Kirsty Davies finds human trafficking to be a disputed problem in Wales
A recent Cardiff Council enquiry found there are up to sixty trafficked women in the city at any one time. However, the number of cases is disputed. Detective Superintendent Stuart McKenzie, of South Wales Police, has said that current intelligence does not indicate human trafficking is prevalent in Wales. On the other hand a recent police tribunal heard that a detective was told to ignore allegations of sex trafficking and rape. Detective Constable Jennifer Coleman, who is suing the police under whistle blower laws, says she believed South Wales Police did not want her pass on information about trafficking because it might have led to an expensive joint force investigation.
Meanwhile, the Welsh Government has appointed Bob Tooby, a former high ranking police officer, to fight human trafficking, a decision that has been criticised by Pete Clark, of Terence Higgins Trust Cymru. He said the money would be better spent helping existing sex workers.
Quite why the agencies on the ground are providing anecdotal evidence of trafficked women while the police and others are claiming that the problem is not widespread is hard to pin down. It may have something to do with the secret nature of the crime, the language barriers that trafficked women have to overcome to articulate their plight, and a fear of deportation.
Through the course of Cardiff Council’s inquiry, it received information from a variety of internal and external witnesses, including a good practice example from Glasgow City Council. Given the ‘hidden’ nature of the crime, trafficking for sexual exploitation is near impossible to quantify.
The Cardiff inquiry found there is often a lack of evidence, which makes it hard for Councils and partner organisations to act.
Cathy Owens, of Amnesty International said a debate was needed about whether the sex trade in Wales had been ‘legitimised’. “People would be hugely surprised if they knew that not far away from them there is the potential of women being seriously abused here in Cardiff,” she said.
A representative of Black Association of Women Step Out, an all-Wales charity for women from ethnic minorities, said it had cared for 22 trafficking victims at a safe house at a secret location in Wales.
Cardiff Councillor Neil McEvoy has been criticized by Cardiff’s Sex Workers Forum, backed by Welsh universities and charity workers, for ‘ill informed’ comments regarding the sex trade in Cardiff. According to the Forum Cllr McEvoy’s desire to close down brothels in an attempt to clamp down on trafficking is counterproductive. It fears that sex workers will be forced back out into the street.
Cardiff Council’s trafficking enquiry heard that brothels are among the safest places for trafficked women to work. Unfortunately, however, they are normally kept in flats or houses with little access to the outside world.