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Meg Munn MP - Sheffield Heeley's voice in Parliament | Welcome
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Not for Sale

Friday, March 10, 2006

At a conference on human trafficking and sexual exploitation organised by CHASTE (Churches Alert to Sex Trafficking) held in London, Meg gave the following address.


As Minister for Women and Equality I know just how awful the crime of human trafficking for sexual exploitation is. Before I became an MP, I worked with young people who had been sexually abused - compounding that dreadful crime with trafficking is horrific. I work closely with my Home Office colleague, Paul Goggins, to strengthen the support for these victims and with other ministers across Government on a whole range of measures to tackle this crime.


I understand we have people here from a range of faiths, willing to deliberate on a subject that too often does not get the serious attention it deserves. I want to congratulate CHASTE, the Churches Alert to Sex Trafficking across Europe, for taking the initiative to organise this event.


I know of CHASTE’s interest in this area, and the Reverend Dr Carrie Pemberton, who has been working for some time to raise awareness of issues arising from the trafficking of women for sexual exploitation. This event is an excellent initiative. It’s important that people come together to debate the different issues involved, bringing different, but invaluable perspectives to the issue. 


I’m pleased to be speaking to you today, and am aware that Stephen Webb, one of Paul Goggins’s officials from the Home Office, is setting out the range of current Government activity in this area.  I will restrict my comments to highlighting a couple of areas that I believe are particularly important.


One of the things that strikes me about human trafficking is the large number of different ways women are trafficked into the UK for sexual exploitation.  And the awful existence they face once trafficked:


  • We have fictitious advertisements in the country of origin - for jobs as au pairs for which the “agency” “supplies” passports and other documentation


  • Fictitious advertisements for jobs in the legalized sex industry


  • Fictitious advertisements for marriages


  • Kidnapping, often where regions are devastated by war and the collapse of economic and social infrastructures    


  • Girls sold by their families - who have been known to re-sell them if they return


  • Grooming of adolescent girls by so called “boyfriends” who are part of the trafficking network


  • Diversion by pimps of females already working in the legal sex industry


  • Women locked into paying off serial debt bondage.



Once in the hands of their so-called “minders” women face an appalling experience. One woman was trafficked into prostitution into Italy, then she was moved to the UK. She was threatened and verbally abused through the journeys - told stories of other women being murdered, which she believed, and was threatened with a gun herself.  While in Italy she saw evidence of torture on other trafficked women’s bodies.  While in the UK she saw her pimp stab another trafficked victim.


These trafficked and sexually exploited young women are kept in conditions akin to slavery.


There is more I could say about the ‘supply’ side, but I think it’s important to address the ‘demand’ side. I’ve talked to people working with trafficked women.  Quite rightly the raise the issue that if the demand did not exist in the UK, the numbers involved in trafficking would be greatly reduced.


The Government’s co-ordinated strategy for prostitution, published on 17 January 2006, challenges stereotyped views of prostitution and makes clear that the law will be rigorously enforced against those who commit sexual crimes against women involved in prostitution.


Changing attitudes is a key element of the Government’s prostitution strategy - it is crucial to move away from the notion that it is the ‘oldest profession’ and therefore it will be with us always.


Women involved in prostitution are especially vulnerable to sexual crime given the risky situations inherent in what they do. Such women often live isolated lives and, for a variety of reasons, feel there is no-one they can trust to help them. The situation, of course, is so much worse for women who have been trafficked into this country for sexual exploitation.  


‘Sex in the City’, the POPPY Project Report published in September 2005, found that between 2,972 and 5,861 women are selling sex from parlours and saunas across London. (It is not possible at present to gauge exact figures of trafficked women - although this year the Government will commence an exercise focused on trafficking and the off-street prostitution market).


There is a big role for education in tackling ideas such as the demand for ‘sex for sale’. There is a need to work to improve education in many areas: 


  • With children (we should challenge perceptions - is it acceptable for women to be treated in this way?)


  • In the wider community


  • With law enforcement professionals


  • Immigration authorities


  • Health and social work professionals.


The victims of trafficking needs are inevitably complex. We will only be able to help them if the range of services can be tailored to the individual victim’s needs, and crucially, if the agencies involved can work together successfully.


Women will have health needs - physical and psychological. They need to feel safely housed. If these needs aren’t met women are unlikely to feel able to give an account of their experiences to the police. This is crucial if we are to bring the traffickers to justice. 


Providing for the victim and gathering evidence for prosecution are inextricably linked. If we do better on the one side of that equation we may be able to move more effectively on the other. 


The Government has been funding Eaves Housing for Women/the POPPY Scheme since March 2003. This provides safe shelter and support for adult female victims who have been trafficked into prostitution in the UK. To date, over 100 women have been supported whilst they recover from their ordeal and prepare to return safely to their communities. 


Government believes that the best way of moving forward on these difficult issues is together. We all bring different perspectives to bear on the issues, and have different networks to draw upon. This diversity can only make the consultation all the richer.


I’m pleased to have had this opportunity to welcome this new forum examining this important topic. I will be interested to hear the outcome of your deliberations here today.

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