Christian Guy, the center’s managing director, said it was appalling that many of those who fall into modern day slavery were themselves considered criminals.
The 224-page report was written after an investigative team interviewed hundreds of witnesses over 18 months.
“We have been shocked by many of our findings. A leadership vacuum at the heart of Westminster [British parliament]; a messy legislative framework; frontline professionals — however well meaning and brilliant in some areas — forced to swim against a tide of indifference if they wanted to fight this crime; official bodies failing in their duty of care, with little idea about the scale of the problem,” Guy said. “Our research has uncovered a shocking underworld in which children and adults — many of them UK citizens — have been forced into lives of utter degradation. Yet the authorities are either failing to understand the nature of this abuse or turning a blind eye to its existence.”
The investigation found that large numbers of people were being used for forced criminality, including benefit fraud, organized begging, pickpocketing and drug cultivation, with the last frequently involving young Vietnamese on cannabis farms. Yet experts identified a pervading mentality at the Border Agency that victims had often made a choice to be involved in such criminal activities, rather than that they were being exploited.
The report also found large numbers of British girls being trafficked within the UK, mainly for sexual exploitation. In one case, a girl taken into captivity by a group of men was allegedly raped 90 times over the course of a weekend.
Even when rescued from their abusers, the report lamented that the state regularly failed to keep victims safe. The center cites figures showing that 60 percent of children placed in local authority care that are believed to have been trafficked go missing afterward — often because they are so terrified of their traffickers that they take the first opportunity to go back.
In one case which was described to the center, a boy who had been trafficked into the UK and then taken into care disappeared on a visit to the dentist, climbing out of a window to return to his abuser.
“Elements of control in these cases can be subtle and difficult to identify; this control frequently takes the form of sexual and other forms of violence, physical or emotional abuse, threats of violence towards family members,” the report said.
“We simply cannot be satisfied with our current efforts to prevent this vile trade from happening. We have allowed human beings in the UK to be bought and sold as mere commodities for profit, gain or gratification. How on earth have we arrived at a place where there is no ambition or leadership to stamp out this appalling crime?” asked Andrew Wallis, who worked on the report and is the CEO of anti-trafficking charity Unseen.
The study calls on parliament to pass new anti-slavery legislation aimed at requiring companies with turnovers above ￡100 million (US$149.53 million) a year to publicly disclose the efforts they are making to ensure that their supply and product chains and business practices are free from modern slavery. Similar legislation is in force in California, where it has proved successful at reducing abuse.