Sarah Williams on the dirty trade in humans
When Olga was promised a well-paid job in London she believed it was a real chance to build a better life for herself and escape the poverty of her native Ukraine. Her visa was arranged and she was helped to get to the UK.
A Soho sex worker But on arrival in London her passport and other documents were taken away and she was forced to work as a prostitute in a brothel. Two years on Olga is still being held against her will under the threat of violence. Unable to leave, she lives in constant fear for her life. She has also contracted HIV/AIDS.
Olga's story is just the tip of the iceberg. Trafficking is a modern day slave trade flourishing right here in the UK and throughout Europe. Women and girls are trafficked from poor countries in central and eastern Europe or the former Yugoslavia to cities in western Europe. Girls from West Africa are trafficked via the UK to work in Italy's sex industry.
Anti-Slavery International has started a Stop Human Traffic campaign to raise awareness of the issue of trafficking and call for policy changes which will protect the human rights of trafficked people. In October we launched a report which examines how authorities in ten countries treat adults who have been trafficked. It found that despite being victims of a crime, governments around the world, including the UK, fail to protect trafficked people.
Traffickers use coercion, deception and violence to take people away from their families and force them to work against their will. Families are approached directly with promises of money and better lives, sometimes children are simply abducted. Other victims are recruited through agencies that offer well-paid jobs, make the travel arrangements and help them to obtain travel documents. They are subsequently told they owe the traffickers money for their trip as a way of forcing them to work. Often traffickers make threats against family and friends to ensure their victims do not try to escape.
The campaign website, www.stophumantraffic.org contains stories of people from around the world trafficked into agricultural work, domestic labour and prostitution. On-line postcards are being used to spread the word about the Stop Human Traffic campaign. The cards are based on holiday postcards, but there's a twist... Visit the site to find out more.
Because of its hidden nature it is impossible to obtain accurate numbers for people trafficked. At an absolute minimum, hundreds of women and children are trafficked into the UK each year, but the figure is likely to be higher. A US Government report estimates that at least 700,000 people are trafficked globally each year.
In the UK there is currently no law against trafficking. Police are often unaware of the problem and those that know of it are virtually powerless to prosecute traffickers. Trafficked people are often treated as criminals and detained or punished while the trafficker goes unpunished. One 15-year-old girl from Nigeria was held in police custody for five days and then in a detention centre for five months. Others are simply deported back home where they may face reprisals from traffickers and are at risk of being re-trafficked.
The UK Government says that it plans to introduce comprehensive anti-trafficking legislation "as soon as possible". Anti-Slavery International is campaigning to ensure the new law includes adequate measures to protect victims and put their human rights at the centre of any policy against trafficking.
We are asking the UK Government to make combating trafficking a matter of priority by introducing legislation which makes all forms of trafficking in human beings a criminal offence and funding a specialised agency to provide support to victims, including appropriate accommodation, medical, psychological and legal assistance. Furthermore, all victims who are at risk of being attacked or trafficked again must be allowed to stay in the country to which they have been trafficked.
If you would like further information, and to find out how you can get involved in the campaign, visit the Anti-Slavery International website www.stophumantraffic.org