Human trafficking in the United Kingdom

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The United Kingdom (UK) is a destination country for men, women, and children primarily from Africa, Asia, and Eastern Europe who are subjected to human trafficking for the purposes of sexual slavery and forced labour, including domestic servitude. It is ranked as a "Tier 1" country by the US Department of State which issues an annual report on human trafficking.[1] "Tier 1" countries are those "Countries whose governments fully comply with The Trafficking Victims Protection Act's minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking. The TVPA is a federal statute of the United States.[2] It is believed that some victims, including minors from the UK, are also trafficked within the country. It is also believed that migrant workers are trafficked to the UK for forced labour in agriculture, construction, food processing, domestic servitude, and food service. Source countries for trafficking victims in the UK include the United Arab Emirates[3], Lithuania, Russia, Albania, Ukraine, Malaysia, Thailand, the People's Republic of China (P.R.C.), Nigeria, and Ghana. Precise details about the extent of human trafficking within the UK are not available, and many have questioned the validity[4][5] of some of the more widely quoted figures (such as the 'police estimate' that there are up to 4,000 trafficking victims in the United Kingdom at any one time).

Over the last year[when?], UK authorities continued to launch aggressive anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts to uncover trafficking and identify victims. During 2009, a six-month investigation into human trafficking by all 55 police forces of the United Kingdom failed to find a case of human trafficking. In May 2012, a cross-border operation involving police forces from Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, which included the raiding of more than 130 premises, resulted in eight arrests. Three of these arrested persons were thought to be trafficking victims. It emerged that the women were not victims of human trafficking, and they were consequently charged with running a brothel. Each woman received a suspended sentence, and forfeiture orders were made for cash found at the premises during the raid. It was stressed that human trafficking did not feature in the eventual court case. Many believe that the repeated failure of large-scale police operations to find any evidence of trafficking exemplifies the inaccuracy of the human trafficking statistics often quoted by NGOs and the media, while others insist that failure to find human trafficking is merely indicative of its underground nature. U.S. State Department's Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons placed the country in "Tier 1" in 2017.[6]


Involuntary domestic servitude[edit]

Involuntary domestic servitude is a form of human trafficking found in unique circumstances—informal work in a private residence—these circumstances create unique vulnerabilities for victims. Domestic workplaces are informal, connected to off-duty living quarters, and often not shared with other workers. Such an environment, which can isolate domestic workers, is conducive to exploitation because authorities cannot inspect homes as easily as they can compared to formal workplaces. Investigators and service providers report many cases of untreated illnesses and, tragically, widespread sexual abuse, which in some cases may be symptoms of a situation of involuntary servitude.[7] Many victims live in fear of going to the authorities. They believe that they will only be recognized as illegal immigrants and punished for it. Some victims don’t know that they are victims because of the isolation from the world and/or cultural or language barriers.[8]


There are different forms of recruitment in the United Kingdom for trafficking. A woman in the United Kingdom might be recruited by someone who uses physical/sexual violence, deceived into coming to the UK by someone who convinces her she can study or work there, or by someone who has a position of power over her. In these power difference situations, the woman cannot refuse this persons control. It is possible for women who are physically or emotionally harmed to be easily influenced by prostitution enforcers who take control of their vulnerability. This recruitment process will most likely involve more than one person due to the travelling that some trafficked women will have to do. The recruiters could be one who recruits women, one who arranges traveling documents, and another might meet her in the United Kingdom.[9]

As of 2018 gangs force children to commit crimes and rough sleepers are recruited into slavery.[10]


The UK action plan on tackling human trafficking has discovered that many victims arrive into the United Kingdom on inexpensive airlines and often into small airports where there is less security surveillance. Other methods of transportation for victims of trafficking are by train, boat, bus, car, and even on foot. There are many different routes, including the Albanian, Nigerian, Moldavian, Russian-Ukrainian, and the Eastern Mediterranean route to name a few. Children victims of trafficking have been known to enter into the UK through different airports such as London City, Stansted, and Belfast International airport. They have also been discovered to have traveled to England, Scotland, and Northern Ireland airports. Before entering into the United Kingdom, victims of trafficking generally pass through transit countries. A transit country is a country that a trafficker will pass through on the way to their final destination. Countries that have very high volumes of traffickers being transited include Albania, Bulgaria, Hungary, Italy, Poland, and Thailand. Children from China have the highest proportion of victims according to studies, and travel on different routes before reaching the United Kingdom. Some of the countries that they travel through include Russia, Bolivia, Brazil, Indonesia, and Kenya.[11]

