Joint Committee On Human Rights Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1-19)


22 MAY 2006

  Q1 Chairman: Good afternoon, everybody. This is the first of our evidence sessions in our inquiry into human trafficking. We are joined by Annie Campbell, who is the Director, and Rebecca Dudley, who is the Women's Aid Volunteer, of the Women's Aid Federation of Northern Ireland. And by Ann Hamilton, who is the Principal Officer of Glasgow City Council and Chair of the Glasgow Inter Agency Trafficking Working Group, and Bronagh Andrew, who is Counter Trafficking Development Officer of the Glasgow Inter Agency Trafficking Working Group. Do either of you want to make any opening statements, because if not we will go straight to questions?

  Ms Campbell: Perhaps a brief one, if I may. Thank you very much for the invitation to come here on behalf of Women's Aid. As I am sure you know, we are the regional body in Northern Ireland that would help domestic violence victims and their families. This issue came to our attention and we were concerned that it was happening within Northern Ireland and that issue had not really got into the spotlight. We wanted to take forward the research, which is the first preliminary research within Northern Ireland, about trafficking and we do have a number of issues coming out of that, recommendations and so on, but perhaps they can come out during the course of the session. Thank you again.

  Ms Hamilton: Equally, we are just very pleased to be here to talk about the issue of trafficking today.

  Q2  Chairman: Could both of you keep your voices up for the shorthand writer. I should also say we are being televised. We may have interruptions for votes in either House. Perhaps I could start off by asking the delegation from Northern Ireland, because of your geographical distinctiveness do you think that trafficking is a more serious problem in Northern Ireland than in other parts of the UK? Is Northern Ireland primarily a transit or destination point? If it is transit, is it mainly people transiting to Ireland or to the UK?

  Ms Campbell: I think you will probably find we will be a bit of a double act on this in terms of Rebecca is more familiar with the details of the research. This is preliminary research. What has been revealed is that it is coming in both directions, that is what we are getting in an anecdotal sense, so we do not have an answer to say definitively one way or the other which way the trafficking is most intense. We would say that because we do occupy that area where basically there is no land border and because of the conflict situation there has been in Northern Ireland we think the conditions are ripe there for trafficking to take off.

  Ms Dudley: One thing I found in my research was police sources have noted the ease with which the land border can be crossed within Ireland and also the increased use of Northern Ireland both as a route through to the UK from the Republic and going in the other direction. We do not have the information to know the relative numbers on that. We do know that the border is used commonly every day for all sorts of activities from work to going to the dentist, so it is very, very easy to cross. We had some indication that has been the case from the professionals I interviewed.

  Q3  Chairman: Perhaps I can ask the people from Glasgow, you suggested in your own evidence that trafficking of women for sexual exploitation is on the increase in Glasgow, and you gave certain indications of numbers: use of anonymous third party reporting, women accessing services from Base 75, support which you and voluntary organisations have provided to individual women, which is the basis for your views. How full a picture do you think you are building up of what is going on in Glasgow?

  Ms Hamilton: I think it is very difficult to get a picture of the scale of trafficking. What we have tried to do is look at the scale of the sex industry and that gives you a reasonable picture of what is likely to happen in terms of women being trafficked in for that industry. Recently we did some work looking at the sex industry and we saw about 264,000 purchases of sex by men spending at least £6.6 million per year on saunas, flats, et cetera. That was taken from some work through Punternet and other such websites where men talk about their experience of buying sex. Certainly we are finding that the sex industry is expanding in lap dancing, limousine services, takeaway services, and as long as you have got that expansion you are likely to have women trafficked in to fulfil those services. In terms of the number of women who have been trafficked, agencies in Glasgow have come into contact with about 112 foreign women. Through our third party reporting service we have knowledge of 46 foreign women where there are concerns that they have been trafficked. That gives us some idea of the scale. It is very difficult to build up a picture where the sex industry is very much underground and is part of criminal activity.

