How the West Midlands Anti Trafficking Network developed

Multi-agency response has recently been recognised as one of the most efficient ways forward in tackling modern-day slavery. It facilitates better cooperation and a more informed action based on shared best practices and information. The West-Midlands Regional Anti-Trafficking network, started in late 2008, is one of those that has significantly contributed to this recognition paving the way forward for many other recently established networks.

Up-dates from the RAT Network

The RAT network continues to grow and is now aligned to the West Midlands Regional Organised Crime Unit (ROCU) Modern Day Slavery Threat Group, chaired by the NCA. We have recently welcomed a number of new members including the Black Country Housing Association. The latest member to join us is Simon Jennings representing Business in the Community. This is an exciting step forward for the network as it now brings on board business and industry, something we have tried to achieve for a long while.  As well as benefiting businesses in the West Midlands it will also benefit Network members in terms of understanding how industry works and how trafficking can feature within it, especially labour exploitation.

We also hope to have the RSPCA joining us soon, another organisation that has recently seen the benefits of its staff being aware of the issues of trafficking and how they may be in a position to identify potential victims of trafficking in their day-to-day work.

Building upon our knowledge of trafficking, one of our members from Worcester University gave a presentation on trafficking from Romania, which included an input on the Roma communities. Both presenters were from Romania, which added huge value to the overall excellent event.

Part Two: The Development of the RAT Network

At the time, the RAT Network was the only multi-agency Network focussing on human trafficking issues, and so how to form and organise the group was very much open to discussion.

Rather than a collaboration, group, or coalition, the term ‘Network’ was deliberately chosen to indicate a complex and open web of relationships which allowed members of differing agendas and remits around trafficking to gather together to develop shared understanding, and knowledge. The name ‘RAT’ Network was suggested by members who felt it illustrated the often ‘unwelcome’ intrusion of trafficking issues into wider debates concerning inequality, immigration and migration, etc. There were few trafficking cases and many agencies outside of the Network were unsure of the scale of the issue and consequently thought it was irrelevant to their work.  It was hoped that the ‘RAT’ could be inspired by its namesakes’ resilient, fast adapting nature in helping members to remain alert to new trends, cases and issues.

Recognising that traffickers are able to operate via complex and sophisticated organised crime groups, it was agreed that the Network be open to all agencies who may encounter trafficked persons through the work they do, or whose work involves developing policies or procedures that may impact trafficked persons.  It was recognised that would result in some agencies working and collaborating with agencies they would ordinarily not be connected with, or where there may be conflicting opinions on how certain issues should be resolved.  Prioritising the joint aim of collaborating around anti-trafficking issues would be key in preventing those present from getting overly drawn into debating side issues, overcoming the risk of a fragmented response, and maintaining a common ground.  Creating a space in which practitioners felt supported, their contributions valued, and limitations understood, would be vital.

There was concern about the financial viability and sustainability of setting up a collaboration reliant on funding, particularly when most member agencies were at the time experiencing significant budget cuts resulting in decreased capacity, and therefore the intention was that the Network be self-sustaining and self-reliant.  Members would offer meeting space free of charge, six weekly meetings would take place over lunch time to reduce the amount of time needing to be taken out of a working day (hoping to appeal to senior managers to give permission for practitioners to attend), and Network members would themselves promote the usefulness of the Network amongst their own contacts and wider professional networks.

The Network would aim to encourage those involved to recognise all forms of trafficking, slavery and exploitation affecting men and women and children. Anti-trafficking literature and media reports of the time had a tendency to focus on the more extensively recorded phenomenon of trafficking of women for sexual exploitation. This meant that quite often practitioners and policy makers overlooked cases of trafficking for labour exploitation, domestic servitude, and trafficking to commit crime such as fraud and street crimes.  With regard to the trafficking and exploitation of children, the RAT felt that it’s role was to enable practitioners to be aware of issues affecting children, but to remain clear the role of the Network should be to support and advise the equivalent Child Safeguarding networks to ensure that child trafficking issues were on the agenda.

In July 2010 the RAT Network held a one day Workshop in collaboration with Newman College, Birmingham.  In contrast to the previous conference in 2008, all the speakers involved were locally based members of the RAT Network; a significant shift indicating the growing confidence of Network attendees that they were developing a credible understanding of human trafficking issues as they presented in the West Midlands.  The session centred on a case study offered by a Network organisation, and attendees were from a range of statutory and non-statutory agencies in the region.  Again feedback was overwhelmingly positive, and encouraged the Network to continue to work collaboratively to offer opportunities to share their local knowledge of the issues as capacity allows.

Part I

The RAT Network started in late 2008, at the instigation of a group of practitioners working in different agencies across the West Midlands who were each concerned about the issue of human trafficking and how it might be affecting the people they were working with.  Methodist minister, the Rev Stephen Willey had been part of a group involved in a Methodist church funded action research project into human trafficking. He attended the UN.GIFT Vienna Forum to Fight Human Trafficking in February 2008, which had gathered over 1,600 participants from 30 countries around the world. A dominant theme throughout the conference had been the suggestion of the need for a ‘fourth P’; in addition to the widely stated aims of the UN Protocol to focus anti-trafficking work around the three Ps (prevention, protection and prosecution), attendees were urged to ‘form Partnerships’ between statutory and non-statutory agencies which recognised differentiating roles but supported one another towards join aims[1].

Stephen had been attending the West Midlands Strategic Partnership on Migration Women’s Issues Group (WMSPM). He fed back his experiences in Vienna, and raised the issue of how member agencies perceived trafficking issues and whether the suggestion of collaboration and partnership working had merit. Trafficking became a regular item on the agenda at the meetings, with frontline practitioners raising concern about lack of knowledge amongst colleagues, lack of information on services available for victims, and a gap in awareness amongst frontline services most likely to initially encounter trafficked persons.

Interested practitioners began to meet separately to discuss matters further, quickly recognising that a multi-agency approach to the complex issue of human trafficking would be beneficial to a wide range of agencies. It quickly became evident that there was a need for greater awareness and training around human trafficking issues at a grassroots, local level. In partnership with West Midlands Strategic Migration Partnership Women’s Issues Group (WMSMP) and Believing in Birmingham (Birmingham City Centre Churches Together) the newly formed RAT Network organised a multi-agency awareness raising day in December 2008. This was attended by 107 people: professionals from statutory and non-statutory agencies, students, and faith leaders.  Feedback at the close of the conference indicated that although the vast majority of attendees found it useful, they wanted more information, more training and a way of staying linked up with other agencies so they could be aware of trends and new developments. The decision was made to start a regular multi –agency meeting, open to representatives from all agencies who may encounter trafficked persons through the work they did.

Written by Kerry Scarlett

RAT Network Co-ordinator, 2009 – present/ 

Adavu project director