How traffickers control their victims[edit]

It is important to traffickers that their victims are cooperative when doing business. In order to keep their workers in line, traffickers have different methods of control that they practice. Some of these include drugging them, removing documentation, preventing the victims from learning the language, isolation, moving them from place to place, threatening them, and accommodating them in a way that they will become homeless if they leave. By moving victims from place to place, they are unable to become familiar with their surroundings. This keeps the victims detached from the world in a physical and mental way. With this kind of control, the victims become helpless, and have almost no chance of escaping from their traffickers.[11]

Benefits for traffickers[edit]

Usually traffickers know the risk that they are taking when entering into this business, but continue to do so because of the benefits that they receive. The maximum jail sentence for a human trafficking violation is 14 years, but this amount of time is usually not threatening to traffickers because of their financial benefits. In this business, the amount of money that can be made is far beyond a day job, and can be made through many different routes. The money that a trafficker can make off of selling one victim in the United Kingdom can range from £500 to £8,000. The amount of money that traffickers make per day is also a huge benefit to continue their business. Per day in the United Kingdom, a trafficker can make between £150 and £1,000. Usually the traffickers pay their prostitutes little to nothing for their services and keep the profits for themselves. Another way that traffickers make money is by paying for their victims travel charges and demanding the money back once they arrive in the United Kingdom.[11]

Cost and revenue of a human trafficker[edit]

In 2012, a report showed that most victims being trafficked into the United Kingdom were from China, Vietnam and Eastern Europe. According to Rosa Silverman, the revenue generated by one sex worker was estimated to be £48,000, therefore, the market is worth tens of millions of pounds. The costs of travel and obtaining fake documentation can be very cost worthy. This can range from £500 to £12,000 for fake documentation and £2,000 to £3,000 for travel from Europe. If the victim is travelling from a farther location, the cost of travel can be much more. Studies show that the travel cost from China is between £25,000 and £50,000 for one victim. The methods of transportation can also have an effect on the cost of travel. Some traffickers purchase their victims, which can become very costly to their business. Depending on different factors including race, location, and age of the victim, the cost can vary. One trafficker reported to have paid as little as £800 for a girl from South Africa, but another paid £20,000 for a different girl. The reported sales value of a victim in the United Kingdom is usually between £3000 and £4000.[11]


The British government continued its proactive law enforcement efforts to combat trafficking.[12] The UK prohibits all forms of trafficking through the Sexual Offences Act 2003,[13] the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2003[14] and the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Act 2004.[15] These prescribe penalties of a maximum of 14 years’ imprisonment, although the specific punishments prescribed for sex trafficking are less severe than those prescribed for rape.[16] The Modern Slavery Act 2015 which became law in March 2015 consolidated existing offences relating to trafficking and slavery.

In 2007, the UK government launched Pentameter II, a large-scale operation aimed at rescuing victims, disrupting trafficking networks, developing intelligence, and raising public awareness. A study conducted by the government in 2007 identified a minimum of 330 individual cases of children trafficked into the UK and, the same year, the government reported prosecutions involving at least 52 suspected trafficking offenders. Although the government reported 75 ongoing prosecutions during the previous reporting period, it convicted only ten trafficking offenders in 2007, a significant decrease from 28 convictions obtained in 2006. Sentences imposed on convicted trafficking offenders in 2007 ranged from 20 months’ to 10 years’ imprisonment, with an average sentence of four years.[12] In one case in 2008 in the U.K., girls were trafficked for forced prostitution and a man was sentenced to 10 years in prison[17] In January 2008, police arrested 25 members of Romanian organized crime organizations using Romanian children, including a baby less than a year old, as pickpockets and in begging schemes.[12] The Rochdale sex trafficking gang, a group of predominantly British Pakistani paedophiles that preyed on under-age girls in Rochdale, were the first people in Britain to be convicted of sex trafficking, on 8 May 2012[18]


