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Internal Trafficking Within the UK

Asian boys are not trafficked for sexual exploitation; lone white men are not traffickers, or are they?

Everyone has heard of human trafficking; everyone knows that children are trafficked from city to city within the UK for sexual exploitation, right? Where did you get your understanding from? The news? A poster? A colleague or friend? So, what is trafficking? Who is a victim? Who is an offender? Is the media a cause of moral panics around trafficking?

What is trafficking?

According to the United Nations’ (2000) Palermo Protocol, human trafficking is ‘the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring and receipt of persons… for the purpose of exploitation’. This definition was put into criminal justice policies without talking to the victims or gaining further understanding of the situation. Well, that is a bit chancy and well, simplistic to say the least. A recurring conclusion of reports is that cases should be judged according to their own stories and not based on ideological labels and stereotypes, yet CSE is still the preferred conviction, with the trafficking being ignored or put aside for the guaranteed prosecution of CSE.

Child trafficking is a long-term problem in the UK and there has been legislation and reporting around this issue for many years yet decision makers are still using their personal opinions to define trafficking and whether a victim is worthy of the title, how they record it and what they do with the information!

What is a victim?

Anyone who reads newspapers or watches the news has probably come across one of these headlines? “Sexual exploitation of hundreds of young white girls by Asian grooming gangs” (The sun., 2018); “Oxford grooming gang: We will regret ignoring Asian thugs who target white girls” (Telegraph., 2012) “A gang of nine Asian men who groomed white girls as young as 13 with drink and drugs have been sentenced today.’’ (ITV., 2012) “Sexually exploited children are at further risk in care, says Barnardo’s” (The Guardian., 2012). How do these headlines compare to your ideas about victims? Do you now see only white girls as trafficking victims? Only Asian men as groomers?

Are victims always white British?

• In a study lasting only five months 35 cases of Muslim Asian girls where identified. Why are these cases not leading to conviction? Cultural restraints: Shame and dishonour for no longer being pure.

• Believing that the victims are all White British changes the scenario from trafficking and paedophilia to race and ethnicity. How can resources be put in place to combat paedophilia, trafficking and supporting victims if the resources are being put into the wrong area?

• If the potential victim does not fit the stereotype, then they become unusable witnesses due to a lack of credibility. After all, every case is the same isn’t it?!

Are they all in care?

• Yes, most victims do live in care but any vulnerability makes a potential victim: a chaotic, dysfunctional household; a history of abuse; bereavement or loss; gang association; attending school with children who are already victims; children with learning disabilities; having friends who are being exploited; homeless children; children who lack friendships in the same age group; live in a gang neighbourhood, residential care, hostel, bed and breakfast or foyer, a child with low self-esteem and young carers. A lot of children in care have many of these vulnerabilities but so do many other children.

• The more vulnerable the child is, the less likely they are to be believed if they speak up. Wahoo, a perfect victim for anyone who wants to get away with it!

What is a perpetrator?

With headlines like; “The list of Britain’s towns and cities shamed by Asian grooming gangs” (Express., 2017), “Asian gangs, schoolgirls and a sinister taboo: As nine men are jailed for grooming up to 100 for sex, the disturbing trend few dare talk about” (Mail Online., 2010) and “Grooming gangs of Muslim men failed to integrate into British society” (The Telegraph., 2017); it is easy to understand why society believes that perpetrators of child trafficking for sexual exploitation within the UK are British born, Asian, Muslim men, who work in organised gangs. This is a discourse that is rejected by Tuffail (2015) who accuses a Times News reporter; Andrew Norfolk, of creating a moral panic. These beliefs therefore need exploration:

Are offenders British-born Asian Muslims?

• Out of fifty-six convictions for CSE fifty-three had Asian names, fifty were Muslim (Niblock and Bindel., 2017).

• A Pakistani woman’s group is concerned that there is a problem with CSE within the Pakistani community, but they feel unable to talk to their sons about it (Betrayed Girls., 2017).

• Out of thirty-five cases of CSE and/or trafficking of Muslim Asian children, the offenders came from the same ethnicity as the victim; Muslim (Gohir., 2013). Gohir puts forward that this is due to societal and cultural influences.

• A group of Pakistani youth’s state that it is an everyday thing for the community but not all Pakistani men are abusers (Betrayed Girls., 2017).

• An Imam counsellor who runs workshops for Pakistani men describes Asian Muslim men as having double lives where they have arranged marriages which they are not happy in and sexual release comes from underground means, but this is a minority of Pakistani men and most men are not like this (Betrayed Girls., 2017).

• Focussing on British-born Asian Muslims allows white men to be miscounted and remain hidden so there could be more (Salter and Dagistanli., and Cree at al., 2014)

• There is evidence that more lone white men are convicted of child abuse, although not gang or group related and not trafficking (CEOP., 2010, Berelowitz et al., 2012 and Westwood., 2010).

Are offenders always men?

• There is very little research around women in the criminal justice system for any offence, so it is difficult to be certain (Broad., 2015).

• Women have been involved in the offence by making introductions and encouraging abuse (Gohir., 2013 and Broad., 2015).

• Only slightly less women are convicted for child trafficking than men although this is internationally and not UK dependent (Broad., 2015).

• The criminal justice system is not set up to account for women traffickers as society believes that women are not capable of abusing children (Broad., 2015).

• Seventy-four percent of women charged with trafficking offend with a male partner. Half were victims of domestic violence, forty-two percent had emotional, financial or economic needs that the men were meeting and there was a significant relationship between women who were previously victims being promoted to trafficker (Baird., 2017).

