Recently, police forces in Northern England have been making calculated and genuine attempts to protect women in the area from being forced into sex trafficking. In a recent mass raid of sex trafficking rings in Northern England, nearly 100 officers were involved in the investigation and eventual arrest of nine male ringleaders.
It is under these circumstances that the police forces in these areas took it upon themselves to let female citizens, who are the most vulnerable to being forced into sex trafficking, know that their wellbeing and safety is important when it comes to getting justice in cases involving gender-based sexual violence.
In an article posted by The Guardian addressing the raids, Jason Harwin, assistant chief constable of the Cleveland Police, stated, “Human trafficking, the exploitation of the most vulnerable in our communities by the most ruthless, will not be accepted. … Our message is clear, to those who are victims in the case: there is hope. We are on your side; we can and will help you. We are here for you and we are stronger and more determined than your abusers.”
The willingness of police to genuinely aid survivors of sexual violence is definitely a much-needed shift from the unhelpful and further traumatizing experiences that many sexual violence survivors encounter when seeking legal action or justice for what they have endured.
The support from police is important due to the history of sex-ring victims being criminalized. Far too often, the victims are seen as consensual sex workers, but are, in fact, captives. This development with certain police forces’ mentality towards the seriousness of sex crimes comes at an opportune time where decriminalization of sex work is relatively high on the list of priorities in many places.
As many police officers globally hold an “arrest now and ask questions later” mentality, many victims of sex trafficking tend to be criminalized for their involvement in paid sex work, rather than being acknowledged as victims of a crime.
One extreme instance of this can be seen in the case of Cyntoia Brown, a young girl who was unwillingly forced into prostitution and eventually killed one of her abusers in self-defense and was sentenced to life in prison. Cases like Cyntoia’s and those of other women who are lured and forced into sex work bring a light to why there should be compassion expressed by law enforcement to rescue and thoroughly understand the severity of the circumstances that many survivors of sex crimes have experienced.
In the culture of many societies around the world, it took many years for people to even think of sex crimes against women as serious matters that deserve the time and energy of law enforcement. This is apparent in issues like the backlog of rape kits that go untested in the U.S. It is apparent in the many women who are victim blamed by police when attempting to report a rape.
This is a problem very deeply embedded in the culture of sexism.
In instances where law enforcement are vocal about making survivors and their wellbeing a priority, it is important to recognize the times when women are given the respect and support they need. It is safe to say that law enforcement agencies globally who have yet to adopt this mentality should most definitely take note.
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