The UK Society of Local Authority Chief Executives and Senior Managers (SOLACE) has produced a report exploring how local authorities can improve their response to the crime of human trafficking. Worldwide, it is estimated that nearly 4 million people fall victim to people traffickers every year. Trafficking is carried out mainly by Organised Criminal Networks and the victims are forced into prostitution, illegal labour, domestic slavery and petty crime.
This is a timely study, as the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings entered into force in the UK on 1 April 2009, providing victims of these crimes – both adults and children - with minimum rights and protection. The Convention, which has to date been ratified by 20 European countries, is legally binding and aims to promote and protect the rights of victims who have been tricked or forced into leaving their homes, moved to another country, or within their own country, and then exploited. Whilst it is national governments who are signatories to the Council of Europe Convention, local authorities have a key role to play in its successful implementation, particularly in the areas of victim identification and support.
The SOLACE report draws on the work of the SOLACE Study Group on Human Trafficking who studied the response of local authorities across Europe to human trafficking and identified relevant good practice examples. The study group developed a competence and evidence framework for local authorities to assess their own performance in responding to the challenges of human trafficking. This framework identifies five core competences that local authorities need to focus upon if they are to improve their response to these challenges: victim identification, victim support, assistance with repatriation of victims, prevention of human trafficking and working in partnership.
The nature of human trafficking means that many victims are reluctant to report the crime or seek help, raising considerable barriers to them accessing protection and support services. The early identification of victims is key to ending the abuse that they suffer and to providing the assistance necessary for their recovery. Frontline staff need to be equipped with effective skills and tools so that they can identify the signs that someone may have been trafficked, carry out age assessments of young victims and refer them to competent authority. SOLACE has produced a victim identification audit, to assist local authority staff in recognising the signs of trafficking.
Under the Council of Europe Convention, identified victims of human trafficking are entitled to minimum levels of support and this should be at the core of the local authority response to human trafficking. Councils should seek to provide easily accessible advice to potential victims, adopting a proactive approach to seeking them out in their working or home environment. Service provision needs to be carried out in a coordinated multi-agency manner, particularly with third sector and community organisations, health providers, the police and immigration authorities, as the impact of human trafficking and the needs of trafficking victims can be diverse.
Many victims of trafficking will face significant linguistic barriers to accessing services, and councils should be aware of the most effective measures to address these. To ensure that victims do not fall back into the hands of their traffickers, it may be necessary to equip them with new skills to support themselves financially and to rebuild their confidence. When providing services to victims, local authorities need to ensure that the victims are at all times safe from their traffickers, and all data about the victim should be treated with the utmost confidentiality.
Assistance with Repatriation of Victims
The repatriation of victims is a complex process, involving the legal systems of the country of origin and destination. Whilst local authorities may not have a defined role in the repatriation process, they will have a duty of care towards victims living in their area. The local authority will therefore need to be assured that a victim’s safety and security have been taken into account if they are to be returned to their home country; this may involve working closely with the local authority in the victim’s country of origin, as well as embassies and consulates in the destination country. Local authorities may also assist in preparing the victim for return, working closely with organisations such as the International Organisation for Migration to ensure that the victim is safely repatriated.
Prevention of Human Trafficking
Local authorities may not immediately come to mind as key actors in the prevention of human trafficking. However, councils do have a responsibility to prevent exploitative practices in the local community and should actively consider measures to reduce the demand for the services provided by victims of trafficking, for example in relation to sexual services and illegal working practices. Local authorities can actively keep communities informed about the phenomenon of trafficking so that citizens can begin to identify potential exploitative practices to help encourage third party reporting. Local authorities can also be a useful intelligence source to assist in the identification of traffickers and exploiters.
Working in Partnership
Local authorities must work closely with other agencies if they are to successfully address the challenges of human trafficking. At a local level, cooperation between councils, the police, healthcare providers and voluntary bodies is essential. All agencies involved in the identification and care of the victim should be clear about their respective roles and responsibilities, using formal cooperative structures and protocols where appropriate. Councils will also need to work closely with national bodies. Finally, local authorities need to understand the implications of the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings for their own local services and partnerships.
The greatest challenges in meeting the needs of victims of trafficking lie in the disparate levels of knowledge and understanding about the crime and the needs of the victims at the local level. Effective local leadership is needed to highlight the implications of the crime for the local area and to ensure that the council has a comprehensive approach to assisting the victims and preventing further trafficking. The SOLACE report on The Role of Local Authorities in Addressing Human Trafficking aims to help Local Authorities develop this role effectively.
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