A system that is currently in place for helping trafficked people is the National Referral Mechanism (NRM). In order to protect trafficked people, a first responder must refer the person to the NRM. A first responder might include the National Health Service or local authorities. In these cases, the victim has to consent to being referred, and it is preferred that it is done within 48 hours of contact with the victim. The referral is sent to the Competent Authority which is the program that will decide whether or not a person is being trafficked. The Competent Authority will analyze the referral form and make a decision within 5 business days. If the victim is believed to be trafficked, the Competent Authority will grant the victim a 45-day recovery and reflection period. This would involve being in a safe environment with medical and other kinds of help. Before the end of the 45-day period, the Competent Authority will make a ‘conclusive decision’ about whether or not the victim was one of trafficking. These results might depend on evidence that is recovered during the 45-day period. If you are found to be a victim of trafficking, a decision might be made to extend your recovery period, or to grant you a residence permit. If you receive a negative conclusive decision, the only option you have is to ask the Competent Authority to review the decision. If the authority still has not found you eligible, you have the option to challenge the decision by the judicial review. You should obtain a legal representative to go through this process, they will be able to discuss your rights according to the country you are from.[9]


If you were ever a victim of trafficking in the United Kingdom, it is possible to receive compensation from the government, or from those who were in charge of trafficking you. The Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme 2009 is the program in charge of allowing victims to be compensated for the injuries they have received while being trafficked. The Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme 2009 is run by the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA). In order to receive compensation through the program, you must report the violence or harm you experienced to the authorities within two years of escaping your situation. Your traffickers do not need to be arrested in order to receive compensation from them.[9]


National Vigilance Association (NVA)[edit]

The National Vigilance Association was created at a meeting located in London in 1885. This is an example of a past association that took on the challenge of trying to diminish human trafficking. The purpose of this association was to be the main agency for undertaking private prosecutions for human trafficking and alert police of those that broke the new passed Criminal Law Amendment Act. The Criminal Law Amendment Act included, offense to hold a woman under 21 as a prostitute, the legal age of sexual consent pushed up to 16 years old, any male found practicing homosexual acts in private/public would be charged and imprisoned, and financial penalties were imposed on anyone involved in prostitution acts. These acts allowed for women to be isolated in military stations across England and Ireland if they were believed to be involved in forms of prostitution. By 1888, the NVA had 300 affiliated groups that were engaged in local, national and international levels. By 1977, the NVA was unable to continue due to financial difficulties. The prosecutions that they performed became costly and the NVA began to lose control of their original duties. They were forced to change their focus or end their branches completely. By the middle of the 20th century, the remaining NVA in Scotland was redesigned to become a casework agency. The NVA helped to change the relationship between the individual and the state by allowing the state to have a right to intervene in inappropriate sexual behavior, where in the past, sexual behavior was always considered a private matter for the individual.[19]

International laws[edit]

The two most recent attempts at defining, preventing and prosecuting human trafficking of the international law are the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and the United Nations Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea, and Air. These were created by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). According to King, the standard for how a trafficked victim should be treated is explained in two international agendas, "Human Rights Standards for the Treatment of Trafficking Persons" and "Recommended Principles and Guidelines on Human Rights and Human Trafficking."[20]

Issues when enforcing international law[edit]

There are issues that occur when trying to enforce international laws. Victims of trafficking are usually very hesitant to admit their situations because they fear the consequences. Another problem that occurs when trying to enforce international law is the lack of training that enforcement has in each state. It is usually not likely that each officer in a state is properly trained with the knowledge and skills needed in order to handle trafficking victims. In order to provide a solution, the awareness of these officers and officials is crucial. Particularly, health service, social workers, building inspectors and health and safety inspectors need to be properly informed of how to recognize different indicators of forced labor and prostitution.[8] The training of immigration judges is also crucial when identifying females that are being trafficked. The United Kingdom Human Trafficking Center (UKHTC) has put 12 training seminars in place since 2008, which includes trafficking in the UK now, laws on human trafficking and identification of victims. The language barrier is another issue that arises when women are passed across international borders.[20]

In Scotland[edit]

