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Trafficking is an abuse of basic rights, with organised criminals preying on vulnerable people to make money. In most cases, victims are brought to the UK from abroad, but we know that trafficking also occurs within the UKâ€¦ (Home Office, 2012). Human trafficking therefore includes not only the importation of adults and children into the United Kingdom (UK) for exploitation purposes, but internal trafficking between cities in the UK. Trafficking can also be classed as the movement of perpetrators to target victims. Humans are trafficked mainly for sexual and labour exploitation although there are other reasons such as organ donation and surrogacy and it is suggested that "human trafficking is the fastest growing form of slavery today" (Guardian, 2011); highlighting the extent of the problem (UNIAP, 2012).
The Society of Local Authority Chief Executives (SOLACE) describes five roles for social workers in trafficking: victim identification, victim support, assistance with victim repatriation, prevention of trafficking and working in partnership (Chorley, 2012). How far technologies including the internet and mobile phones have impacted on these roles and exacerbated the trafficking problem is considered here whilst acknowledging the gaps in technology and research. The main focus of this essay is child trafficking but adult trafficking is also referenced.
Technology can play a positive role in tackling trafficking through raising awareness and understanding; the internet enables organisations like the NSPCC to highlight their response to the problem; government guidance is available to access online and call lines offer advice and information. However, it is a moot point whether these approaches are as effective in tackling the issue as technology has been in exacerbating it.
There are numerous definitions of trafficking, varying considerably between organisations and countries which cause difficulties in ensuring a universal understanding of what 'trafficking' is and how it needs to be targeted (Rigby, 2011). The most universally accepted definition of human trafficking was put forward in the United Nations Protocol in 2000, which was the first time human trafficking had been considered under international law:
â€¦the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation (United Nations, 2000)
The Palermo Protocol identifies an important difference between adult and child trafficking whereby force or coercion is not required for a child to be considered as a victim of trafficking (Norris, 2008). Even though s/he may have given verbal consent, under UK law anyone under 18 years is viewed as unable to consent to trafficking.
Trafficking within the UK for sexual exploitation can result in up to 14 years imprisonment and trafficking into the UK for sexual exploitation is also a criminal offence (s.57 and s.58 Sexual Offences Act 2003). However despite being prohibited under UK and international law, thousands of people are still trafficked to and within the UK every year (Guardian, 2011). It is difficult to identify the exact numbers but it has been suggested that 2.45 million people are victims every year, fifty percent being children (ECPAT UK, 2012). In 2009 just under 50,000 human victims were identified worldwide - a 59 per cent increase from the year before (Office of Justice Programs, 2011). The Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) highlights that 300 child trafficking victims are identified in the UK per year (CEOP, 2011). The figures are estimations, but it is widely accepted that the number of victims who are found and supported is a tiny fraction of the whole and trafficking has been termed the 'hidden issue' (Barnardos, 2012).
Human trafficking is believed to be one of the world's fastest growing criminal activities. Globalisation is a key factor and technology such as the internet has made a massive contribution to this enabling people to communicate with each other to a degree and frequency impossible before the technological revolution. Research indicates that 95 per cent of 12-15 year olds in the UK have internet access at home (CEOP, 2011) and it is purported that facebook is used by one billion people every month, or one in every seven people in the world (Guardian, 2012).
Trafficking is very much under the radar therefore it is difficult to understand all the ways in which technology is being used to support trafficking. Technology is developing so quickly, traffickers will find new avenues to exploit people which will likely not be detected by the outside world for some time. However, we do know that the internet makes trafficking easier for abusers as they can use it to promote trafficking, coerce and groom victims (Boyd et al, 2012). They may use the internet to recruit or sell victims, or purchase victims from others.
Children are increasingly vulnerable to becoming victims of exploitation (Home Office, 2012) and online grooming has become a massive problem. Grooming is generally for sexual exploitation purposes and Safeguarding Children Who May Have Been Trafficked discusses trafficking within the UK in terms of sexual exploitation only (Home Office, 2011). The internet has a number of attractions which face to face grooming does not and has made the process easier for those wanting to target children; "it provides access to countless children in a relatively anonymous environment" (Dombrowski et al, 2007, p.155). Perpetrators can use the internet to target a number of victims at one time and can use various methods to do so e.g. through chat rooms, blogs, email or social networking sites (Davidson and Gottschalk, 2010).
