An analysis of the effects of discourses on justice for victims of internal trafficking. Part 2

Janine S White
18 min readSep 22, 2020


Following on from Part 1 this article delves into the discourses surrounding what makes a victim of human trafficking for sexual exploitation, whether there is an ideal perpetrator and whether the media created a moral panic in it’s portrayal of events.

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What is a victim?

Broad (2015) describes an ideal victim as innocent, naïve, powerless and in desperate need of protection. McAlinden (2014) supports this notion and states that the age of the child is significant in amplifying the power imbalance between victim and offender and the proportion of blame put onto the offender by a jury.

McAlinden is clear that discourses describe a worthy victim as one unknown to the offender, reasoning that it is too distasteful for society to think of intrafamilial abuse or male victims. She criticises these discourses as if the victim is not ideal, the full use of the law is denied, and they are perceived to be responsible for their own victimisation.

This is supported in Britain’s Sex Gangs (2016) and Betrayed Girls (2017) where emphasis is placed on the revictimization and trauma experienced by the victims attending court or being told that they were unusable as they were not credibly innocent. How do these discourses become so strong in society, that victims legally considered a child, could be put aside to allow societal and individual beliefs to take over?

Cohen (1973) cited in Jewkes and Letherby (2002b) spent many years researching discourses and is certain that they are shaped by the media. Looking at the media coverage surrounding the convictions of offenders, it is possible to see that several discourses have taken shape. The first being that all victims are white girls who need protection. For example; “sexual exploitation of hundreds of young white girls by Asian grooming gangs” (The sun., 2018); “Oxford grooming gang: We will regret ignoring Asian thugs who target white girls” (Telegraph., 2012) “A gang of nine Asian men who groomed white girls as young as 13 with drink and drugs have been sentenced today.’’ (ITV., 2012).

The Muslim Women’s Network was concerned about this discourse and the public attention that was focussed on the protection of white British girls. They suggested that this attention was paving the way for motivating factors for child sexual exploitation to be race, ethnicity and faith. Gohir (2013) completed a study concluding that Asian Muslim girls were also victims. Within five months, Gohir (2013) found thirty-five cases of CSE where Asian Muslim girls were the victims, yet they rarely made it into the criminal justice system. This was found to be caused by cultural restraints such as the fear of shame and dishonour from the community for ‘no longer being pure’. It was important for Gohir to publicise their findings as Brayley and Cockbain (2014) emphasise that the framing of an issue affects the resources, prioritisation and monitoring afforded to the cause. If non-White British girls are ignored in the data, no support will be provided to them. There is also the question of boys as they are not shown in the figures.

Berelowitz et al (2012) found that only nine percent of the recorded data identified male victims. Criticising that the figures, they are concerned that boys were being recorded as perpetrators despite evidence that they had been exploited. Berelowitz et al (2012) theorise that a lack of professional awareness around male victims hinders the data recorded. Additionally, they found that boys were considered lucky by professionals if disclosing that they were carrying out sexual activity with an older woman, even if it was men who had created the situation. Again, if male victims are not accounted for, no support will be made available (Brayley and Cockbain., 2014). It is not only the gender and ethnicity of victims that have gained attention in discourses surrounding internal child trafficking for sexual exploitation.

Another discourse is that victims come from vulnerable backgrounds and that the figures are made up of children in care. Research and inquiries point to a high proportion of victims being care residents, they are only a small proportion of the overall numbers of children who are abused (See Barnardo’s (2014), Berelowitz et al (2013) and CEOP (2010). All researchers seem to agree that any vulnerabilities make a potential victim of internal child trafficking for sexual exploitation regardless of whether the vulnerability is being in care (see Salter and Dagistanli., 2015, Barnardo’s., 2014, and Brayley et al., 2011). Berelowitz et al (2013) has created a warning checklist for potential victims which includes; a chaotic, dysfunctional household; a history of abuse; a recent bereavement or loss; gang association; attending school with children who are already victims; children with learning disabilities; having friends who are being exploited; homeless children; children who lack friendships in the same age group; live in a gang neighbourhood, residential care, hostel, bed and breakfast or foyer, a child with low self esteem and young carers. It is apparent that any vulnerability makes a child a potential victim of sexual exploitation and not just what residence classification they hold. Nazir Afzal, who was the lead prosecutor for the CPS supports this concept and confirms that the children are targeted because they have troubles and are unlikely to be believed if they report the abuse, especially if they are accusing respectable men from society (Betrayed Girls., 2017). This is further reinforced in the Britain’s Sex Gangs documentary (2016) which reports that victims are told that it is their word against the accused and if the child does not see themselves as a victim then it cannot be a crime. If the victims do not fit into the criteria of an ideal victim, they are branded ‘sluts’ or ‘slags’ (Salter and Dagistanli., 2015). This can be seen within the Betrayed Girls (2017) documentary where it is discussed that sexual exploitation ‘parties’ had police turning up and the victims telling them what was happening. Instead of being given help and support as victims, the girls were arrested for being drunk and disorderly. Victims who did make it to a point of telling their story had their cases dropped, despite there being DNA evidence because the CPS decided that the victims probably would not be believed in court. One girl had over twenty-one hours of interviews over six months and then was informed that the evidence was not going to be used (Betrayed Girls., 2017). Berelowitz et al (2013) also identified this theme was recurring from inquiries, reviews and deaths of children and that there was the failure of agencies to even speak to the child, showing that the child was invisible to those who were making the decisions.

