children is incredibly low.
Sex education in the US remains woefully inadequate and hence children are taking queues from the popular media. A media, as one expert pointed out, that promotes women whose main ‘skill’ is their sexuality. Young impressionable children see that and emulate it, thus objectifying themselves and making themselves more vulnerable.
The proliferation of porn and child porn in particular, is probably contributing to the proliferation of abuse of children. Organised crime and extremists groups are moving into this area as given the lack of action, it is pretty much risk free. The hits on child porn sites are increasing at an alarming rate and the US public don’t want to talk about any of these issues. That in itself is allowing it to flourish
Misguided ‘privacy’ laws prevent the publication of any material that identifies a child, but as one expert said, better to publicise straight away and potentially find a child, than do nothing and condemn the child to further abuse. She cited a case in Georgia where authorities took the unusual step of publicising images found on a child porn site of a young child. Within 3 days the child was found and rescued. A horrible stat that was cited was that there are nearly 6 million pornographic images on the web of children, last year only 874 children where identified. I can’t help but wonder how that stat would change with some sensitive publicity.
One last point, the problem doesn’t only exist in the US, its also very much in evidence right here in the UK.
Ross ended his documentary with the comment that slavery was abolished nearly 200 years ago in the UK and shortly afterwards elsewhere. Today, trafficking is a £32 billion industry globally and actually more people are enslaved that at the height of the slave trade. In the current economic climate and with the lack of action worldwide I can’t imagine that situation is going to change significantly in the short term.
For more information see the websites below of some organisation attempting to address some of issues mentioned above.
End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and the Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes http://www.ecpat.net/EI/index.asp
The Poppy Project http://www.eaves4women.co.uk/POPPY_Project/POPPY_Project.php
Nest Foundation http://www.playgroundproject.com/nest/
Human Trafficking Org (US) http://www.humantrafficking.org/countries/united_states_of_america
Women’s Funding Network http://www.womensfundingnetwork.org/AFNAP-toolkit