My Lords I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord McColl, on introducing this significant Bill so effectively. It reminds us that this abhorrent practice is still tragically widespread in this country and, as I have personally witnessed, in many other countries around the world.
I recently had the privilege of becoming friends with a young woman, Caitlin—that is a pseudonym. Her life story has just been published in a book entitled, Please, Let Me Go, in which she courageously describes how, from the age of 14, for many years she was groomed, sexually exploited and trafficked around this country by gangs of men. She says:
“I have flashbacks all the time. It started when I was so young and to be honest, I’m not even sure it’s over. They have done so much damage to me—emotionally, physically, psychologically, that I think I am probably broken beyond all repair”.
She also describes serious failures by the police and social services to help her in her desperate need.
Even for those victims who are able to receive more appropriate support, the provisions in new Section 48B are needed because so much evidence shows that the positive impact of the current support and protection is undermined by its sharp cut-off after such a short period. Article 12 of the Council of Europe’s convention on trafficking is clear that victims need support for their physical, psychological and social recovery far beyond the reflection and recovery period. This need has also been advocated by the Council of Europe’s group of experts report in 2016, by the latest United States State Department Trafficking in Persons Report 2017, and by the Government’s NRM review in 2014.
New Sections 48B and 48C will ensure that victims are connected with the support and services they need during the year after they are identified as a victim, to help them to reintegrate into society here in the UK or in their country of origin. The services will include safe accommodation and counselling and/or medical treatment; there will be an opportunity to learn language or job skills and even gain work experience. But without that year’s support, there are so many risks that victims will be exploited once again. As Caitlin says in her poignant book:
“I was trapped. I’d been raped so many times, abused by hundreds, if not thousands... And I always came back—they always brought me back”.
The book describes in heart-wrenching detail the vulnerability of victims to persistent, brutal and repeated rape, abuse and sexual slavery and trafficking in this country.
I turn briefly to the situation for victims from abroad. A 2010 report from the International Organization for Migration reported that,
“trafficked persons, on return to their countries of origin, are often met by similar economic and social situations which made them vulnerable to trafficking in the first instance”,
“trafficked persons are vulnerable to re-trafficking relatively soon after exiting a trafficking situation”.
The 12-month support period promoted by this Bill will provide time for a risk assessment of the situation a victim might be returning to in their country of origin and will enable a victim to be connected to local support networks in their home country before they return.
During the Modern Slavery Bill debates, I was very concerned about the situation of the tied visa for overseas domestic workers. Sadly, the new visa arrangement still leaves them with inadequate time to find a new position and apply for the new visa in the 14 days they can stay in the safe house. This Bill would also help fill that gap. The Modern Slavery Act introduced significant measures, but it is now essential to build on these by helping people make the transition from victim to survivor, to reintegrate into society and to be enabled to lead full and more rewarding lives. Therefore, I am very pleased to support the Bill wholeheartedly.