Human Trafficking Experience: The Lost Victim Voice

Dr Chloe Wilson

Research Assistant

University of Hull

chloe.wilson@hull.ac.uk

Dr Chloe Wilson, recently awarded her doctorate for her investigation of the specific experiences of victims of human trafficking in England, shares some of her key findings.

Considering the treatment of victims by organisations in the United Kingdom [UK], particularly in the immediate aftermath of their initial identification, is key to restoring the victim voice. The very nature of the trafficking experience means that victims ‘lose their voice’, from the moment they are trafficked, to their eventual release (if applicable). Broadly, a lost victim voice relates to the individual inability to express the harm caused by a crime, or a criminal. This may occur due to trauma, which can greatly impact victim confidence. A further consideration (alongside the victim voice) is the disposable nature of individual victims. This is a term coined by Kevin Bales: a disposable person is a new type of victim, targeted as a cheap, replaceable commodity. Both of these concepts are particularly interesting when looking at the ways in which victims interact with organisations in the UK when they have been identified. The whole process relies on a level of cooperation from a victim, without which they cannot progress through the system. A disposable victim with a lost voice may be hard to support as they are often hurt, confused and afraid. These considerations emerge from a fundamental issue: the way victims of human trafficking are treated by organisations in the UK.

Victims have varied experiences, which can be split into two categories:

  1. Physical experiences, such as sexual or physical abuse, pregnancy, abortion, or illness.
  2. Psychological experiences, which affect the victim’s mental state and wellbeing, such as stress, psychological torture, emotional abuse and manipulation.

These two areas are not independent of one another – research shows that there is a significant crossover from one to the other for many victims.

The victim journey itself includes a number of substantial milestones, such as initial contact with a trafficker, arrival in the UK or destination city and exploitation. In the latter stages of their journey, as victims come into contact with the UK authorities or charity services, it is the variability of their experience that is notable.

  • How are they treated?
  • As a victim or as an offender?
  • Do they receive help initially?
  • Is there immediate support available to them?

These considerations are directly linked to government frameworks, which are in place to offer support to victims and to aid practitioners. This should provide an indication of the victim’s on-going treatment and the way the authorities may be able to improve the victim experience, in turn helping their recovery and rehabilitation.

Many external factors contribute to the lost victim voice. Many victims who have been trafficked into the UK are transported from foreign countries, meaning they have been separated from their home, family and culture. Not only have they been exploited and abused in some way, they are also very alone in a foreign place. This is a traumatic experience for the trafficked victim – the loneliness and fear of being so far away from their home and their family. This isolation can often manifest as guilt, with the victims blaming themselves for what has happened. Many feel they could have avoided the situation or that they were wrong to have initially trusted their traffickers. These feelings can be exaggerated by the captors who are likely to reinforce this message, telling the victims that they are to blame and that their families are suffering because of them.

Moving away from the trauma victims experience whilst they are being trafficked, focusing on the initial contact between victim and first-responder, is key to improving the victim experience and empowering them to regain their lost voice. Working with organisations to improve their services and ensure victim treatment is at the forefront of their agenda is a critical first step. Reaching across the globe to consider alternative approaches to victim treatment can also provide insight into best practice. In 2012, Unicef conducted a study of Nordic responses to child trafficking, with particular focus on assisting victims within the destination country. The paper considered the practical issues faced by child victims travelling thousands of miles to a new country and a new culture. Unicef suggests ways in which the experience might be improved for young victims, such as providing budgets, setting up institutions and creating action plans. It acknowledged that the progress made across the United Nations, in aiding victims and ensuring they are not left unprotected, has been slow. In short, this can be attributed to a lack of cooperative working between the organisations that are involved.

My research identifies substantive links between the lost victim voice and a lack of cooperation between organisations, highlighting the need for a more joined-up approach to provide the best possible support for victims of human trafficking. Drawing links with care for children in the UK and the notorious Victoria Climbie Case allowed me to develop an ‘Every Victim Matters’ approach. This idea focuses on multi-agency cooperation through the use of a Modern Slavery Key Worker. It is suggested that increased communication and accountability from organisations, alongside a consistent point of contact for the victim, would substantially improve the victim experience. ‘Every Victim Matters’ would improve the treatment of victims, enhance the victim experience and empower the victim voice.

Universal Children’s Day: A time to pause and reflect upon our ongoing research on children

Dr Elizabeth A. Faulkner

Lecturer in Contemporary Slavery

Wilberforce Institute, University of Hull

e.a.faulkner@hull.ac.uk

PhD students researching child exploitation at the W.I.