  Q4  Chairman: Perhaps I could ask Northern Ireland, one of the things you particularly mentioned were unaccompanied minors being trafficked through the Republic and Northern Ireland. Have you any further information on how they get into Northern Ireland and how they are exploited there?

  Ms Campbell: Whilst Becky hooks out that relevant piece of data, may I say in respect of that there has been a great deal of concern in the Republic of Ireland, which you may be familiar with, in respect of unaccompanied minors. From our perspective, if that is being revealed in the Republic then from the traffickers' point of view there is no border so we would be quite clear that could have transferred to the northern end of the island. In respect of what my colleague from Glasgow has said, basically prostitution has always been off-street more or less in Northern Ireland, partly because of the troubles and the environment, so the conditions are already there in terms of the secret networks, areas where the police do not really go still, although that is changing a bit obviously. They would be the reasons why we feel that if the numbers across the rest of the UK and the Republic are rising, we can be quite sure that is being echoed within Belfast and other Northern Irish towns, particularly the border towns.

  Q5  Chairman: Is there any paramilitary involvement in trafficking?

  Ms Campbell: There is a lot of anecdotal evidence which comes out of the report from some of the professionals we interviewed who did claim that but we have not got exact evidence of that. I would say the paramilitary culture, if you like, has created the conditions where there is a gang culture that is flourishing but whether that is related to paramilitaries or not is another matter. The covert operations and secret operations and the types of trafficking and smuggling that have been going on in Northern Ireland for years, and there is a lot of expertise on that, are ripe for transfer to human trafficking.

  Q6  Chairman: Perhaps this is a question to both of you, both Northern Ireland and Scotland. You are both calling for greater research and I think that is a general plea we are going to be hearing, to get a better picture of the nature and extent of the trafficking. What sort of research do you think is needed, and who should do it? Do you think it will ever be possible to get an accurate picture given the fact that what we are talking about is by its nature illegal?

  Ms Hamilton: You need to look at the demand. The focus of research that has been done is on women's experiences of being trafficked. We know a lot about how women suffer through involvement in prostitution and having been trafficked. What we do not know a lot about is the men who are buying the services of women and the way in which the sex industry is operating. Certainly we have anecdotal evidence of different brothel owners sharing women and moving women from city to city and we are seeing women moved from Glasgow to Edinburgh and Glasgow to Newcastle. Certainly what is needed is more research on the men who are buying sex and the organisation of the sex industry. The other thing that would be helpful would be something that looks at how we can start to influence young people's views so that we can tackle the issue of prostitution in the long-term. We are absolutely convinced that there are no short-term answers except providing support for the women who have been involved in this.

  Ms Dudley: I think that more research is needed in each of the areas that emerged from the interviews and the work that I did in Northern Ireland. There is more research needed with regard to exploited labour. In Northern Ireland there is more research needed with regard to exploited women and girls, whether they are trafficked from other countries or whether they are internally trafficked in Northern Ireland, because that also emerged as an issue in the research that I did. There is further research required with regard to unaccompanied minors and with regard to young people who are born in Northern Ireland who have been sexually exploited systematically. Each of those areas is a distinct area because the way that individuals might present as trafficked would be quite distinct for each of those different areas. To the people who might encounter them first, whether they are community workers, NGOs, people in churches or in anti-racist groups or what have you, on the voluntary sector side or immigration officials or police officers or special police teams that work on sexual abuse issues, the types of trafficking that emerged through interviews I did would present itself in a very different cluster of circumstances. More information is needed about a range of issues with regard to each of those. For example, what impact does the Irish border have on this issue? We have some anecdotal evidence but we would like to know more. Are there different situations in Northern Ireland as a result of the context of the Irish border? There does seem to be a larger than proportionate number of unaccompanied minors in relation to the respective population in the Republic of Ireland than there is in the UK, for example. That was reported by the International Organisation on Migration a couple of years ago. The other kind of research that we would want is to identify where women and children in particular are presenting as trafficked. Are they presenting in serious organised crime or presenting in a rape inquiry, et cetera. We would like to know who is keeping records on this and, if not, why not. We want to know what kinds of interview techniques are used to identify people who are trafficked and are they sensitive, are they according to Home Office guidelines and guidelines that come from Anti-Slavery International, are there risk management protocols in place. There is a whole range of issues we are interested in.

