A concerning new report by police watchdogs in the U.K. has confirmed campaigners’ fears that many modern slavery victims in the country are criminalized instead of recognized as victims.
The end result of an investigation by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Service (HMICFRS), the College of Policing, and the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC), the report warns that the country’s ability to tackle modern slavery is being seriously limited.
This is because trafficking survivors, faced with the possibility of arrest and detention, are currently deterred from reporting their exploitation to the police and supporting investigations.
Following first contact with the police, many survivors receive “inconsistent” support and feel unsafe; in particular, the personal data of foreign survivors is often shared immediately with the Home Office, putting them at risk of immigration detention and deportation.
Meanwhile, the report found that Section 45 of the Modern Slavery Act—which protects modern slavery victims from prosecution—is not always considered, and does not always operate correctly when implemented.
Wendy Williams, Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary, said the U.K.’s failure to support victims of modern slavery was “playing into hands of traffickers.”
The Independent reports:
“It is a serious situation. As long as police and prosecutors are not prosecuting these cases, the crimes will continue to be committed and vulnerable people will continue to be coerced into committing offences,” she said.
“Victims will continue to go unprotected, they will continue to be at risk of criminalisation, they will continue to potentially fear that they will be treated as immigration offenders or be prosecuted for the offences they were coerced into committing, and that is of concern to all communities.”
The investigation was prompted after charity Hestia submitted a “super-complaint” to the police over its treatment of victims and resulting failure to prosecute some traffickers.
Although the report found that police’s overall approach had improved in recent years, only some officers were found to have made progress in their ability to recognize the crime.
Dame Sara Thornton, the country’s Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, and Dame Vera Baird QC, the Victims’ Commissioner, expressed their concern over the findings in a joint statement and said that “more needs to be done.”
However, the commissioners also criticized the report for failing to include direct testimony from survivors themselves, whose participation and expertise they argue is essential to reforming the system.
The report’s recommendations, which the National Police Chiefs’ Council said would be given careful consideration, included better police training in recognizing survivors and an increased understanding among Home Office officials of survivors’ experiences.
Freedom United has long been concerned about the mistreatment of U.K. modern slavery survivors, and has since earlier this year been campaigning for an immediate end to their detention.
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