Skip to content

Britain’s home secretary: combating human trafficking requires global effort

Britain's Home Secretary with Northeastern President Aoun

On Monday at North­eastern, Britain’s Home Sec­re­tary Theresa May said that per­pe­tra­tors of human traf­ficking know no bor­ders, oper­ating across coun­tries, con­ti­nents, and oceans.

As a result, stop­ping these per­pe­tra­tors and bringing them to jus­tice, she said, requires a global effort.

It’s vital that we work together inter­na­tion­ally to fight this evil,” May said during a panel dis­cus­sion focusing on efforts to combat human traf­ficking and modern slavery. “No one country can do it on its own.”

There is a lot of work to do: The number of reported vic­tims around the world is far below the actual total, May said, noting that vic­tims are rarely vis­ible to society. What’s more, pros­e­cu­tion rates are “far too low.”

In Britain, May has intro­duced a bill in Par­lia­ment that would strengthen law enforcement’s ability to fight modern slavery, ensure per­pe­tra­tors receive severe pun­ish­ments, enhance pro­tec­tions and sup­port for vic­tims, and create a new position—an anti-​​slavery commissioner—charged with keeping mul­tiple agen­cies account­able for enforcing human traf­ficking laws. She hopes the leg­is­la­tion, which if passed would be the first of its kind in Europe, will set an example for the rest of the continent’s nations to follow.

May served as the keynote speaker at the panel dis­cus­sion, which was orga­nized by Northeastern’s Inter­na­tional Affairs pro­gram, World­Boston, and the British Con­sulate Gen­eral in Boston. Valen­tine Moghadam, director of the Inter­na­tional Affairs pro­gram and a pro­fessor of soci­ology and inter­na­tional affairs, mod­er­ated the dis­cus­sion. Prior to the panel dis­cus­sion, atten­dees watched a screening of Not My Life, the first film to depict the cruel and dehu­man­izing prac­tices of human traf­ficking and modern slavery on a global scale. It was filmed in a dozen coun­tries across five continents.

May was appointed Home Sec­re­tary in May 2010 and is the Con­ser­v­a­tive MPof Maid­en­head. She is respon­sible for Home Office busi­ness including home­land secu­rity, policing, and immi­gra­tion, and she oversaw policing for the 2012 Olympic and Par­a­lympic Games in London.

Prior to Monday’s panel dis­cus­sion, she toured Northeastern’s research labs in the Aware­ness and Local­iza­tion of Explo­sives Related Threats, orALERT Center, a multi-​​university Depart­ment of Home­land Secu­rity Center of Excellence.

During her visit, May also met with Pres­i­dent Joseph E. Aoun and other uni­ver­sity leaders and researchers. They dis­cussed Northeastern’s secu­rity research at the ALERT Center and the George J. Kostas Research Insti­tute for Home­land Secu­rity as well as the real-​​world expe­ri­ence stu­dents gain while working on co-​​op around the globe.

Monday’s panel also fea­tured Amy Far­rell, an asso­ciate pro­fessor in Northeastern’s School of Crim­i­nology and Crim­inal Jus­tice who studies how the crim­inal jus­tice system responds to human traf­ficking and over­sees a pro­gram to col­lect data on human traf­ficking inves­ti­ga­tions for the U.S. Depart­ment of Jus­tice; and Christina Bain, director of the Ini­tia­tive on Human Traf­ficking and Modern Slavery in the Babson Col­lege Social Inno­va­tion Lab and an affil­iate of the Gender Vio­lence Pro­gram at Har­vard Law School.

Farrell’s work focuses on the effec­tive­ness of law enforcement’s response to human traf­ficking. She said some new data on pros­e­cu­tions is promising but also shows that much more work remains; in one recent study of 12 coun­ties nation­wide, she and her col­leagues found that 69 per­cent of cases were pros­e­cuted. How­ever, less than 10 per­cent of these offenders were pros­e­cuted for traf­ficking offenses and were more often charged with lower level offenses.

It’s very dif­fi­cult to have traf­ficking pros­e­cu­tions stick,” she said. “There’s a great deal of edu­ca­tion that has to happen among pros­e­cu­tors in the judi­ciary and the jury pools of the Amer­ican public.” Far­rell also noted that human traf­ficking is often framed as a crim­inal jus­tice problem but said the issue is much more com­plex owing to other fac­tors including eco­nomic insta­bility and gender rights.

Bain, for her part, has focused on edu­cating state judges about human traf­ficking laws and exam­ining how tech­nology is being used to fight human traf­ficking on a global level. At Babson, she studies how the busi­ness sector addresses human traf­ficking through lead­er­ship, training, and awareness.

What we can do is train the next gen­er­a­tion of busi­ness leaders to look when they go into the pri­vate sector at how they can address social prob­lems like human traf­ficking,” said Bain, who is also co-​​leading a project for the World Eco­nomic Forum to examine the hos­pi­tality, finan­cial, and other key busi­ness sec­tors’ work in this area.

-By Greg St. Martin

More Stories

Photo of the Capitol Building at night

High stakes for politics, SCOTUS in 2018

Photo of the crashed truck that was used in the October 31st attack in Manhattan.

Weaponizing Language: How the meaning of “allahu akbar” has been distorted

Northeastern logo

Why I love studying Spanish