Charlotte Russell  c.russell-2018@hull.ac.uk

Jasmine Holding Brown j.holding-brown-2019@hull.ac.uk

Saphia Fleury s.fleury-2019@hull.ac.uk

James Baker j.baker-2019@hull.ac.uk

The 20th November is Universal Children’s Day (also known as World Children’s Day), as this was the date in 1959 when the UN General Assembly adopted the Declaration on the Rights of the Child and in 1989 the UN General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child (hereafter the CRC). This November then marks the thirty-first anniversary of the recognition of children’s rights and offers an opportunity for researchers working on child exploitation in the Wilberforce Institute to take a moment to pause and reflect together upon the role of children’s rights within their research. PhD students James Baker, Saphia Fleury, Jasmine Holding Brown, Charlotte Russell and Dr Elizabeth A. Faulkner (Lecturer in Contemporary Slavery) all work in the area of ‘children on the move’, interrogating both historical and contemporary abuses of children’s rights in situations where they are forced for a range of reasons to leave their homes and cross national borders.

As identified by Price and Cohen (1991) the CRC guaranteed the child’s ‘individual personality’ rights and set the minimum rights which states should recognise for children. But though the CRC is often celebrated for its universal acceptance (with the USA being the only State that has failed to ratify), questions still arise around its provenance and representation. Notions of the child and childhood have been heavily influenced by Western discourses and a romanticised ideal of childhood. The perception that ‘West is best’ is perpetuated in the CRC which can be interpreted as a new imperialism brandished under the guise of ‘children’s rights’, serving as an effective tool to ‘beat’ the Global South, in addition to deflecting from the continued Western dominance within the field of children’s rights. There are other problems too – within this construct children are residential, fixed and inherently local. What then does all this mean for us as researchers investigating ‘children on the move’?

The research of Jasmine and James considers historical exploitation and abuse of children perpetrated in the twentieth century in the form of British and North American ‘child saving’ schemes and the British ‘assisted child migration schemes’ to Australia.  Focusing on the early twentieth century prior to the drafting and adoption of the CRC, children were arguably invisible in the international legal system. Approximately 7000 children were taken from British (and some Maltese) orphanages and sent to work in Australia’s agricultural sector, living in farm schools thousands of miles from home, and many became victims of maltreatment, involving aspects of physical, verbal and sexual abuse. When such cases were reported to authorities by child migrants they were seldom believed, and even if they had been, children’s rights at the time were far less developed than they are today. In this way, justifications for such projects, which emerge from ideals of ‘saving children’ and of advancing British views through education, destruction of culture and populating colonies with ‘white British stock’, are interwoven into the legacy of children’s rights. It is striking how the welfare of children, or ‘children’s rights’ as we might now conceptualise them, can be tied so effectively to the ‘national interest’ in ways that ultimately harm children, assimilation through education being a particular case in point. 

If we look at children taking refuge from persecution and the consequences of conflict, this has been a matter of international concern since Eglantyne Jebb  (the founder of Save the Children), in 1920, declared that ‘the world’s children stand in urgent need of better protection’. Despite the fact that the treatment of children affected by armed conflict – the rights of refugee and asylum-seeking children  – had been dealt with by the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 and the Additional Protocol of 1977, they were not separately recognised in an international instrument until the adoption of the CRC in 1989 through Article 22. The research of Charlotte and Saphia considers the contemporary movement of children, with the former focusing upon children within European refugee camps and the latter upon child migration in the context of climate and environmental change.

Charlotte’s research advocates for the amplification of children’s voices in line with the rights afforded under international law, with the aspiration of addressing the impasse between policy and practice regarding the enjoyment of rights afforded by the CRC. The voices of children provide a link between the contemporary and historical aspects of this research, as each of the doctoral research projects seeks to centralise children.

Saphia’s research catalogues the inadequacies of the international legal framework to address children who migrate, whether domestically or internationally as a consequence of climate change. In contrast to any other international human rights treaty, the CRC provision for the protection of refugee and asylum-seeking children remains largely absent from mechanisms designed to tackle the human impact of climate change and environmental degradation. (Pobjoy, 2017; Myers & Theytaz-Bergman, 2017). The recognition of the rights of migrant children in the two Global Compacts on Refugees and Migrants has been lauded as the first intergovernmental agreement to recognise climate-related migration. However, the Compact (not legally binding) is far from flawless despite making a departure from the traditional international legal architecture that has been implemented to protect refugees. The protections afforded to environmentally displaced persons are not systematic and competing priorities in migrant protection may ultimately bury the issue of climate migration. There are also difficulties when we consider the rights of children that fall outside the traditional view of children as weak, passive and vulnerable in the context of contemporary migration, such as adolescents who have decided to migrate in search of economic opportunities, as this strikes at the heart of the international legal framework.

Children are victims of some of the most devastating examples of state sanctioned and private human rights abuse, within the context of international law. Migration is the field where children’s rights come face to face with and clash with the sovereignty of states, in particular their prerogative to decide on entry, residence, and expulsion of non-nationals. The conflict between the interests of the nation state and the rights of children opens an interesting space for research into the exploitation of ‘children on the move’ during the past two centuries and beyond. We look forward to continuing our research and further discussions on the exploitation of children and the global challenges connected thereto.

“Children’s Rights” by LindaH is licensed under CC BY 2.0
https://search.creativecommons.org/photos/2643bf16-3190-496d-827d-de8e4843eedf