Berelowitz et al (2013) are aware that groomers can identify children who meet any vulnerable criteria’s quickly and meet the needs that have been lacking. All the time knowing that too many workers are in denial about CSE and fail to recognise or believe victims based on myths and discourses and has identified signs and behaviours that reduce the impact of discourses on decision making. They state that children who go missing, have physical injuries, use drugs or alcohol, are involved in offending behaviour, suffer with sexually transmitted diseases or pregnancy, are absent school, have a change in physical appearance, have poor mental health, self-harm, or feel suicidal, should be considered to be potential victims of internal child trafficking for sexual exploitation.

Barnardo’s (2013) are very clear in their report that victims come from any ethnicity, sex and social background and that this needs to be remembered by professionals and society so that victims are not missed. They also state that seeing the victim as responsible for their trauma lowers the conviction numbers. This is reiterated by CEOP (2010) and Berelowitz et al (2013). Barnardo’s (2014) blames the long wait for a case to reach a court room and the punitive and damaging experiences of victim’s experience when telling their story for some of this. An example of this is provided in Betrayed Girls (2017) who describes that the barristers of the offenders accused the victims of being ‘sluts’ and ‘prostitutes’, in court. Barnardo’s (2014) also mentions how victims are not kept informed about the progress of cases and that when they are it is explained in a poor way. This is also supported in Betrayed Girls (2017), where Maggie Oliver, the lead detective tasked with building relationships with victims of internal trafficking for child sexual exploitation wrote damning reports about the exploitation in Rochdale yet returned from leave to find the cases had been dropped. Niblock and Bindel (2017) also interviewed journalists, including Ben Rossington who investigated a missing girl in Blackpool. This reporter was aware of the disappearance of over sixty missing girls being exploited by workers at takeaway food outlets before police became involved for sexual exploitation.

It is blinding how much the discourses surrounding victims of internal child trafficking affect the justice that they receive. These discourses also affect the convictions of the perpetrators.

What is a perpetrator?

The running discourse surrounding the perpetrators of child trafficking for sexual exploitation within the UK is that the offenders are British born, Asian, Muslim men, who work in organised gangs (Brayley and Cockbain., 2014). This is evidenced in headlines like; ‘The list of Britain’s towns and cities shamed by Asian grooming gangs’ (Express., 2017), ‘Asian gangs, schoolgirls and a sinister taboo: As nine men are jailed for grooming up to 100 for sex, the disturbing trend few dare talk about’ (Mail Online., 2010) and ‘Grooming gangs of Muslim men failed to integrate into British society’ (The Telegraph., 2017).

Andrew Norfolk, a reporter for The Times News, was the investigative reporter who exposed the level of child sexual exploitation within the UK and highlighted the pattern of Pakistani ethnicity of the perpetrators (Tuffail., 2015). Norfolk investigated the convictions of Child Sexual Exploitation finding that out of fifty-six convictions, fifty-three had Asian names, fifty of those being Muslim names (Niblock and Bindel., 2017). This overwhelming majority of Pakistani male convictions was discussed with a Pakistani woman’s group who confirmed that there was a problem within the male population of the community however, the women did not have the confidence to talk to their sons about it (Betrayed Girls., 2017). The acceptance within the Muslim community of CSE is acknowledged by Gohir (2013) who identified thirty-five cases of child sexual exploitation in only five months that they were researching. Gohir (2013) found girls were not being warned of the dangers of men and that the offenders came from the same ethnicity as the child. Gohir hypothesises the causes of trafficking and sexual exploitation within Muslim communities as a result of societal influences, cultural influences, peer pressure, monetary gain, organised crime, reputation boosting, familial abuse being unchallenged and inadequate sex and healthy relationship education, in addition to Bollywood films.