  Q7  Baroness Stern: This is a question mainly about the criminal law and it is addressed to our visitors from Northern Ireland in particular. As far as we know the Government is happy with its current legislative framework and the Government is content that it meets international standards, by which I mean the UN Trafficking Protocol and the EU Council Framework Decision on Combating Trafficking. Our visitors from Glasgow, the Glasgow Working Group, also seems to think the legislative framework is satisfactory and points to a number of successful prosecutions. From Northern Ireland, in your paper you call for legislative reform to establish more "accountability of perpetrators". Could you tell us what you are thinking of there when you say that?

  Ms Campbell: When I was looking at the global situation it seemed to me that it has been a legal disaster in terms of the number of people who are being held accountable for this. In terms of Northern Ireland we are saying to you we are where it is happening, albeit the evidence we have to back that up is mostly anecdotal, and yet no-one has been successfully tried. From my point of view that proves something in the legal set-up and mechanisms are not working. Not being a lawyer I cannot do that, although I am sure there are plenty of illustrious lawyers who can do something to fix it if it is not working. In respect of the general recommendations we are making, that would be one, to wake up the international community as well as the United Kingdom Government to the fact that this is slavery in the 21st century and to adopt a zero tolerance approach to it and do everything that is necessary, including signing up to the European Convention, to sort out the mechanics and legalities of it so you can track down the perpetrators. The other side of that is to make sure that places of safety and support are provided for those women and children who are the victims.

  Q8  Mary Creagh: I would like to come in and ask a little bit more about that. You said no-one has been successful in prosecuting. Does that mean people have been prosecuted and those prosecutions have failed or they simply have not been prosecuted?

  Ms Dudley: As far as I can make out there appear to be three cases in progress at the moment.

  Q9  Lord Judd: My first question applies both to Northern Ireland and Glasgow. While acknowledging various good practices facilitated by the Government, a number of organisations have also expressed concern over the effectiveness of law enforcement on trafficking. What do you see as the major problems in the current law enforcement practices?

  Ms Hamilton: Certainly I think that training and awareness for police staff is very important. Our experience has been that the police have been into a number of premises and women have said what they have been told to say, which is that they are happy to be there, they came freely and they have a boyfriend who is supporting them in this country. Certainly that has been the pattern. If the police take that at face value it is a problem because what happens is they do not find out the full story. We have worked very closely with the police in Strathclyde and that is undoubtedly improving because what they are finding is if they put in support through our project then they are more likely to get the full story from the women they have concerns about. Training and awareness is very, very important. There is an issue of resources, which is what they say to us all the time, that they would like to be keeping an eye on all the premises that they have concerns about and all the individuals they have concerns about but they do not have the resources to do that. That may be about the priority that is given to this issue. Certainly the more work they do, the more they recognise that they need to put resources in. We are in a position now where we have one person charged with trafficking offences and a number of other ongoing investigations where we are hopeful that there may be some charges. Certainly it takes a lot of resources to be able to mount an investigation.

  Q10  Lord Judd: So if you are advocating improvements in Glasgow you would not say those improvements are going to be won by direct action by the police, it has to be in the context of a number of agencies working together?

  Ms Hamilton: Absolutely. That is where we have seen our success. I think the police would say that as well, that they have benefited from working with ourselves at the City Council, with some of the NGOs and the health service, to name some of the agencies that are involved. Undoubtedly that has improved their ability to investigate, to gather information and to mount operations.

  Q11  Lord Judd: Is it the same position in Northern Ireland?