In 2009-2010 25% of over 6000 incidents reported to the CEOP referred to grooming (CEOP, 2009). Grooming can take place without the internet however, the majority of these grooming cases reported by the CEOP occurred online via MSN, facebook and Windows Live Messenger (CEOP, 2009). As stated "it is relatively rare for an offender to use immediate physical coercion to force a child to submit to abuse because this is a high risk strategy" (Gillespie, 2008, p. 57). Whereas grooming offline is often a longer process, online grooming enables sophisticated methods whereby the perpetrator can adopt different personas at one time to suit the situation (CEOP, 2009). The perpetrator may try to obtain emotional control over the child by showing them affection, blackmailing them and making threats via the internet (Gillespie, 2008). In some instances, naked pictures will be used to blackmail the victim into keeping their contact a secret from family and friends (Davidson and Gottschalk, 2010). The CEOP has recognised a rise in the number of indecent pictures which children have taken of themselves and in 2009-2010 findings suggested that in 40 per cent of grooming cases, offenders use webcams to abuse children (CEOP, 2009). Organised paedophile rings will use the internet to target children or upload indecent videos or pictures of child abuse. It must be acknowledged that online groomers have different agendas and will not always attempt to meet the victim however when they do, according to CEOP the most common targets on the internet are facebook and MSN (CEOP, 2009). Once the perpetrator has established a relationship with the victim online they may encourage them to run away from home and take them to other towns or cities for sexual exploitation purposes (Internal Trafficking, 2008).
Although the term 'grooming' is mainly used in relation to children the same tactics can be used with adults and would be of interest to social workers for example in relation to vulnerable adults with learning difficulties or mental health issues. Some UK adults have been trafficked for forced labour and most of the men identified were vulnerable as they were homeless, had drug and alcohol problems or mental health problems (Chorley, 2012).
There are a number of reasons why children put themselves at risk online. Children who are in care or have troubled lives at home may desperately want attention. Children who have had a stable upbringing with loving parents are also vulnerable to online grooming made more difficult to identify due to the 'digital divide', however, research using Agnew's 'General Strain Theory' suggests that children who have experienced maltreatment are more likely to engage in risky behaviours such as substance misuse or running away from home thus leading to problems like trafficking (Reid, 2010). This can also be applied to risky behaviour online so children already known to social workers will be at increased risk from all sources of exploitation and may not even regard such exploitation as problematic.
Everyday use and acceptance of social networking makes it difficult to be clear when abusive relationships are developing, even for children already known to social care. The proliferation of, and easy access to indecent images means that the number of children (and adults) at risk of sexual exploitation is huge and the identification of victims is difficult as fear of humiliation or censure will mean individuals are less likely to speak out even where they themselves may be unhappy with the situation.
The internet can be used in other ways to target victims. Adults and children who have been trafficked into the UK for example are advertised online usually for prostitution purposes or pornography. These advertisements (particularly when related to children) are often encoded (encryption technologies) so are virtually impossible to detect by professionals or the general public. As Gillespie (2008, p.112) states "the advantage of technology is a degree of anonymity that it brings to offenders". Before the internet, accessing child pornography was significantly more unattainable and undoubtedly more risky (Quayle and Taylor, 2002). Although these advertisements may have started off relatively low key, this type of pornography has exacerbated as demand has increased (Gillepsie, 2008).
Technology has also contributed to labour exploitation which is becoming more prevalent in trafficking from abroad. Victims are recruited online particularly in countries such as Poland where the internet is used widely for search of employment (Sykiotou, 2007). As the government strategy on human trafficking outlines "recent trends suggest that trafficking for labour exploitation could become more prevalent than other forms of trafficking" (HM Government, 2011, p.5). Another form of exploitation which is becoming increasingly common is 'gardening', a term used for individuals (mainly young Vietnamese boys) forced into cannabis cultivation (CEOP, 2011). Research indicates that this is on the rise as a high number of cannabis farms have been found around the UK in the last year (ECPAT, 2012). This may indicate an over focus on sexual exploitation and neglect of other types by organisations. Technology may have exacerbated 'gardening' however there is a lack of research into this area which makes it difficult to identify how far it has impacted.