• Previous victims are often groomed into becoming offenders so there are questions about whether the offender is responsible for the crime and conviction must be considered in the public interest (Berelowitz et al., 2013).

Are the offenders ‘others’?

The media was fast to pick up stories from groups like the English Defence League and British Nationalist party, they publicised speeches from the former Home Secretary, Jack Straw, when he declared that Pakistani men are sexually releasing on white minors because of the lack of sexual access to women in the Pakistani community (Salter and Dagistanli., 2015). This is what was found:

• The Asian-Muslim communities are reluctant to talk about the offences, which allows far right groups to control the topic allowing the discourses about the community to continue without their influence (Boyd., 2015, Cree et al., 2014 and Betrayed Girls., 2017). This segmentation in community promotes otherness.

• Social workers were reluctant to discuss possible abuse by an Asian Muslim man in case they were considered racist but would happily accept white men as abusers prior to the Jay Report (2014) (Niblock and Bindel., 2017, Britain’s Sex Gangs., 2016 and Betrayed Girls., 2017). This shows that there was an otherness to what was ok to believe.

• The Asian Muslim ethnicity has been facing othering since colonialism (Tuffail., 2015).

• The criminal justice system has given responsibility of child trafficking to immigration agencies. It falls under the Border, Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009. This directs attention to the ethnicity of the offenders and reinforces damaging discourses and protecting the borders from ‘others’ (Gearon., 2018).

There is evidence to say that KNOWN offenders of child trafficking are Asian Muslim people however, this is only one form of child abuse and lone white males, should not be discounted as predators just because they do not fit the stereotypes (HM Government., 2017, CEOP., 2010). By focussing on the characteristics of the offenders, other facts are missed, such as power imbalances (Salter and Dagistanli., 2015). Potential white men and women could be being missed which would dramatically change the findings of research (Broad., 2015 and Berelowitz et al., 2013).

Moral panic or truth?

A theme throughout this research on internal child trafficking for sexual exploitation is that the media is to blame for creating a moral panic (Tuffail., 2015). The media has been accused of twisting research so that the findings of reports and inquiries are portrayed with a racial theme. This is known as deviancy amplification and includes giving society an image of a bad group of people so that they become segregated. Eventually society believes that everyone with a similar characteristic is bad. (The Open University., 2019c). Let’s see:

• The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation in Rotherham (2014) found fifteen significant failings in CSE. Only one was given media attention; race (Tuffail., 2015).

• When discussing a second finding that professionals failed to support the victims, the media often focused on the fear of professionals to be considered racist (Boyd.,2015).

• The inquiry was considered credible research as it was investigated by someone with a long career in children’s services and therefore the media had no reason to doubt the findings (Boyd., 2015).

• The media forced children’s services to take responsibility for the victims of trafficking and CSE through calls for resignations (Boyd., 2015).

• The silence of professionals and the Asian Muslim community allowed the English Defence League and British Nationalist Party to dominate the stories as they were the only one’s talking. It is unknown whether the media would have provided a more balanced report had everyone been open to respond to their calls (Westwood., 2010 and Salter and Dagistanli., 2015).

• The media attention led to debate and the commissioning of two government inquiries, a parliamentary review, a national action plan and extra resources for training (Niblock and Bindel., 2017).

• Any research has a hidden agenda, the government commissioned the lines of inquiry for the inquiries as well as what data is counted. This is the why it is important to acknowledge the wider context of all media stories (Niblock and Bindel., 2017).

The evidence shows that a moral panic has been created by the reporting of the media. The evidence also suggests that there were opportunities for this to be more balanced had everyone been prepared to give their versions of events. The media therefore reported with the information available to them and alternative outcomes may have arisen if the information was there.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all dangerous people looked like this image? No one could mistake that this was someone they need to be careful around. Unfortunately, this is not the case and there is no one size fits all. This research has analysed the discourses surrounding child trafficking and sexual exploitation in the UK. It has shown that what we know as trafficking differs depending on where we have learnt about it from. That these different interpretations affect the data stored, the responsibility professionals take and that it needs certain labels such as a planned and organised crime to allow intervention by the police, even if this is not an ideal classification.

We have seen that discourses decide whether someone is a victim or an offender, whether justice should be undertaken and that not fitting these discourses affects what justice is granted. We have seen that there is overwhelming suggestion that trafficking for CSE is mainly within Asian Muslim communities and that the victims are not always white British girls. We have seen that the silence of certain professionals and communities allows these labels to go unquestioned and therefore less research is undertaken to find alternative scenarios.

Although there are very clear signs that a moral panic has been initiated, it has allowed some debate about the situation to take place as well as major inquiries into the events and policy changes that could reshape how this offence is handled in the future. It shows that discourses are having a detrimental effect on the justice for child trafficking for sexual exploitation within the UK. Professionals need to look at each case individually and not through a stereotypical lens because there are many cases that stray from the stereotype and there may be many more if we are open to listening to the victims instead of writing them off. It seems appropriate to leave this article with a reminder of the title of Berelowitz et al (2013)’s inquiry: ‘If only someone had listened’.

Full references are available on request.

Janine S White
Janine S White
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Janine S White

Janine thrives on bringing into awareness the inequalities and misconceptions of society. Janine hopes of a more tolerant and understanding future for the world. Giving a voice to those less privileged, ignored and forgotten about.

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