Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Tackling enslavement in Scotland

HUMAN trafficking, exploitation of migrant labour, prostitution and domestic servitude are only a few examples of human enslavement in Scotland today. 

How should human exploitation be tackled from a legal, social and political perspective? How can we identify when we come into contact with a trafficked person and what can we do to help? ​

The speakers tonight are Detective Chief Supt Gillian Imery from the Scottish Police Divisional Crime and Public Protection unit, along with Jeremy Alford of the NGO Hope for Justice. ​ The chair is Sheriff Rita E. A. Rae QC.

DCS Gillian Imery began by saying that the newly unified Scottish police force enables a set of priorities and practices to be agreed and implemented more quickly. "Keeping people safe" is the core of what policing means in this context, alongside rooting out those perpetuating human slavery.

Sex trafficking deprives people of liberty, dignity and economic independence, she stressed. It is about exploiting community as well as individuals. The police priority is getting to those who carry out and benefit from such criminal activities - also including organised shoplifting.

It is not about prosecuting the victims, who include those forced into such activities, including cultivation of cannabis, for example.

Only six people in three cases have been prosecuted, which Imery described as "puny" in relation to the situation in Scotland. There are all kinds of pressures and blockages that can conspire to stop traffickers and exploiters being brought to court and to justice. It is a shocking crime that has a life-long impact.

Hope for Justice is a small Christian-based charity. It works primarily in England, but has a wider interest in the problem of enforced labour and entrapment throughout these islands.

In Scotland, Migrant Help and Trafficking Awareness Raising Alliance (TARA) offer safe houses.

Jeremy Alford said that "there were fourteen prosecutions in England, which is better than three, but still wholly inadequate."

His organisation, he explained "is an anti-human trafficking organisation working to uncover and abolish the hidden crime of modern-day slavery. As a non-governmental organisation (NGO) we gather intelligence and assist in the process of removing victims from exploitation within the country."

The low level of prosecution at the end of long chains of enquiry is indicative of the problems along the way, said DCS Gillian Imery. The victims (Alford far prefers the word 'survivors', because that makes them protagonists, not just passive) are often afrioad to come forward for fear that they will face imprisonment. There may be immigration or other issues involved.

Also, added Sheriff Rita, there is a need to raise public awareness of the issues of enslavement in general, and of the profile of those trapped by it.

Police officers also need to be trained, said Imery, and slavery and trafficking matters 'mainstreamed'. "This is absolutely vital", agreed Alford, who is seeking to work with Police and Crime Commissioners down south.

"The leaflet and information that Police Scotland have put out, for example about the problem in the hotel and tourism industry, is well ahead of the game," said Alford. Factory owners and others often do not realise that they are employing forced workers, because the 'agency' they is trafficking and the money goes to them.

"There is a lot of ignorance out there; a lot of people who think they are doing the right thing... because traffickers are often clever people, as well as malign," he explained. "Information is key, because it may be the piece of the jigsaw needed to open up an investigation."

The picture (above), by the way, is an early stage of the now-completed mural outside St John's Church, the venue for this conversation, which highlights a range of exploitations and their relation to the festival season.

(This is a developing live blog)

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