If the Government are really committed to tackling modern slavery, they need to end the criminalisation of victims

A recent article in The Guardian rightly explains why the authorities need to do more to help victims of trafficking instead of moving to criminalise them straight away. On the back of the recent horrific lorry deaths in Essex, where 39 Vietnamese people tragically died after being trafficked into the UK, the Home Office should see this as the impetus they need to review the law around how they deal with victims of modern slavery, trafficking and exploitation.

Charities and campaigners have called upon the Government for some time to review the laws around modern slavery, Even though s45 Modern Slavery Act theoretically allows a statutory “non-punishment principle”, there is much evidence to suggest the authorities are in breach of this principle.

For example, research shows that in numerous cases where Vietnamese nationals were imprisoned for cannabis cultivation there were strong indicators of trafficking having taken place. Similarly, in a study of 103 incarcerated women with charges pertaining to crimes that could have avoided punishment under Modern Slavery Act, over 40% of them had been trafficked.

Although this is just a snapshot, the implementation of s45 — and more broadly the idea of not criminalising victims of trafficking and exploitation — is clearly not fulfilling its purpose. And this extends to other types of exploitation too.

For example, survivor and campaigner Fiona Broadfoot recently won a High Court battle which means that she and others will not have to tell future employers about past convictions for soliciting within the sex trade. However the court did not accept that these laws were broadly discriminatory against women, in spite of the fact that research shows over 80% of the world’s prostituted individuals are women. By definition these laws will disproportionately discriminate against women.

On a similar note, survivor and campaigner Sammy Woodhouse is fighting to introduce Sammy’s Law, which will pardon victims of so-called “grooming gangs” for crimes they committed under duress at the hands of their abusers. These two cases alone show there is much to be done in protecting those at risk of double victimisation; firstly at the hands of their abusers, and then again at the hands of the State.

CEASE is calling on the Home Office and the Government more broadly to continue with their reviews and inquiries into how they can put safeguards in place that will not only prevent victimisation of those coming forward, but will actively encourage victims and survivors of exploitation that it can be in their best interest to do so. It must no longer be a case of simply paying lip service to those who have suffered, but actively fighting for them, and pursuing those who profit from abuse and exploitation.