Today, 18 October, is the EU Anti-Trafficking Day. Girls facing criminal exploitation in the UK are regularly victims of trafficking.
Human Trafficking is defined as “the unlawful act of transporting or coercing people in order to benefit from their work or service”. By definition, those exploited on county lines transporting drugs/weapons/money are victims of trafficking. Even if the young woman is moved from place to place within the same country or area, they can still be recognised as victims of human trafficking under the Modern Slavery Act and are eligible for a referral to the National Referral Mechanism.
The 2015 Modern Slavery Act states that “Victims may not be aware that they are being trafficked or exploited, and may have consented to elements of their exploitation, or accepted their situation. If you think that modern slavery has taken place, the case should be referred to the NRM so that the relevant competent authority can fully consider the case. You do not need to be certain that someone is a victim.” As a society we must work to disable the binary thinking that ‘Victim’ and ‘Perpetrator’ are always two distinct roles. Young people can be both a victim of criminal exploitation and also the perpetrator of a criminal offence. By looking at criminally exploited young women through a binary lens their voices are not heard and their victimisation is overlooked. This serves to create a barrier where exploited young women are not coming forward for fear of being criminalised and thus their vulnerability remains hidden.
According to ECPAT UK's 2018 report, a quarter of all trafficked children go missing from local authority care. It also notes that each missing child has on average 7.2 missing incidents in a single year. In Abianda's work on the Rescue and Response project, almost half of of the young women and girls referred into our service are regular missing people. We must raise awareness of how exploitation affects young women and girls to ensure that they are identified and receive the support that they need and deserve.
We provide training to professionals on Modern Day Slavery and the National Referral Mechanism. If you would like to increase your knowledge and confidence in how legislation can support young women and girls affected by county lines exploitation, please get in touch.