Although grooming may occur in countries where children are trafficked to the UK such as Africa, Eastern Europe and South East Asia, most of them will be recruited in other ways (Home Office, 2011). The majority of adults and children recruited from abroad are promised a more prosperous life in the UK. Victims who are trafficked into the UK have often come from undeveloped countries or impoverished backgrounds (HM Government, 2011) therefore they may not have access to the internet or may not require this form of entrapment. Parents sometimes allow their children to be taken (usually unknowingly by traffickers) in the hope they will have a better life (Somerset, 2001). This may be all the persuasion they need. Equally, families may be involved in the exploitation. Other children and adults may be fleeing war or abuse. Technology may not be as prominent in recruiting victims from abroad, but will likely be a feature throughout the exploitation.
Mobile phones enable abusers to have continuous contact with victims. Many children being trafficked into the UK arrive at the border with no documentation or money but do have a mobile phone (HM Government, 2011). Smartphones are now available which not only have the devices enabling calling and texting, but also allow video messaging and photo taking to occur very easily. Research indicates that over two in five 12-15 year olds own a Smartphone in the UK (CEOP, 2011). They also enable assess to the internet on the go. This makes it easier for the victim and perpetrator to exchange exploitative photos or videos to be used either as blackmail or to sell to others. The recent case in Rochdale where a group of men exploited, and in some cases trafficked young girls for sexual exploitation, illustrates how the girls were lured off the streets with alcohol, drugs and food. One of the victims described how she would be contacted by the perpetrators on her mobile phone whilst at school and encouraged to leave and meet them (BBC News, 2012).
The Strategic Threat Assessment 2010 identified that a considerable amount of children who are suspected to be victims of trafficking go missing from local authority care (Cee et al, 2012). Harris and Robinson (2007) highlighted that of sixty children trafficked to the UK, over half went missing within a week of arrival. The easiest option would seem to be to remove the technology (e.g. mobile phone) however this poses moral and ethical issues. Article 13 of the 'UN Convention on the Rights of the Child' states that children have a right to seek and receive all kinds of information (UNICEF, 2012). The principles of the convention are evident in the Children Act, and this Article can be applied to technology. However, restricting and monitoring children's use of technology should not be viewed as a restriction of their rights and the convention supports this if it is necessary (Berry, 2010).
The mobile phone is not the reason trafficked children disappear from care, but it does contribute as it enables the perpetrator and victim to keep in contact. An underlying issue is that accommodation provided by the local authority is often not appropriate or 'safe' for the individual who has been or is deemed at risk of being trafficked (BBC News, 2012). Ideally children would be placed in foster care, however they often end up in residential care homes leaving them with very little protection and meaning they can easily get 'lost' in the system. A combination of technology, limited resources and lack of knowledge/awareness leads to trafficking and exploitation continuing even when social workers become involved.
However social workers have a key role to play and could potentially have an exceptionally positive impact on trafficked children through empowerment and support (Cree et al, 2012). They need to be aware of the risks to children in care, to empower children and take steps to protect them by undertaking a comprehensive assessment of risk and need, developing positive relationships, maintaining regular contact and establishing a range of strong social supports for those at risk of trafficking. Government guidance indicates that, when a local authority becomes aware of a child who is a suspected victim of trafficking, they should decide within 24 hours whether to complete an initial assessment and possibly initiate a s.47 child protection enquiry (Children's Act 1989, 2004) (HM Government, 2011). The Assessment Framework concerns family social relationships; emotional warmth; stability and social integration which may all increase the child's vulnerability to exploitation. This assessment becomes significantly more difficult if the child does not want support - made more likely if a child has been groomed or is experiencing trauma bonding.
Additional, problems exist in supporting children who are trafficked from abroad. Difficulties can arise even in identification of child victims because of age assessments and cultural barriers which impact on both effective assessment and intervention. In addition many victims' brought into the UK exhibit signs of 'trauma bonding' whereby the psychological trauma they have experienced leads them to form an attachment to the perpetrator (Rigby, 2011). These bonds are not easy to break and mean that victims are unwilling to speak out against the perpetrator and do not want to engage in the support being offered. Language barriers, secondary trauma, asylum and immigration issues and changing stories all contribute to a child's complex circumstances, which may lead to agencies passing "the problem" onto others or taking shortcuts rather than appropriately intervening as they may feel unequipped to do so (Pearce, 2011). Social workers must be equipped to overcome these obstacles in order to be successful. It is probable that children trafficked into the UK have come from a life of poverty, war, lack of education etc in search of better circumstances (Pearce, 2011). They are likely to have suffered psychological abuse or physical harm and social workers have a responsibility to understand the nature and prevalence of trafficking in its various forms, to be alert to the risks for the vulnerable children and adults they work with and persist in the face of difficulties to gain victims' trust.
