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To bring human traffickers to justice we need to properly support victims

Credit | PA Images

Nola Leach, Chief Executive | CARE

3 min read Partner content

Five years after the passing of the Modern Slavery Act prosecution rates for this crime remain stubbornly low. 

In 2019/20, the police recorded over 7000 modern slavery offences in England and Wales but there were only 301 prosecutions and 224 convictions.

That means that significant numbers of traffickers are getting away with it. Not much of a disincentive when one considers the monies involved.

One of the key reasons we have so few successful prosecutions is that vital intelligence and information from victims is being lost because victims are not being given adequate support.

Despite what one might expect, after someone receives formal recognition as a victim of modern slavery – a ‘positive conclusive grounds decision’ from the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) –  this does not entitle them to any immigration leave to facilitate their recovery or anything more than short periods of support. 

The ‘Recovery Needs Assessment’ (RNA) process was introduced in 2019 to try to plug the gap that left many victims homeless and destitute on leaving the NRM, but it is completely the opposite of the long-term stability that victims need. 

It provides short instalments of support which perpetuate rather than end victims’ uncertainty. Nor does the RNA consider victims’ needs for stable immigration status.  Instead, victims have to make a separate application for discretionary leave or asylum.

It is time for the Government to support Lord McColl of Dulwich’s Modern Slavery (Victim Support) Bill and give all confirmed victims at least 12 months support in the UK.   

The RNA’s only way to address a victim’s longer-term needs is to signpost them to mainstream support services, but this is no use to a victim who does not have the necessary immigration status to be eligible for those services. 

Without security of a long-term solution, survivors are consumed with worry about their future – where will they sleep, will they be deported, how will they survive? 

In such circumstances it is understandable that they cannot contemplate speaking to police or committing to giving evidence in court. 

This problem is about to become more acute. From January 2021 when freedom of movement under the EU treaties ends, EU nationals who are confirmed victims and don’t qualify for settled status (and all EU nationals after the settlement scheme closes in June) will lose the recourse to public funds they currently enjoy and only be able to continue their recovery and support police investigations in the UK if they are granted discretionary leave.

However, the limited data available gives no reassurance that many will be granted this leave – according to a report from the British Red Cross only 8-9% of confirmed victims received discretionary leave between 2015-2017.

If we want to see more traffickers convicted then we need to enable victims to engage with the police from a position of safety and stability. 

We owe it to victims who have been exploited in our communities, on our streets to help them recover and prevent their traffickers exploiting others.  

It is time for the Government to support Lord McColl of Dulwich’s Modern Slavery (Victim Support) Bill and give all confirmed victims at least 12 months support in the UK.   

If we don’t, we will never deal the necessary mortal blow to the organised criminals who see the UK as a profitable market.

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