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Crime and Punishment

THE BRIDGE Between Poverty, Sexual Abuse, And Trafficking

THE ABUSE of the working classes has got to stop, writes Shane Byers . A combination of poverty and globalization is fueling a worldwide trade in human suffering.

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Whether you call it human trafficking or modern day slavery, the facts are that this abomination is rooted in poverty and only serious investment into anti-poverty programmes can save the tens of millions of men, boys, but predominately women and girls who are facing sexual abuse and forced labour.

It is said that trafficking doesn’t discriminate, but that suggests that being poor doesn’t mean you’re any more likely to be abused or trafficked than anybody else. Sorry, but that doesn’t wash. There are at least six reasons why people living in poverty are more likely to be subjected to physical and sexual abuse; pimped out by ‘friends’ (or, worse still, junkie family members) and generally treated like cattle to be traded rather than as human beings.

UK Police and Immigration officers raid a house being used as a brothel for forced sex slaves.

First, there is a direct link between poverty, child marriage, and sexual abuse. According to UNESCO a shocking 25% of 15 to 24 years old across the globe quit their education after primary school level. That’s 116 million who will never have the skills to get a job and support themselves. That’s bad enough but, to back up the point of this article, UNESCO also say that secondary education would lead to two-thirds fewer child marriages. Whether those young girls are plucked out of school for the purpose of marriage or their parents force them into marriage because they wouldn’t be able to earn their own living, the point is moot. Poverty forces them into child marriage.

Research has shown that the younger a girl is when she gets married, the more likely she is to experience violence and the more severe and frequent that violence is likely to be.

Grooming gangs operate across England as well as the rest of the world. 

Second, poor women are trapped in relationships with abusive men. This applies just as much here in the UK as it does anywhere on the globe. People without a clue often ask why women stay with their abusers for so long. The full answer is complicated, but one element is blatantly simple to understand if you try: control. Even if a woman does have the skills to earn a living for herself, if you control her life so much that she can’t go to work and doesn’t have access to money, where is she going to go? How is she going to provide for her children? Women across the globe are also coerced into multiple pregnancies making them even less able to progress in their careers. With no means of looking after themselves outside of the relationship, women endure horrific physical and sexual abuse. What is true in a relatively civilized country as the UK is many more times true in the developing world.

A slave-trader is arrested in Britain.

Third, poor people are at higher risk of being groomed by traffickers. Take county lines – also known as child drug trafficking. Do you think the traffickers go door to door in Kensington trying to find a rich kid who wants to carry a package for ‘some Ps’? No, they are prowling the streets of Peckham, Brixton and Lewisham offering protection, self-esteem, and a way out of poverty. Hide a gun in your satchel and you get to throw mum a few K to help her make ends meet. Here’s a nice pair of trainers and if you’re a good lad there’s a Rolex with your name on it. For girls, the outcome is often worse still. They are showered with compliments and gifts at first, plied with drink and crack and finally made to ‘turn a few tricks’ in return. Refusal is met with violence. Some girls (and boys) are groomed for the sex trade even earlier – forced to sleep with strangers to fuel their parents’ drug habit. Or maybe they are just neglected so badly that they are preyed upon by the neighbourhood paedophile.

A child bride in Afghanistan.

Fourth, people who are abused at home are more likely to run away to escape their ordeal. Forced on to the street they turn to the only means they have to stay alive – selling their bodies. Whether its for shelter, food or the drugs and drink to numb the pain, the cost is always the same: sex and, more often than not, that comes with violence attached.

From poverty to sexual abuse to full-blown sexual trafficking, the bridge is clear to see. To make matters worse, these trafficked youngsters, whether they are caught picking pockets or prostituting themselves on street corners, are often treated as the criminals rather than the victims. Even where there are schemes to pardon petty crimes as a result of being trafficked, it is hardly surprising that the young person doesn’t believe they will be treated fairly.

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Fifth, people in poverty often have bad experiences with the law and institutions and don’t seek help. Take the estimated 50% of women who endure sexual harassment in the workplace. They want to contact a sexual harassment lawyer but all sorts of doubts enter their mind. What if they don’t believe me? What if they say it’s my fault? I could lose my job? My kids could be taken off me? What if the harassment attorney is crooked and makes me do things in return for their help? So they decide to just put up with the situation, attacked psychologically and maybe even physically, sometimes forced out of work completely. This is another reason why people in poverty (and we must remember men get abused to), don’t report domestic abuse. They worry that the police and social services may refuse to believe them. This is something the abuser will whisper in their ear constantly just in case they get any bright ideas.

Finally, with rich countries like the UK, the issue is mainly about distribution of wealth. However, in poor developing countries, the governments, even those that want to help, don’t have the money to spend on the infrastructure that would improve the situation for their vulnerable citizens. If there are not enough schools, no welfare system, limited job opportunities and poorly trained police, the chances for people on the lowest rungs of the ladder to escape poverty are practically non-existent. They are trapped with their child marriages, their abusive relationships and their corrupt officials.

Yes, on the surface traffickers don’t discriminate. To them, all human life is equally meaningless and as long as there’s a buyer, what do they care if the goods are white, black, Asian, male, female, gay, straight, rich or poor. But society does discriminate. Working class people left behind by globalisation are marginalised, their voices ignored, their fears about exploitation and the dark side of globalisation disregarded as the racist and prejudiced babbling of the uneducated. Global human trafficking does happen, and working class people and those referred to as the ‘underclass’ are much more likely to be abused and trafficked.

Yes, our governments need to invest in education, welfare, employment, social services and the rest but they also need to make sure that poor people aren’t falling through the net. They have to invest in those programmes that can bring people out of poverty, rebuild communities and support the victims of abuse and trafficking. Most of all they need to start listening to the voice of the ordinary people.

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