  Ms Dudley: Certainly we would look for more training and awareness about the wide range of trafficking issues that could emerge in Northern Ireland. I would just like to share with you a couple of things that professionals told me with regard to their own perceptions of the police's role. Firstly, one person said: "I don't think the police see themselves as having a role except in enforcing immigration legislation. We talked to the Vice Squad at their invitation to meet and prostitution was an issue for them but there was no idea about how to interview women to decide what level of consent was there. If they are just asking, `Do you want to be here or sent home?' then women are going to say, `Yes, I want to be here'." That was one quote. Secondly: "The police's role is to use all methods possible to counteract and eradicate the problem of trafficking. The police should be going undercover. They are far too concerned with people's status, `Are you here illegally or not?'. They should be saying, `Here is someone who is here illegally, how did this happen?'. These young girls are discovered in brothels and the whole emphasis is on their status and whether they are illegal instead of treating them as victims".

  Q12  Lord Judd: So if you were advocating improvements, how would you crystallise your priorities?

  Ms Campbell: I think it echoes what our Glasgow colleagues were saying. We need an integrated strategy. Throwing all the resources in the world at the police is not going to solve this. We need an integrated strategy and we see that within the context of violence against women and children because it is important that we look at the causes of this and why it is that women's and children's lives are so devalued that this has become such a global problem and got so little attention. We would see parallels with the domestic violence situations at the beginning of the women's aid movement when there was so much silence around and denial that it was happening: "The women must be really enjoying it. It must be okay for them". All of those things parallel very well the trafficking situation. The integrated strategy has to issue directives to police forces and police services to say "take this on board", coupled with training and awareness raising because the average constable in Northern Ireland will know nothing about it, not necessarily through their own fault. I would stress again that we do not want to wait years for research, we want to see places of safety and support set up for women, education for the community and helplines so people can whistle blow if they see something. Some of the anecdotal evidence we have had in the border towns is women within women's aid networks will be aware there is a group of foreign women in a house and people thinking it is a brothel which then disappears within two weeks and re-emerges somewhere else. We can pick up the women who finally come to our refuges, and there have been a number of those, but we cannot stop it. We need everybody working together.

  Q13  Lord Judd: We have seen references to a Garda and PSNI Cross-Border Organised Crime Assessment that says: "there is no evidence to suggest any form of coercion or duress; all claim to be involved of their own volition as they can earn a reasonable wage". From the tenor of what you have been saying I would gather that you do not altogether endorse that?

  Ms Campbell: I would say I disagree vehemently. Frankly, I think that is coming from a very ignorant position of what it means to be trafficked, the types of backgrounds the women and children are coming from and the horrors they may have had to face. The reality is they will be treated with very little respect for their human rights and probably bundled out of the country really quickly, so would anyone not say they were okay?

  Ms Hamilton: I think it also shows a misunderstanding of the nature of prostitution. If you look at how prostitution is organised, most of the Glasgow women and ordinary Belfast women will be involved in prostitution because they have a debt which is owed, so they are debt bonded quite often to the owner of the brothel. One sauna in Glasgow in particular advertised that on its website as a particular feature because it ensured confidentiality and it said all their staff were bonded. There is no explanation for that other than they were debt bonded. Those women would all say, if interviewed, "Yes, I am doing this freely, I am not being coerced" but we know that there is coercion and debt there.

  Q14  Lord Judd: You underlined in your previous point there has to be a wider network of approach to the problem.

  Ms Hamilton: Yes.

  Q15  Lord Judd: Could I finish with a question to you both. The Government claims that the co-ordination of activities in relation to trafficking has improved since the inception of Reflex. However, many local and community organisations do not endorse that. What is your own experience in your regions? Do you think the Government provides sufficient human, material and financial resources as well as training to tackle the trafficking of human beings? I rather suspect I know what your answer is going to be but I want to put the question.

  Ms Hamilton: Undoubtedly there has been an improvement over the last couple of years but we have a different context in Glasgow in that we have been involved in looking at the issue of prostitution since 1998 on an inter-agency basis with our colleagues in the police and other agencies. There is already a framework there and trafficking for sexual exploitation very much fits within that framework. Undoubtedly we need more resources. We are operating on the basis of using existing mainstream and voluntary services to provide support for these women. It is expensive and, undoubtedly, as things like Operation Pentameter bring us more and more women we will need more resources. There is a particular problem with women from accession countries where support is not available. That is a particular issue because it would appear that traffickers are bringing in more Lithuanian and Estonian women who have got the right to be here, so they are not questioned by immigration, but they do not have any access to benefits or support and that is a major problem for us.