Betrayed Girls (2017) interviewed youths from the Pakistani community who stressed that this offence was an everyday situation for the community and that even though it is not right, it happened (Betrayed Girls., 2017). This acceptance is known as interactionism as the groups have had a label applied to them which they have accepted and taken on instead of resisting (The Open University., 2019d). These concepts have been cemented in societies perceptions of CSE by the former Home Secretary, Jack Straw making a speech about traditions of female modesty and lack of sexual access to women in the Pakistani community led to sexually releasing on white minors (Salter and Dagistanli., 2015).

The concept is also advanced on in Betrayed Girls (2017) which featured an Imam Counsellor who runs workshops for Pakistani men. The Imam described a double life syndrome where arranged marriages and tight knit communities mean the man has an unfulfilled respectable life and an underground one where sexual needs are met. The Imam stresses that most people have a strong moral compass and that most Pakistanis are pleased that people are going to prison.

Another discourse surrounding perpetrators of child trafficking for sexual exploitation is that Asian-Muslim communities are reluctant to talk about the sexual abuse of children which adds to the discourses being shaped and propelled (Boyd., 2015 and Betrayed Girls., 2017). For example, when the MP from Keighly asked Muslim leaders to step in and stop sexual exploitation, she was told that it was nothing to do with the elders and when Lord Ahmed of Rotherham discussed the ethnicity of the perpetrators, he said that there was no intention for discussion about how to stop the offences because everyone was fearful of being considered racist (Betrayed Girls., 2017). This has been supported by Niblock and Bindel (2017) who found that there was an ethos within social work that abuse within a Pakistani home was racist and therefore avoided. The parents in the Betrayed Girls documentary also highlighted how everyone would go quiet as soon as they informed professionals of the ethnicity or race of the perpetrators (Betrayed Girls., 2017).

Mohammed Shafif, from the Ramadan Foundation expressed how people were told to leave things alone when race was brought up, that no one wanted to talk about the events and Andrew Norfolk from The Times was told not to start investigating the issue (Britain’s Sex Gangs., 2016). Betrayed Girls (2017) alludes to the silence within the Pakistani community allowing far right groups such as the English Defence League to take control of the media coverage. Cree et al (2014) states that this allowed racism to become the focus of child sexual exploitation. Cree et al (2014) follow notions from Tuffail (2015) who highlights how British Muslims have been perceived as a racialised threat since the times of colonialism.

Cree at al (2014) and Tuffail (2015)’s claims are reinforced by Salter and Dagistanli (2015) who highlight that since colonial times of civilisation, barbarianism has been attributed to the Asian Muslim ethnicity, which allowed concepts around the race and culture of alleged perpetrators to inform professional and criminal justice decisions when believing whether a case is genuine.

Salter and Dagistanli (2015) demonstrate that despite the evidence, it is dangerous to use labels to inform decisions as the discourses rule out alternative scenarios. They state that when child abuse, whether including or excluding child trafficking for sexual exploitation is committed by a white person, the ethnicity is not reported, pointing to it not being important to professionals and society. If the ethnicity of white abusers was reported could the data be more compareable?

Salter and Dagistanli state that this lack of ethnicity reports, implies a white superiority over other races and ethnicities. They are concerned that constantly bringing Muslim men into question and reporting only their ethnicity, allows white men to go unnoticed in their abuse of children.

In defiance of the underreporting of white ethnicities, there is substantial evidence that more white men are convicted of child sexual abuse than Asian and or Muslim men suggesting that lone white men are in effect the real threat (See CEOP., 2010, Berelowitz et al., 2012 and Westwood., 2010).

Berelowitz et al (2012) found that more lone white men sexually abuse children. According to Salter and Dagistanli (2015) the discourses surrounding ethnicity when considering child trafficking for sexual exploitation maintains the vulnerability of children as they ignore important characteristics of offenders which are not related to the background of the perpetrator, for example, power. Cree at el (2014) support this view and reiterate that the othering of races in sexual exploitation diverts attention from the abuse performed by indigenous people.

The discourses surrounding ethnicity and child trafficking within the UK has been contributed to by the media attention that the cases have received (See Tuffail., 2015, Boyd., 2015., and Kidd-Hewitt., 1995, cited in Jewkes and Letherby., 2002a). Gearon (2018) however, blames the criminal justice system and the responsibility of handling child trafficking cases being given to immigration agencies following the Border, Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009. Gearon (2018) indicates that the current legislation leads to punitive experiences for all involved in the offence, reinforcing damaging discourses of ethnicity.

This is witnessed when Broad (2015) discusses how, under the Modern Slavery Act 2015, criminal justice policy impresses that men oversee the slavery of women and children. This is confirmed by the spending of the Modern Slavery Fund in 2017. Two point two million pounds was spent in the UK to tackle child trafficking, twenty-one point five million was sent to other countries to prevent victims entering the UK.

