We were taught at school that slavery was abolished in this country nearly 200 years ago. We like to think we’re more civilised these days, that what was once commonplace is now unthinkable. The truth, however, is less palatable: in Britain, indeed here in Croydon, in 2013 human beings are still enslaving other human beings.
Just over five years ago, research suggested that at least 50 premises in Croydon were openly offering sex for sale and that as many again may have been covertly doing so. It was estimated that 84% of the women working in these premises were foreign nationals, many of whom were likely to have been trafficked. Many of the premises concerned were likely operated by organised trafficking and prostitution rings. Thankfully as a result of work by Croydon Council, the police and an amazing voluntary organisation called Croydon Community Against Trafficking (CCAT), the number of premises involved in this trade halved in three years, but the problem has not gone away.
That’s why I’m delighted that this week the Government announced a raft of measures to help local agencies deal with this appalling evil once and for all.
The maximum sentence for human trafficking offences will be increased to life, making sure that modern day slave drivers in future face the full force of the law. The measure will be included in a Modern Slavery Bill, to be published this year in draft form for pre-legislative scrutiny. The Bill will consolidate into a single Act the offences used to prosecute slave drivers. It will also introduce Trafficking Prevention Orders to restrict the activity and movement of convicted traffickers and stop them from committing further offences; and a new Anti-Slavery Commissioner to hold law enforcement and other organisations to account. The Modern Slavery Bill will send the strongest possible message to criminals: if you are involved in this disgusting trade in human beings, you will be arrested, you will be prosecuted and you will be locked up.
This issue is a test of what kind of society we are. Modern day slavery may be less visible than slavery was in the past, but it is no less evil. As a community, we must not tolerate the oppression and enslavement of a single person.
I am proud that the Government of which I am a part is addressing this issue and I pay tribute to the works of all the CCAT volunteers locally who have done so much to bring this issue to politicians’ attention and to combat the slave drivers. If you’d like to get involved with CCAT, visit their website http://www.ycaht.com, I know they’d appreciate any and all support.
One of my regular columns for The Croydon Advertiser. This first appeared in their paper on Friday 1st November 2013.