Scottish cities with the highest incidence of trafficking include Glasgow, Stirling, Edinburgh, Dundee and Aberdeen. According to studies, the individuals’ experiences were varied. Most of the individuals claimed that they knew that they were being trafficked and were content with their situation. But others were deceived into the work that they would be doing. They were generally introduced to individuals who offered them a job in Scotland and were exploited into sex trafficking once they arrived. The victims were discovered in private flats and houses that were being used to house traffickers. These kinds of locations are used because they are not high risk in Scotland. The main trafficking route into Scotland has been discovered to be from London and the victims are usually escorted by someone connected with their trafficking organization. Other routes into Scotland included Northern Ireland, western Scotland and Dublin. The immigrant population has grown in recent years in Scotland, which can be connected to the increase in trafficking in Scotland. Glasgow, which is one of the largest trafficking locations in Scotland, has over 77 nationalities living there. Many of the victims nationalities are unknown in Scotland, but those that are known are generally from Asian and African countries.[21]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons (June 19, 2012). "Country Narratives: Countries N Through Z". Trafficking in Persons Report 2012. US Department of State. Retrieved December 26, 2012. UNITED KINGDOM (Tier 1) The United Kingdom (UK) is a destination country for men, women, and children primarily from Africa, Asia, and Eastern Europe who are subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor, including domestic servitude.
  2. ^ Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons (2012). "Definitions and Methodology". Trafficking in Persons Report 2012. US Department of State. Retrieved December 26, 2012. While Tier 1 is the highest ranking, it does not mean that a country has no human trafficking problem. Rather, a Tier 1 ranking indicates that a government has acknowledged the existence of human trafficking, has made efforts to address the problem, and meets the TVPA's minimum standards. Each year, governments need to demonstrate appreciable progress in combating trafficking to maintain a Tier 1 ranking. Indeed, Tier 1 represents a responsibility rather than a reprieve. A country is never finished with the job of fighting trafficking.
  3. ^ Sophie Mc Bain (14 February 2017). "The maid slaves". New Statesman. Retrieved 27 May 2018.
  4. ^ Nick Davies (2009-10-20). "Prostitution and trafficking – the anatomy of a moral panic". London: The Guardian.
  5. ^ Nick Davies (2009-10-20). "Inquiry fails to find single trafficker who forced anybody into prostitution". London: The Guardian.
  6. ^ "Trafficking in Persons Report 2017: Tier Placements". Retrieved 2017-12-01.
  7. ^ Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons (2012). "Definitions and Methodology". Trafficking in Persons Report 2012. US Department of State. Retrieved December 26, 2012. Involuntary domestic servitude is a form of human trafficking found in unique circumstances—informal work in a private residence—these circumstances create unique vulnerabilities for victims. Domestic workplaces are informal, connected to off-duty living quarters, and often not shared with other workers. Such an environment, which can isolate domestic workers, is conducive to exploitation because authorities cannot inspect homes as easily as they can compared to formal workplaces. Investigators and service providers report many cases of untreated illnesses and, tragically, widespread sexual abuse, which in some cases may be symptoms of a situation of involuntary servitude.
  8. ^ a b "The Trade in Human Beings: Human Trafficking in the UK" (PDF). House of Commons Home Affairs Committee. 14 May 2009. Retrieved 18 November 2015.
  9. ^ a b c "Seeking Refuge? Trafficking, sexual exploitation, and the law". Rights of Women. Missing or empty |url= (help)
  10. ^ Modern slavery law review as gangs 'evolve' BBC
  11. ^ a b c d Marsh & Sarmah, Kevin, Rashmi. "An evidence assessment of the routes of human trafficking into the UK" (PDF). Home Office (2012).
  12. ^ a b c "United Kingdom". Trafficking in Persons Report 2008. US Department of State (June 4, 2008).
  13. ^ Sexual Offences Act 2003, sections 57-59
  14. ^ Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2003, section 22
  15. ^ Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Act 2004, sections 4 and 5
  16. ^ For which section 1 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 prescribes a maximum of life imprisonment; in Scotland, rape is a common law offence which also carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment
  17. ^ Williams, Rachel, British-Born Teenagers Being Trafficked For Sexual Exploitation Within UK, Police Say, in The Guardian, Jul. 2, 2008, section News, subsec. Society, subsubseç. Child Protection, as accessed Mar. 13, 2012.
  18. ^ "Rochdale grooming trial: gang convicted for sex trafficking". The Telegraph. 8 May 2012. Retrieved May 8, 2012.
  19. ^ Cree, Viviene E. (1 November 2008). "Confronting sex trafficking Lessons from history". International Social Work. 51 (6): 763–776. doi:10.1177/0020872808095249 – via
  20. ^ a b King, Lindsey. "International Law and Human Trafficking" (PDF). Topical Research Digest: Human Rights and Human Trafficking. Retrieved October 8, 2013.
  21. ^ Lebov, K. (2010). "Human Trafficking in Scotland". European Journal of Criminology. 7: 77. doi:10.1177/1477370809347944.

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