The internet can enable social workers and other professionals to become more equipped to deal with these complex situations. The government is working to tackle trafficking for example through the Human Trafficking Strategy (2011). People who suspect or know of anyone being trafficked can report this to the UK Human Trafficking Centre (UKHTC). The CEOP was established in 2006 by the government to focus on eradicating child sexual exploitation. An aim was to develop and implement a "one stop shop' for internet-related issues that had an impact on the safety and security of children and young people online" (Home Office, 2010, p. 8). The CEOP provides statistics of child exploitation, thus offering valuable insights as well as providing training to build up intelligence; it also identifies 'wanted' child sexual abusers on its website (CEOP, 2011). In addition ECPAT UK uses its website to offer training to police and social workers to raise awareness, understanding and meet the support needs of children who have been trafficked (ECPAT UK, 2012).
Technology can support partnership working to help address trafficking, making it easier to liaise with partners such as the police, UK Border Agency, immigration, health to identify and safeguard victims. Technologies can also help social workers assisting with victim repatriation by tracing and enabling communication with victim's families. However, social workers must be aware of risk factors and not presume that trafficked children have supportive families or safe environments to return to.
When there is a risk of abusive content, there are technologies available for example protective systems such as parental locks can be accessed online to prevent children from accessing certain websites. However the internet is so accessible in the UK a child is likely to be able to get onto these sites whether at a friend's house, school or via their mobile phone. Also since it is children who have suffered an unstable upbringing who are more likely to put themselves at risk, their parents may be less inclined to take such actions to protect their children. Similarly, when children are in local authority care, professionals may not monitor children to ensure they are not putting themselves at risk online or continuing to be exploited. Monitoring children's activity can help social workers protect children, for example using social networking sites to identify if a child is liaising with older males. When a child is not engaging with social care, sites such as facebook can be extremely revealing and social workers should be proactive in using these technologies.
Mobile phones can also be integrated into anti trafficking efforts; "several anti trafficking initiative are harnessing mobile-phone penetration rates to educate consumers about human trafficking using mobile phone applications" (Human Trafficking Online, 2012). Some projects inform consumers about types of trafficking via mobile phone applications (Human Trafficking Online, 2012).
It is difficult to identify how far technology has exacerbated trafficking given its hidden nature, the rapid developments in technology and limited research into the issue.
Technology has played a key role in the recognition and fight against trafficking through campaigns, training and awareness raising from online organisations such as the CEOP and UKHTC. However "not much is known about the benefits of technology's role - we don't know if there are more human trafficking victims as a result of technology or if law enforcement can identify perpetrators better as a result of the trace they leave" (Boyd et al, 2012).
Despite this, it is undeniable there have been significant changes in the way we live in recent years influenced by the growth of technologies as well as the reduction in the cost of international travel which have produced changes in the threat to young people (Home Office, 2010). The widespread use of technology has exacerbated exploitation and mobile phones and the internet are used in numerous ways to engage children and vulnerable adults in the UK and abroad for sexual and labour purposes.
Arguably, social workers and other professional would experience challenges in responding to trafficking irrespective of the contribution of technology. Dilemmas of identification; trauma bonding; engagement and age assessments for example are core to the nature of exploitation and trafficking. However social work roles around identification, support, assistance, prevention, and partnership working are all further challenged by the scale and hidden nature of the problem which technologies have greatly exacerbated.
In addition we know that few perpetrators of trafficking are criminally convicted in the UK. This may be as a result of victims not wanting to speak out against their abuser but there are other suspected reasons why child trafficking is not being investigated and enquiries are not progressed by the police. Arguably there is a lack of knowledge surrounding trafficking and professionals are "often not well equipped to deal with complex cases with an international dimension" (ECPAT UK, 2012
Trafficking of adults and children, within the UK and from abroad is a complex and multifaceted issue and the effectiveness of responses to the problem are limited both by gaps in technology and gaps in research. If trafficking of children and adults is to be effectively challenged and contained by government, police, social workers and other professionals, researchers need to acknowledge it as a serious and growing concern requiring more study. Further research is required to better understand the nature of trafficking, the role technology plays in trafficking and how technology can support its future management and reduction.