  Ms Campbell: Basically we are starting way, way back from that. So many things froze over time because of the conflict in Northern Ireland and the climate was not such that you could discuss whether prostitution happened or not, it was not on the agenda. We are starting from there. In relation to trafficking, most people would have no idea except for those on the ground, for example in the Belfast Women's Aid Refuge, who have had experience of women who have ended up there who have been through the trafficked system. In terms of resources, none have been put in. One of the reasons why we are here is to make the plea that if and when it is looked at properly Northern Ireland is not forgotten and that particularly singular place we occupy in terms of the borders and the conditions because of the conflict is recognised.

The Committee suspended from 4.42 pm to 4.51 pm for a division in the House or Lords.

  Q16 Mary Creagh: Both of you in your submissions urge the Government to sign the Council of Europe Convention on Trafficking. Can you just say how you think signing the Convention would make a difference to the victims you see, and in particular what difference you think the reflection period would make?

  Ms Andrew: I think legislating for women's rights currently operates on a case-by-case basis and if we were able to categorically say to women, "You are entitled to this assistance from us for this period of time" it would allow women breathing space and they would not be concerned about their immediate future or whether they were going to be immediately deported back or remain in police custody. It would go some way towards offering reassurance which women need to have within that initial period of contact with the authorities. Women do not trust the authorities, and by "the authorities" I mean police, immigration officers, social workers, anybody seen to have a position of power over them. Even to offer them that level of support and that categorical reassurance for even just four weeks would be very important in building up the women's ability to trust workers and to begin to slowly disclose what has happened to them.

  Ms Dudley: Quoting from the US State Department's Trafficking in People Survey, the most recent one, it says: "Few activities are as brutal and damaging as prostitution. Filed research in nine countries concluded that 65-70% of prostitutes were physically assaulted[1] and 68% met the criteria for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in the same range as treatment seeking combat veterans and victims of state torture". There are a number of reasons why at least a month of reflection period would make a material difference for women who have been traumatised and subjected to a whole range of crimes, some of which are hard to imagine in their level of abuse. Some of them have to do with psychological issues around going through the trauma and some of them have to do with access to health. One of the issues that emerged several times in the interviews I did was women presented as trafficked because they were pregnant and they had not had any maternity care, for example. There is a range of psychological and physical health issues that may emerge as well as the need for counselling. We would say the primary reason for that is out of respect of the human rights of that woman, that victim of trafficking. There may be a secondary reason why a reflection period could be useful and that would be to possibly present as a witness for the prosecution of traffickers and bring them to account.

  Q17 Mary Creagh: What do you say to people who say that allowing a reflection period could possibly work as a pull factor encouraging people to come here?

  Ms Dudley: I wonder how willing they are to violate every possible human right of those women in order to satisfy a potential problem that might occur in the immigration system. It appears to me that the concern has been primarily with seeing trafficking as something that is keeping the UK from meeting its immigration quotas as opposed to a massive violation of human rights.

  Ms Andrew: That was one of the reasons why we cited Italy as having a model of best practice, certainly their application of Article 18, the Immigration Residence Permit. There is certainly nothing in the figures published to suggest that being entitled to up to 18 months' legal stay in Italy has acted in any way as a pull factor. I think it is unfortunate that it has become tangled up as an immigration crime rather than a serious crime against the person.

  Q18  Mary Creagh: Glasgow, perhaps you can tell us a bit more about the project you are currently setting up which you say has been agreed with the Home Office using the same criteria as the Poppy Project. What criteria have you used? Can you tell us a little bit about the funding that is available?

