An anti-human trafficking expert is leveling criticism at proposed legislation by the Irish Government, claiming it lacks protections and forces survivors to “prove” they were trafficked. This means survivors may stay in exploitative conditions rather than risk coming forward.
Prove you’re a victim, then we can talk
Kevin Hyland acted as Britain’s first independent anti-slavery commissioner and served 30 years as a police officer in the UK. Hyland sees several problems with the Government’s Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking, the first of which is that survivors of human trafficking will have to fill in an application before they can be “recognized” as a survivor.
“Can you imagine if you or I went into a garda station to record that we’d been robbed, or our house had been broken into, and they said, ‘you can make an application to be considered’.”
Another important aspect not addressed in the bill is the non-punishment principle required by the Council of Europe and the EU Directive. This is important as it removes the fear of being punished for offenses survivors were forced to do when they were trafficked. Fear of prosecution is a considerable barrier for many survivors of modern slavery, preventing them from coming forward to law enforcement. Without the testimony of the survivors, it is extremely difficult to find and prosecute the traffickers.
Language of the legislation not survivor centered
Human Trafficking and Exploitation Project on the Island of Ireland, together with Mary Immaculate College in Limerick and chaired by Hyland, released a report in 2021 stating that the actual number of human trafficking victims in the State could be 38 percent higher than the official figure. Far from helping, the application process and lack of protections will likely keep the figures in Ireland and across the UK inaccurate as survivors fear to come forward.
“If you’re starting by saying a victim may make an application to be considered, I don’t think that really promotes what we’re actually saying, because words matter, and that doesn’t sound like something we should say.”
The application process for survivors to be recognized has led to delays of up to two years for vulnerable people in the UK, which already has similar requirements in terms of non-punishment.
If the legislation passes without changes, Hyland warns it will be a “missed opportunity.” Instead, legislation should encourage victims to come forward and for those responsible for crimes to feel “the full weight of the law.” Looking at the numbers, it is clear something in the current system isn’t working, as there has been only one conviction for human trafficking in Ireland, despite having legislation since 2008 and no forced labor convictions. Only with survivor centered legislation, can we hope to build policies that will end modern slavery and human trafficking in Ireland and all over the world.