Britain’s efforts to stop human trafficking are in a state of crisis and need a complete overhaul, a report from a think tank says.
The Centre for Social Justice says the problem in the UK is barely understood and is often a low priority for police.
It wants an anti-slavery commissioner established and the UK Border Agency to be stripped of powers to decide whether a person has been a trafficking victim.
The government says the current Home Office-led approach is working.
Seven government departments have some responsibility for dealing with human trafficking, but the report says this leads to confusion.
The CJS report called It Happens Here is due to be published on Monday and says there is a glaring lack of leadership on the issue and a shambolic misunderstanding of trafficking.
Researchers found from construction sites to brothels, large numbers of trafficked people were being exploited, but their fate never appeared in official statistics.
Agencies are accused of struggling to understand the scale of the problem.
In 2012, the UK Human Trafficking Centre said approximately 1,200 people were victims of human traffickers, a figure the CSJ says is virtually meaningless.
“From top to bottom, this thing is a catastrophic failure,” says Christian Guy, head of the CSJ.
“Politically, I’m afraid ministers are clueless about the scale of British slavery.”
Fear of violence
One man who is not is 26-year-old Mark Ovenden.
The report highlights the case of two UK-born school girls it says were the “victims of modern slavery within the UK”.
A group of young men met Jess and Hannah and began to flatter and treat them.
Before long, the girls were pressured and forced into performing sexual acts on the men and their older friends.
One weekend the girls were driven to a flat and told that they must have sex with whoever arrived at the property. Jess was menstruating and so was forced to sit outside the room but over the weekend Hannah was raped by 90 men.
Names have been changed. Case study submitted to the Centre for Social Justice by the UK Human Trafficking Centre
He spent nine months being enslaved by his boss, first at various locations around southern England before being taken to Sweden, where he was eventually freed by police.
“I’d been down on my luck for quite some time,” he told Radio 4’s The World This Weekend programme.
“I was approached in the street one day by a guy. He asked me if I was looking for any work, told me he’d be able to pay me, give me somewhere to live, to feed me. So I agreed there and then to go with him.”
During a two-month stay at one site, he worked 18 hours per day, six days per week, doing heavy manual labour. He was not paid a penny.
“No-one ever spoke about money” on the site he says, and the constant threat of violence made him fearful.
A sense of isolation and a growing dependence on his boss for shelter and a daily meal reduced his desire to escape.
“When you are deprived of money for a job, you become dependent on them for your food, your transport, for everything,” says Mark.
“A lot of the guys… were calling men half their age ‘daddy’ almost as though they’d been degraded over a period of years.”
He says he was unwilling to go to the police in the UK to report his plight as he did not think they would treat him sympathetically.
He may well be right, according to the CSJ report.