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Kirsten Hornby
 
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Human Trafficking: the police need to know what it is.

26 March 2014, 12:02

Modern day slavery has become the second most lucrative illegal industry in the world, and it’s here - now. But the good news is that so are we. We know about it and we are beginning to do what we can to stop it. “Who do I mean when I say we?” you ask; well, good question. By “we” I mean every government that has responded by changing legislation and launching campaigns; every organisation which has dedicated themselves to see the need and to meet it; and most importantly, every single individual who has a heart for the justice and fair treatment  of others who has been willing to step out, make a phone call, tell a friend, or share a status which collaboratively has become a world-wide anti-trafficking movement which can (and will) bring freedom to people trapped in slavery and exploitation.

That is the big picture. But what is happening here in South Africa- In your city, your neighbourhood, your street?  Human Trafficking exists in South Africa in many different forms. It could be happening in that suspicious massage parlour down the road that’s open until 2am; it could be at that factory where workers don’t seem to come and go; or it could be happening at that traffic light where that young boy came to your window asking for change. It happens behind business fronts and in plain sight.  Because of how this illegal industry operates, traffickers can be brought to justice through you- and this is very good news to victims of human trafficking.

However, the best news for victims of trafficking in South Africa is something that the government has done:  the Prevention and Combating of Trafficking in Persons Act 7 of 2013 that was signed off by President Zuma in July 2013. This piece of legislation means (once it is thoroughly implemented later this year) that prosecution of trafficking cases will more likely result in the conviction of the trafficker. It also means that the victim will be distinctly identified as a victim of trafficking and be treated accordingly. However, this change is good news because this has not been happening in many cases up until this point. This is because police forces in South Africa have not been made properly aware of what human trafficking is, how to identify it and how to go through the correct procedures to ensure the best possible case for prosecution as well as the safety and fair treatment of the victims. Currently, human trafficking cases are commonly being misidentified as cases of migrant smuggling or other crimes that portray the victim to be the criminal. Because of this, these victims who have suffered and been exploited at the hands of their traffickers are criminalised a second time; and are often arrested, fined, and/or deported without ever being recognised as a victim or receiving any kind of psycho-social support for the trauma that they have endured. This is not justice and we cannot allow this to happen. However, this is not the fault of the SAPS (South African Police Service) because it is not owing to a lack of vigilance or acts of neglect; it is because human trafficking is a relatively newly defined crime which many police officers simply have never heard about before.

The wonderful thing is that through the implementation of the new anti-human trafficking legislation later this year, national training will be provided to the police force that will hopefully filter down to station level. However, we want to ensure that this awareness and knowledge is filtered down into every station, to every officer manning the front desk, those raiding reported crime scenes, or even going on patrol. We want to ensure that these police officers are given the tools they need to be able to identify victims, do something about the situation, and to make sure victims see justice. This way, the SAPS can make sure that victims are not criminalised for crimes that were a direct result of being trafficked, which will be clearly stated in the new law. Also, to ensure that victims are carried through the system in a way that enables them to fight for justice and be given a chance at psycho-social restoration before being reintegrated into society.

In order to make this happen, we are creating a workshop that can be taken in to police stations around the country. Practically, this workshop will focus on equipping every officer at every police station to know what human trafficking is, how to identify it, and the policies and procedures to adhere to when dealing with trafficking cases. It will help to ensure that the victim’s case is treated with urgency, respect and dignity and that they are not victimised a second time. It will assist SAPS in following the lawful procedure when building a case against a trafficker, which will maximise evidence collection, identification of traffickers, and thereby increase the chances of successful prosecution.

So thank you to the South African government and all those who have fought to see this law passed; thank you to every NGO that has stepped forward and has given whole heartedly to this issue; and thank you to every individual who has stepped forward asking “what can I do?”.  This is what needs to be done, so this is exactly what we are going to do. Join us, get involved and become a part of the fight to end modern-day slavery.

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