In breach of the Modern Slavery Act, female victims of human trafficking are being unlawfully held in prisons across the UK, jailed for offenses that they were forced to commit by their traffickers.
New research from the Prison Reform Trust reveals that trafficked foreign national women are hit hardest by this practice, with the government failing to identify their exploitation.
Related Campaign: Support all UK victims of human trafficking.
Furthermore, the report says that the problem has been driven by an “overarching” aim to deport foreign national offenders as quickly as possible.
The Independent reports:
A statutory defence is in place for victims of human trafficking and modern slavery in the UK who are coerced or compelled to commit offences in section 45, Modern Slavery Act 2015.
Of the 585 foreign national female prisoners studied for the report between February 2013 and March 2017, 45 were identified as victims or potential victims of trafficking, suggesting one in 12 non-British inmates are affected.
Their crimes included cannabis production, prostitution related offences and begging, as well as fraud and false document offences – indicator offences for trafficking and coercion.
One woman, who was forced into prostitution and cannabis production after being trafficked from Vietnam in the back of a lorry, spent more than five months in prison before she was recognised as a victim of human trafficking by the National Referral Mechanism (NRM). Her charges were subsequently dropped and she was released into safe accommodation with specialist support.
Katy Swaine Williams, senior project officer at the Prison Reform Trust, said there appeared to be a “conflict of interest” in government between immigration control and protecting victims of trafficking.
“Despite legislation to protect victims of trafficking, current processes are failing to identify vulnerable women and prevent their prosecution for offences they were compelled to commit,” she added.
The Prison Reform Trust research also notes that there is no official data on the number of trafficking victims who are wrongly prosecuted for offences carried out due to coercion.
In response to the report findings, a government spokesman emphasized that victims should not be prosecuted.
“We have commissioned an independent review of the Modern Slavery Act which will consider the implementation of the statutory defence for victims and help us to identify what more we can do to tackle these terrible crimes,” they said.