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Can crime science tools help tackle internal child sex trafficking in the UK?

18 January 2011

Helen Brayley and Ella Cockbain

British nationals constitute the largest single group of child trafficking victims in the UK, and are trafficked almost exclusively for sex.  The internal sex trafficking of UK children, hereafter ICST, is a research priority for Home Office anti-trafficking agents, yet no academic work has specifically addressed ICST to date.  Our exploratory project represents the first attempt to systematically deconstruct ICST and aims to establish its component actions and understand the constellations of perpetrators and victims involved.

Our independent analysis was based on classified material from the first two UK police operations to formally address this type of trafficking.  Together, these investigations cover numerous instances of abuse involving a total of 36 victims and 25 perpetrators.  To ensure a broad and balanced picture, we contextualised our work using material from senior stakeholders in the government, NGOs and academia.

We tested the viability of two Crime Science tools in tackling ICST: Crime Scripting and Social Network Analysis. Our results showed strong support for the usefulness of both tools in addressing ICST from prevention, disruption, investigation, prosecution and education perspectives. These findings helped us generate numerous ideas for interventions, with guidance from the key pillars of Situational Crime Prevention.

We demonstrated the applicability of our findings to a wide range of stakeholders involved in tackling ICST.  In particular, we considered four core areas: Policy and Research; Policing; Prosecution Strategies; Youth Work and Education.  We also highlighted research priorities in the nascent field of ICST research, explaining why we believe a better understanding of these tools or topics to be particular urgent and/or impactful. Our project strived to be empirical, transparent, replicable and tonally neutral: offering a counterbalance to the emotional paradigm which dominates sex trafficking research.