The Guardian reports that four women have received £140,000 between them after suffering a ‘sustained period of abuse’ at the hands of sex traffickers and (I’d like to make clear) the UK males who exploited them. This is the first case of its kind and should pave the way for thousands of other abused women and girls to be awarded financial support to help them start a new life.
The women who received £140,000 were smuggled from eastern Europe by British-based criminals using established international sex trafficking networks. One girl was illegally brought into the UK five years ago, aged 13. Another was trafficked in 2003 when she was 16. Both were kept prisoner by the same trafficking syndicate until they managed to escape at the start of last year.
According to lawyers, who have agreed to protect the identity of claimants, they were subject to ‘forced prostitution, multiple rapes and beatings’ while being held captive in the UK. In addition, their captors refused to give the victims money and warned they would be killed if they fled. The highest award was £62,000, the lowest £16,500.
The women have not been deported and it is looking as though future victims should have the right to remain in the UK temporarily now that the government plans to ratify the Council of Europe’s convention on action against trafficking. According to The Guardian, the development is likely to be politically controversial, with charges that offering help to trafficking victims could encourage illegal immigration. Ah yes, I’m sure those benefit-seeking, lazy Eastern European women will be just queueing up to be repeatedly raped and beaten in order for the chance to get their hands on our money and temporary legal status. Quite how there can be anything ‘controversial’ about not sending abused, vulnerable women and girls back to countries where there is no guarantee that they will be safe is beyond my comprehension, but I have no doubt that our dear friends in the right wing press will be up in arms as The Guardian predicts.
This is certainly a great step forward. I just hope that the government – and the public – will start to recognise that it is not just women and girls who have been trafficked that face violent abuse and exploitation, but those who were born in this country. Every single one of them deserves help.
Of course, this development does nothing to treat the causes of the abuse these women and girls face. As long as certain men – 1 in 10 men in the UK – think they have a right to access women’s bodies, as long as there is a demand for those bodies, trafficking will continue, prostitution will continue, and the ‘needs’ of the male will be put before the rights and well-being of women every single time. If you want to see an example of male entitlement to female bodies, google ‘punternet’*. It is a website that allows men to share and compare ‘field reports’ of prostitutes they have visited around the UK. While there are the obligatory reminders to call CrimeStoppers if a punter believes a woman or girl is being abused, the language used and attitudes displayed in the field reports suggest to me that they really couldn’t care less. One man’s reaction to confronting a woman about symptoms of an STD and her subsequent admittal and breaking down in tears results in no more than him walking out and advising other men not to use her. I couldn’t bear to read any more, but I am told that the police have read examples of field reports that clearly describe the rape of underage girls.
So, while compensation and support for trafficking victims, along with refuges and support services for all victims of prostitution are incredibly important, only a wholescale change in attitudes to sex, to women and to manhood will put an end to this horrendous suffering.
*If you can stomach reading any more contempt for women, the British Army Rumour Service forum thread that turns up on the first page of the google search contains some disgusting ‘jokes’ about the murder of women in Ipswich last year. The first is a picture of ‘The Serial Killer’s Advent Calendar’ featuring photos of the murdered women under the numbered flaps and the phrase ‘A sweetie under every number’. Because women are even more attractive when we’re dead.