Sky News reports that the National Referral Mechanism (NRM), the system through which trafficking victims are identified and supported in the U.K., is failing. Though record numbers of people are being referred to the NRM as potential victims of trafficking, many are not receiving the support they need, increasing the risk of them being retrafficked.
Trafficking victims unsupported
Victims experience long delays in receiving access to crucial support such as safe-houses and counseling, with the average time taken to confirm someone is a trafficking victim amounting to 553 days. Guidance from the interior ministry published earlier this year said that a decision should be made “as soon as possible” after the initial 45-day recovery period from when a person is identified as a potential victim.
Jamie Fookes from Anti-Slavery International explained how victims are going unnoticed as a result of a lack of awareness about modern slavery:
Police are first responders, local authorities are first responders, yet a lot of the people in those organisations will not be aware of modern slavery, and certainly not be aware of the national referral mechanism and that’s a problem.
Pleas for help ignored
One woman, Maria, spoke to Sky News about her experiences of trafficking for sexual exploitation as a British person in the U.K. Despite repeatedly reporting her abuse to the police and being referred to the NRM, her abusers are still in contact with her and she remains in danger.
Sky News reports:
Maria says she has been sexually abused by older men from the age of 13 and since then she has been trafficked and raped by hundreds of men and now in her early 20s is still abused.
She says she is regularly called up, threatened, coerced into meeting men, taken to houses, and raped and abused so brutally that she feels it is safer not to put up any resistance.
Maria said that she asked the Salvation Army which holds a government contract to offer victims support through the NRM to put her up in a safe-house but she was rejected.
“When there was a big incident, I asked to go into a safe house, and they were like ‘yeah that’s fine…’ but nobody called me back. And I was later told by a member of staff at the Salvation Army that ‘we don’t like putting British victims into safe houses’, and to contact the council. She didn’t give any reason at all.”
Critics of the NRM say that the system wasn’t designed to support domestic victims and so British nationals struggle to access support. Robyn Phillips from the Human Trafficking Foundation said:
“A number of British survivors of modern slavery have told us that because they speak English, they’ve been perceived as less vulnerable or traumatised and have been left to navigate complex processes alone.”
However, support for trafficking victims from abroad is equally lacking and victims are subjected to hostile migration policies that further criminalize them for immigration offences.