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Tech Tonic

Digital activism is permeating the anti-trafficking field. In an effort to raise awareness among a broad audience, social media, online petitions and websites such as the Slavery Map (intended to document global instances of slavery) and Slavery Footprint are being created to educate and involve the public in discussions on human trafficking. The latter website, for instance, is an interactive quiz that evaluates the extent to which the participant may be complicit in human trafficking activities in everyday life. Unfortunately, while the website taps into the oft-ignored issue of supply chains, it is accompanied by a “dramatic commercial depicting modern day slavery” that arguably detracts from the message delivered through the quiz. Cue the sex trafficked women and the cameo by Abraham Lincoln.

In any case, other impressive sounding tools, such as crowdsourcing (asking for ideas or donations from a large group of people using Facebook, for example), digital mapping (compiling data to create a virtual image, like the Slavery Map above), natural language processing (enabling computers to derive information from, for instance, advertisements for sex) and facial recognition have collided with efforts to intercept human trafficking. (more…)

Non-English speakers need not apply

Detective Chief Inspector Nick Sumner from the London Metropolitan Police spoke recently at a Home Office conference on labour exploitation and UK industry about a case in which he had achieved a recent prosecution. A Romanian man with mental health issues ended up in hospital as a result of the abuse suffered during his exploitation. However, the circumstances regarding his abusive treatment were not revealed to the medical professionals treating him as his exploiters accompanied him to hospital and were acting as his interpreters. When he was eventually found by a police officer, sometime later, wandering the streets after escaping the house where he was kept, she was unable to communicate with him. It was only upon contact with the Romanian embassy that the full extent of his experience became clearer. Worryingly, it was only at this point that the police became aware that a young girl was still in the house and had been horrifically exploited for several years. This scenario serves as an example in which language functions as an inhibitor to ‘rescue’ and perpetuated a method of control over victims. (more…)

Domestic matters: violence against women and human trafficking

The relationship between violence against women (VAW) and human trafficking is often taken for granted. Historic ties between the sexual exploitation of women, prostitution and trafficking resulted in a framework in which the two became intrinsically linked. Human trafficking is frequently subsumed under VAW, as in the 1993 UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women, while anti-trafficking campaigners, to varying degrees, re-tell trafficking victim stories through individual experiences of VAW. For instance, NotForSale, a US-based campaign group, relies on the imagery created through a victim’s subjection to violence and abuse: “Shaking with fear, the girls went into separate bedrooms, where the portly men raped them.” Hyperbole may reinforce a specific image of trafficking heavily reliant on situations of (predominately) women raped and abused in forced prostitution. The reality is that violence and the threat of violence, including psychological and emotional abuse, are recognized indicators of coercion – for all victims of trafficking. As a result, we often lose sight of an opportunity to examine the full range of actions, causes and consequences between these intersecting forms of victimization. Although this post is concerned with women, the violence and abuse experienced by men in situations of trafficking is an area for future examination. (more…)

En-abling protection? Part 2

Last week we examined the intersection between human trafficking and disability; we argued that this issue requires further attention in research, policy and legislative terms to ensure that states meet their commitments to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).  Now, we move to look at the application of the Convention to victims of trafficking.  This post also considers how states restrict the application of rights based on migration status and the consequential impact this has on the access to, and protection of, the rights of disabled victims of trafficking.  Finally, we consider the action that states need to take to improve the fulfilment of rights to this group.

The Convention contains a number of provisions relevant to victims of trafficking.  Firstly, Article 16 requires states take steps to protect those with disabilities from exploitation, violence and abuse.  Within this is the requirement that governments allocate assistance and support for disabled people to prevent exploitation, including education and information on exploitation.  Article 16 also recognises the additional discrimination which may be faced by disabled people on the basis of age and gender.  We argue that ethnic or community background should also be considered within this framework:  for example, the challenges faced by a disabled Roma woman may be significantly different from those faced by a white British disabled trafficking victim. (more…)

En-abling protection?

A significant day for the advancement of human rights in Singapore occurred on 30 November 2012: the signing of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).  For a country with a reputation for resisting engagement with international human rights instruments, this was a step forward.  Though the press release from the Ministry of Social and Family Development was positive, there was the usual reticence on the use of the language of rights. Perhaps indicative of Government’s attitude to the Convention’s implementation was the statement that: “Singapore agrees with the spirit of the Convention” (emphasis added), rather than any concrete plans to ratify the treaty or implement its obligations in legislation or policy terms.  Singapore’s lukewarm commitment to the treaty (and the rights of disabled people), combined with broader silence from a range of government agencies including the Inter-Agency Taskforce on Trafficking in Persons, highlights the lack of a  holistic and strategic approach to the rights of disabled people broadly and the rights of disabled victims of human trafficking specifically.

In this two-part post, we intend to delve into the intersection between human trafficking and disability.  Part One will focus on exploring the role of disability as a specific risk or vulnerability to trafficking, the challenges faced by this group from inequality and on the potential for protection provided by UNCRPD.  Part Two will examine the specific application of the Convention to victims of trafficking, the impact that unstable migration status may have on the ability of disabled victims to access the rights provided for by the CPRD and the action states need to take to improve the provision of rights to this group. (more…)