  Ms Andrew: Our funding comes from the Scottish Executive. We have an award at just under £100,000 for the next two years to continue work that we had carried out in 2004. Our primary role is to try to ascertain what the situation in Glasgow and the rest of Scotland is in terms of women trafficked for the purposes of sexual exploitation and to try to develop some level of support services for any women we find who have been trafficked. We are fortunate in Glasgow because, as Ann mentioned earlier, we have been looking at the issue of prostitution since 1998 and we have established services providing dedicated expert support to women who are already involved in prostitution, either on-street prostitution or off-street prostitution, who are able to use those services, which have the experience of supporting very traumatised women, to look at their options and to look to the future to try to exit prostitution. We are able to link in with those services to provide additional support to them. We are still in the very early stages. We have offered direct support to six women since we started in 2004 and four of those women have been within the past two months. As awareness has risen and as Operation Pentameter has led to increased police activity, that has led to increased referrals for us and will continue to do so. We have evidence of women from 25 different nationalities accessing Base 75, which is health and social work drop-in support for women involved in prostitution.

  Q19  Mary Creagh: We had a briefing from the police last week and one of the striking things they told us was that 10 years ago 85% of the women involved in prostitution were British but it has almost completely inverted over the last 10 years and now 85% of women involved in prostitution are from overseas. Can you say a little bit about whether that chimes with your experience? We are particularly interested in the Northern Ireland experience. What extra challenges does that put on you as service providers and people who are trying to help women involved in this trade?

  Ms Hamilton: It is not to that extent in Glasgow. I would say that we have a service for women involved in indoor prostitution who can come forward and access health and social care support. About 50% of those come from other nationalities. What we cannot say is that means of all women involved in indoor prostitution 50% are from other nationalities, but I would have thought that is a reasonable indication. Having looked at some of the descriptions of brothels and men's experience I would say that probably 50% is about right. It does present a challenge in things like communication, the provision of interpreters and translation of materials. I suppose a lot of women from other countries do not have the same understanding of social work services and other NGOs that women have in the UK, so there is a bit of mistrust which Bronagh has talked about. That is certainly a challenge. We are convinced that the numbers that come forward to us are going to increase significantly over the next couple of years, so that is going to be a major challenge.

  Ms Dudley: Certainly there does appear to be an increase with regard to foreign women—I am quoting from newspaper sources—noted in brothels. I am basing this statement on a broad sweep of newspaper reporting in the last five years or so. That is echoed by the sense that I got from the interviews I conducted that there is an increase. I do not want to forget by any means about women within Northern Ireland who have been trafficked. I think it is important to remember that there is internal trafficking as well as trafficking from other countries. That is the first point. The second point is it does place additional pressures on providers with regard to resourcing to try to provide safety and support for women who may have insecure immigration status and, therefore, problems with regard to access to public funds. There are additional language support requirements with regard to getting interpreters. There are additional issues with regard to the support staff being sufficiently aware of some cultural issues, and also the issue of time. It takes a lot of time to build up trust even with somebody of your own culture. There is an additional amount of time that is required to build up trust with somebody who is of a different culture from that she knows best. I think that covers it mostly. The people who have additional needs and additional barriers to accessing safety and support also have a great deal more needs in terms of the different places we need to go to get resources to assist them.

  Ms Campbell: If I could add quickly to that. Again, because of the conflict Northern Ireland has been a very insular place with a very low level of anyone coming in from the outside. Over the last eight years maybe since the Good Friday Agreement that has changed with waves of inward migration, ostensibly for the purposes of working in the chicken factories mostly and whatever. We are really ill-equipped to recognise or deal with anything of the nature of trafficking or give the support that is required. In respect of the internal trafficking, there are a lot of communities who have been very traumatised and suicide rates have gone up, mental health rates and drug rates are all spiralling within those situations. Again, I would say trafficking and internal trafficking could rise and exploitation could rise. We do need help to get those resources in, particularly because we are very far behind the type of progressive approach that is clear from Glasgow City Council and it just would not be on the cards in Northern Ireland for any local council to look at doing something like that. Thank you.

  Chairman: Thank you very much.

1   Witness correction: 60-75% of prostitutes were raped. Back

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