The report – the findings of which have been endorsed by police, lawyers and charities – warned that the UK focuses too much on law enforcement and not enough on victim support, leading people who experience modern slavery to distrust authorities and fail to come forward for help.
Despite this over-focus on enforcement, the number of prosecutions and convictions for human trafficking was substantially lower in the UK than elsewhere.
Further, trafficking survivors receive more financial, legal and pastoral support in other countries, and receive a clearer immigration status that helps them to feel more secure in their right to stay.
For instance, in America victims are eligible for a “T-visa”, which provides them with the right to remain so long as they cooperate with the authorities to investigate and prosecute their captors.
But in the UK, only 12 per cent of victims are granted leave to remain, and while trafficked people in Britain are eligible for just 45 days of “move-on” support (such as accommodation, counselling, advice and advocacy), in other countries they are offered help for as long as they need it.
Head of the Human Trafficking Foundation, Kate Roberts, told the Independent: “This report confirms what the police, survivors themselves and those who provide direct support have been saying for some time, that for survivors to be able to come forward and give evidence against the criminals who exploited them they need to be safe.
“When we think about the control and coercion which constitutes slavery anything else is unrealistic. People in slavery have been taught not to speak to the authorities, and that doing so puts them at risk of removal from the UK or of retribution to them or their families.
“This is why the UK needs a clear offer to victims – that they will be safe, that their interests will be protected and that they will be given options.”
The study was authored by legal experts funded by the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust and compared the UK’s approach to that in the US, Belgium and the Netherlands.