Trafficking in Women – the UK context

January 1, 1999


This report presents the findings of research carried out to assess the nature and extent of trafficking in women for the purposes of sexual exploitation and the law enforcement responses in the UK. This study is primarily based on a survey of police forces, placing this within the wider context of national and international law and policy. It estimates the number of women trafficked into conditions of sexual slavery, explores the ways in which they are trafficked and the responses of relevant agencies, especially law enforcement agencies, in tackling and preventing such trafficking.

Main Findings:

  1. Trafficking in women for the purpose of sexual exploitation is not amenable to traditional forms of data collection, but it is estimated, using various data, that during 1998 between 420 and 1,420 women were trafficked into the UK for this purpose.
  2. The majority of police forces have limited knowledge of, and thus give limited attention to trafficking and there is a danger that this unintentionally creates a climate of toleration for trafficking of women into and within the UK.
  3. Women trafficked for the purposes of prostitution are most likely to be found in ‘off-street’ locations that are seldom subject to regular monitoring.
  4. Trafficked women are viewed by the police as victims of crime and potential witnesses, whereas the immigration service views them as illegal entrants and potential deportees. An inherent conflict of interests persists between these competing policy remits which can only be resolved through greater clarity at policy level within the Home Office and government.
  5. The absence of a dedicated NGO providing support and advocacy for trafficked women is a serious gap in provision within the UK – a potential source of funding for such services could be the funds confiscated from traffickers and exploiters in successful prosecutions.
  6. At present the police and immigration service in the UK use existing law to prosecute traffickers and exploiters: the current legal framework requires modernising.

See Research Report: Stopping Traffic: Exploring the Extent of, and Responses to, Trafficking in Women for Sexual Exploitation in the UK

Grant Holder: CWASU

Sponsor: The Home Office

  • Project Team:
    Linda Regan, Liz Kelly