Foreign female victims of human trafficking are being treated as criminals and wrongly imprisoned, according to a report by the Prison Reform Trust.
The Prison Reform Trust, an independent UK charity campaigning for a fair and just penal system, raises concerns about failures to ensure the non-prosecution of victims of trafficking and modern slavery who have been compelled to commit offences – as is required by law under section 45 of the Modern Slavery Act 2015.
The Prison Reform Trust believes the Home Office and Ministry of Justice’s ‘hostile environment’ policy is likely to have contributed to the failure to correctly identify victims and refrain from treating them as criminals.
The report highlights that, of the 585 foreign national women prisoners Hibiscus Initiatives (which supports foreign nationals in prisons) assisted between February 2013 and March 2017, only 45 were identified as victims or potential victims of trafficking.
All of the women Hibiscus assisted had disclosed information about their exploitation.
The Modern Slavery Act 2015
Credit: Pixabay lechenie-narkomanii
The Modern Slavery Act 2015 was heralded as a flagship piece of legislation, placing Britain at the forefront of the global fight against modern slavery and trafficking. This is a crucial rights issue, with Anti-Slavery International estimating that there are roughly 40 million people in slavery around the world.
The Modern Slavery Act, in theory, has made prosecuting traffickers easier as well as increasing sentences for slavery offences and compelling big UK businesses to report on tackling slavery in global supply chains. It also introduced an Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner.
However, as Still No Way Out highlights, the Modern Slavery Act appears to be failing to prevent the prosecution of slavery victims for crimes they were forced to commit by their traffickers.
Kevin Hyland, the former UK Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, has noted, “Only one per cent of victims of slavery have a chance to see their exploiter brought to justice.”
In May 2018, Hyland stood down, citing government interference.
Is Reform Necessary?
Katy Swaine Williams, of the Prison Reform Trust, commented: “Despite legislation to protect victims of trafficking, current processes are failing to identify vulnerable women and prevent their prosecution for offences they were compelled to commit.”
Adrienne Darragh, Chief Executive of Hibiscus Initiatives which co-authored Still No Way Out, argued:
“This is an opportune time; we hope that this report, combined with… confirmation from the Home Secretary of the move away from the ‘hostile environment’ and the commitment to implement David Lammy’s key recommendations, will act as a catalyst in leading to positive changes in the experience of foreign national and trafficked women caught up in our criminal justice system.
Current processes are failing to identify vulnerable women and prevent their prosecution for offences they were compelled to commit.
Katy Swaine Williams, the Prison Reform Trust
“The government’s intention to imprison fewer women for non-violent crimes is very welcome. Acting on this report’s proposals will help ensure that vulnerable foreign national and trafficked women are not punished disproportionately and have equality of access to justice.”
The Home Office has opened up an independent review of the Modern Slavery Act that will look into the treatment of victims.