Sex slaves smuggled into Britain are set to receive millions of pounds for their "pain and trauma" after a groundbreaking government decision to compensate victims of people trafficking.
The first payouts of more than ¥140,000 (US$282,000) were made last week to four women who suffered a "sustained period of sexual abuse." Another 10,000 are estimated to be eligible under a new interpretation of Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority guidelines.
Authority officials told the London law firm Lovells, which is acting for a number of the victims, that it would "officially recognize" the trauma experienced by thousands of women and children.
The development is likely to be politically controversial, with charges that offering help to trafficking victims could encourage illegal immigration.
The women who were compensated ¥140,000 were smuggled from eastern Europe by British-based criminals using established international sex trafficking networks. One girl was illegally brought into the UK five years ago, aged 13. Another was trafficked in 2003 when she was 16. Both were kept prisoner by the same trafficking syndicate until they managed to escape at the start of last year.
Lawyers, who have agreed to protect the identity of claimants, said they were subject to "forced prostitution, multiple rapes and beatings" while being held captive in the UK. In addition, their captors refused to give the victims money and warned they would be killed if they fled. The highest award was ¥62,000, the lowest ¥16,500.
The authority, which awards compensation to victims of violent crime, has agreed payments for "false imprisonment and forced prostitution during the time of their imprisonment" though neither exists as an official category for damages. Sarah Johnson, of Lovells, said: "This will serve as a precedent for other cases and we are delighted."
The Poppy Project, which helps trafficked women after they have been rescued from their captors, hailed the payments as a "tremendous breakthrough."
The women who have received compensation are understood not to have been deported. Victims will shortly win the right to stay in Britain temporarily after the government signalled its intent to ratify the Council of Europe's convention on action against trafficking.
Alongside the controversy of granting women the right to remain, there are also concerns that traffickers might force women to make fraudulent compensation claims that would find their way to criminals.
Julie Barton, of the Poppy Project, said: "Previously, women have received no financial support for them to start afresh or to address the terrible circumstances they have had to endure. Often they are forced to return vulnerable and traumatized to their home country without any support."
The Home Office believes the number of illegal immigrants being sexually exploited at any one time is about 4,000. Investigators and support groups calculate numbers to be in excess of 10,000.
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