Common myths about modern slavery and human trafficking

1. All victims of modern slavery are smuggled into the UK and then exploited in within the hidden criminal underworld

Many people from across Europe, who are entitled under free movement conditions – to live and work in the UK have fallen victim to forms of criminal exploitation particularly within areas of low paid unskilled manual work and within the sexual services industry. These services often operate in plain sight and are fuelled by economic and legislative differences and market conditions across EU member states.

2. Human trafficking and people smuggling are the same thing

There are important differences between human trafficking and people smuggling. The main difference is the element of exploitation. People being smuggled as illegal migrants have usually consented to being smuggled. Trafficking victims have not consented, or have been tricked into consent.

What happens to each of them at the end of their journey will also be very different. The relationship between an illegal migrant and a people smuggler is a commercial transaction which ends on completion of the journey.

However for people who are trafficked, the purpose of the journey is to put them somewhere where they can be exploited for the sake of the traffickers’ profits. In many instances the enticement to cover travel costs creates an agreed debt bond between the victim and the trafficker which acts as a lever for increasing levels of exploitation once a victim is placed.

3. You cannot be a victim of trafficking if you gave your consent to be moved

Someone becomes a victim of trafficking not because of the journey they make but because of the exploitation they experience during or at the end of that journey.

Any consent they give to make the journey in the first place is likely to have been gained fraudulently, for example with the promise of a job or a better standard of living.

This is why the Palermo Protocol makes clear that human trafficking is about the three elements of the Act, the Means and the Purpose.

4. Trafficking only affects people from other countries

Whilst people smuggling always involves illegal border crossing and entry into another country, human trafficking for exploitation can happen within someone’s own country, including Britain.

5. Many trafficked women are already prostitutes

This is a common misconception. The majority of trafficking victims working as prostitutes will have been forced into it against their will. They have often been trafficked without their consent, deceived into consenting to the journey, or deceived about the kind of work they would be doing at the end of the journey. However, it is possible to criminally exploit a person who is a prostitute of their own choice.

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