Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Funding cuts, sex trafficking and Ashton Kutcher

This piece originally appeared on the Fresh Outlook:

Three news stories caught my attention last week, all around the horrific crime and tragedy of sex trafficking.

The first was the news that the Poppy Project, a charity that forms part of Eaves Housing, had lost out on a grant for £6 million to help victims of sex trafficking to the Salvation Army. Eaves Housing has accused this decision of being ideologically motivated, and that rather than investing in the specialist service that the Poppy Project has been developing for eight years, the government want “a bare minimum service”.

Of course it is a nightmare scenario having to choose which charity is 'more worthy' of receiving funding, and by condemning this decision, no-one is wanting to say that the Salvation Army do not do incredibly good work in the charitable sector. However, concerns have rightly been raised over this decision, particularly as the Poppy Project is a specialised service with plenty of experience in assisting victims of sex trafficking; as well as raising questions over the Salvation's Army's policies towards a woman's right to choose, although I should point out here that the charity has said that they “provide holistic care for all those who come under the auspices of our care”. The other issue is a question of need. Women's sector charities such as Eaves and Women's Aid experience real problems getting the public to reach into their pockets to fund the vital work they do. They are therefore very dependent on funding from the government, local councils and trusts. The Salvation Army has a much higher profile, meaning that, although they too need funding, they are more visible and more likely to get money from an individual's wallet.

Abigail Stepnitz, national co-ordinator of the Poppy Project has estimated that without the grant, they will have to cut funding by 60% per victim. This means that they will struggle to provide the psychological, as well as basic, support to women when they most need it. Women who have escaped sex trafficking need legal, psychological and practical support, from finding safe housing to medical care, to counselling, to legal advice on their immigration status in the UK if they have been trafficked into the country from abroad. Without the support of the Poppy Project, many of this country's most vulnerable women will find themselves without the support they most urgently need, from women who specialise in giving it.

This news came days after a Moldovan woman won substantial damages from the Home Office who deported her back to Moldova after she was arrested in a brothel without official immigration papers. She had been trafficked at the age of 14, and was arrested when she was 21. Despite her being in danger of future violence, she was put into detention, where her trafficker was able to visit her in the guise of her boyfriend with the express purpose to intimidate her, before she was deported. Back in Moldova, her trafficker found her, tortured her and then trafficked her straight back into the sex industry. This is the reality for the trafficking victim. Violence, degradation and then the risk of deportation, leading to more violence. Without groups like the Poppy Project, how many more women will find themselves in this situation?

The woman told the Guardian:

"I think the police should work better to stop this. Why don't you shut down saunas and brothels? Then there would be no prostitutes, no pimps… If the government cared it would not be closing the Poppy Project. They don't care."

The minister responsible for the funding decision said that the Salvation Army had the stronger application, offering services to men escaping traffickers too. It is of course vital that we recognise that men are victims of trafficking too, and that we help and support men and boys to escape trafficking, however, we must also remember that it is overwhelmingly women who are victims, with estimates that 80% of trafficked people are women (Stop the Traffik). Therefore we need services like the Poppy Project to survive, offering as it does specialist, women-only services with a track record of working with survivors of extreme sexual violence, understanding what it is women need to recover and lead the lives they want to lead.

The third news story was the launch of a video campaign from the Demi and Ashton foundation, a charity set up by the movie stars to combat the sex trafficking of children. Again, any charity that seeks to raise awareness and money for this issue should be lauded, but, unfortunately, the video campaign they have launched is confusing, and says nothing about the realities of the horror of sex trafficking. Instead, Ashton and his celeb pals are filmed in “funny” situations, refusing to wash their socks, or shaving with a chainsaw. The tag line – 'Real men love a close shave' or 'Real men wash their own laundry', is followed by the pay off 'Real men don't buy girls'. The message is unclear and the impact is lost. We learn that nice guys don't pay to rape women. We learn that 'real men' don't pay to rape women. But the facts, the stories of the women, the reality of trafficking is lost in a quick laugh and then a muddling slogan.

I think it is fantastic that a charity has been set up to support victims of trafficking. It's great that social media is being used to spread the message. But next time, give us the facts. Because at the moment, it's celebrities doing fun tricks, whilst somewhere, another teenager is losing her freedom.

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