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Trafficked women left with no protection in UK prisons, study finds

6th February 2013

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A University of Cambridge Study has found that trafficked women are extremely vulnerable in UK prisons.

Females who have been trafficked into the UK to work as prostitutes, drug mules or domestic servants can end up in prison lacking the help they need, whilst traffickers walk free.

Responding to the study into trafficking, Prison Reform Trust director Juliet Lyon, said: "It is shameful that terrified women who have been repeatedly raped and abused could find no one at police stations, courts or jails that they could trust or turn to for help."

Women who have been forced to work in brothels may have been imprisoned for crimes they were forced to commit.  

Nearly half of the women were forced to work in prostitution and 15 had been made to work in producing cannabis, the report by Professor Loraine Gelsthorpe and Dr Liz Hales found.

Others had been forced into domestic service, travelling as drug mules, street robberies and the sale of fake goods.

24 of the trafficked women who had been imprisoned claimed to have been raped multiple times and asked prison doctors for help with severe abdominal pains, heavy bleeding and discharge following extensive rape and sexual abuse.

Prof Gelsthorpe, at Cambridge's Institute of Criminology, said: "There should be renewed efforts to recognise that 'offenders' can also be 'victims', and to ensure that appropriate credence is given to women's accounts of their own experience.”

There were 616 foreign national women in prison, as at the end of September, accounting for one in seven of the total female prison population.

In 2009 guidelines were introduced by the National Referral Mechanism to identify victims of human trafficking and ensure they receive appropriate protection and support.

Only 11 women had been dealt with according to NRM advice.

Parliamentary recommendations will be covered for a national strategy on foreign national women in prison and better monitoring of the UK's obligations under international law.

A Government spokesperson said: "We are working harder to identify victims of trafficking earlier.

"We are doing this by raising awareness of how to identify victims, providing expert training to law enforcement officers and providing £2 million a year to help and support victims, including those identified in either the Prison or Probation service.”

The report's findings will be debated on Wednesday 5th January by MPs and peers at a seminar in the House of Lords convened by the Prison Reform Trust.

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