As films are shown in York to highlight the issue of human trafficking, DCI Steve Smith of North Yorkshire police reveals it’s a problem on our doorstep
Human trafficking has been an increasing issue for police over the last 10 years. This includes issues for the City of York and North Yorkshire.
The national human trafficking centre was established in Sheffield in the mid Noughties and on the back of an investigation into sexual abuse of girls from Eastern Europe by other foreign nationals. That the unit was sited on our doorstep should tell us all that such criminal behaviour is going among us.
Nationally the police have established good networks with other organisations and charities to help these people and they do so in a professional and necessarily discrete manner.
What does trafficking look like?
It’s not an obvious or visible crime. In York and North Yorkshire it typically manifests itself in brothels. This is especially so where those working within those premises originate from China.
Similarly there have been many occasions county wide of discovering commercial cultivation of cannabis within houses and farm buildings where those gardening are Vietnamese.
The agriculture and rural economy combined with excellent road and rail networks make this city and county an ideal place to where trafficked people can be brought.
Figures of trafficking prosecutions are low nationally. That does not reflect the reality of the issue. We have successfully locally prosecuted foreign nationals for managing brothels where the working girls have been trafficked from China and the Far East.
The personal accounts of their lives in the 21st century, are – for us in England – hard to appreciate. Having paid thousands of pounds for the privilege of a road trip across Asia and Europe they were brought into England and told to start working off that debt as a cleaner.
Due to their inability to pay money they were ordered to work as prostitutes in brothels and were found as such in York.
A successful trafficking prosecution will normally require the victim to give evidence. That rarely and understandably happens. As police officers we can often prove other offences arising out of the circumstances and secure convictions. That delivers at least some justice to the victims.
The most important issue to remember in respect of trafficking for police, other organisations and the public is this: Trafficking involves people.
The victim is someone’s son, daughter, mother or father. Successful interventions enable people to regain control of their lives and make choices as to how they want to live. It’s the core foundation of policing even now – to protect life.
You can all help.
I hope the films stimulate your curiosity and desire to help your fellow men and women, to challenge what you see and to have confidence to ring in and report your concerns. Contact your local police or Crimestoppers.
Challenge yourself – what is behind the small column adverts for massage parlours? Where does the cannabis come from that people smoke?
Where do the people come from who I see working in the fields and on the farms?
Never underestimate the significance of such a phone call to the opportunity of a better life it may offer these victims.
- Detective Chief Inspector Steve Smith heads the organised crime unit at North Yorkshire Police, which tackles people trafficking among other crimes
- Traffik Free Zone: Combatting Modern Day Slavery In The UK is a series of four short films about modern day slavery showing at City Screen on Thursday, October 17
- For more details, see the City Screen website or read more on the site of anti-trafficking charity Unchosen