Most spending was sent to Nigeria despite the highest country of origin for child exploitation being the UK (Home Office., 2018). This shows that despite the evidence, the focus of the government is on protecting the borders. This is because of governmentality, which is the assumption of the government that all things, whether social or economic can be governed and controlled, rather than dealing with the social issue (The Open University (2019f). This is further supported with examples within the community where Betrayed Girls (2017), found that professionals would accept responsibility for supporting victims.

Berelowitz et al (2013) located significant failings within social work surrounding whether CSE is believed to be a child protection or crime and disorder matter. Almost half of the local children’s safeguarding boards had no strategy in place to direct workers, resulting in different strategies being employed throughout the cases. It was found that if the offender did not meet stereotypes of Asian Muslim men, then victims were ignored or discounted. Due to labels surrounding ethnicity and CSE, white traffickers are being missed and children accusing white men are being ignored.

There is little contradictory evidence to suggest that there is not a problem with CSE, including child trafficking within the Pakistani communities however, child sexual exploitation through grooming and trafficking is only one form of child sexual abuse and lone white males should not be presumed innocent because they do not fit in with the dominant notions at the time, just as victims should not be ignored because they are not young white girls (Britain’s Sex Gangs., 2016, HM Government., 2017., CEOP., 2010 and Gohir.,2013).

A further discourse surrounding perpetrators of internal child trafficking for sexual exploitation is that they are all men. There is little research on the role of female offenders within the criminal justice system (Broad., 2015) however, Gohir (2013) found that women were involved in the crime, consisting of introductions and encouraging of the abuse. This was in addition to Broad (2015) who found that there were only slightly fewer women prosecuted for child trafficking than men. Although less involved with the abuse of the children, the women were found to be arranging the offences and transportation of the child; the main activity making sexual exploitation, trafficking.

Broad (2015) is adamant that regardless of their involvement in the crime, the criminal justice system within the UK is not set up to account for women traffickers, reasoning that society finds it unthinkable to consider that women could be responsible for the harm of a child.

Within the UK, the Crown Prosecution service weigh up whether it is in the public interest to prosecute and according to Broad (2015) there is a lot to be considered when identifying women traffickers. For example, seventy four percent of the women charged with trafficking were offending with a male partner, almost half were victims of domestic violence and there was a relationship between previous victimisation and promotion to trafficker. With forty two percent of the women involved having criminogenic needs (see Baird., 2017), having social and economic inequality compared to men and facing acute oppression, Broad stresses that the pathways into trafficking for women need to be analysed and policy assumptions debated.

McAlinden (2014) says that polarised notions of guilt or innocence inform hierarchies of victimhood and offending. This means that if the offender was a victim that has been promoted to trafficker or is afraid of the male offenders then it is unclear whether they are a legitimate victim in criminal justice policy and are treated as doubly deviant. Double deviancy is being deviant of gender roles as well as criminal law (Broad., 2015). It should be remembered that Berelowitz (2013) found examples of young boys who were groomed into becoming perpetrators as they also have vulnerable and criminogenic needs. Newburn and Stanko (1994), cited in Jewkes and Letherby (2002c) review the lack of research into men as victims of crime due to the stereotypical discourses of men not admitting weakness.

Has the media created a moral panic?

A theme throughout the research on internal child trafficking for sexual exploitation is that the media is to blame for creating a moral panic (Tuffail., 2015). Research has criticised the way that the media has provided partial information to the public and been contradicted for providing inaccurate and unsubstantiated claims (Tuffail., 2015). Tuffail accuses the media of twisting research so that the findings or reports and inquiries are portrayed within a racial thematic. This is known as deviancy amplification, which creates a false impression of criminals based on a feature causing segregation, leading to a degradation of the moral character of anyone with that feature (The Open University., 2019c).

Tuffail is unhappy that out of the fifteen significant findings in the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation in Rotherham (2014), fourteen were ignored and the media only found the finding surrounding race worth mentioning.

Kidd-Hewitt (1995), cited in Jewkes and Letherby (2002a) describes the media as distorting and manipulating the public, promoting stereotypes, and prejudice. Boyd (2015) agrees that the media were keen to publicise the ethnic similarities of the offenders of CSE however, Boyd believes that the report was a credible piece of research for the media. This credibility is explained by Boyd as a report that investigated children’s services by someone who had extensive experience in the profession, and it was rare for social services to speak publicly about cases and therefore must have been thought through.

It should be acknowledged however that there were fourteen other factors in the report such as the concern of social workers to be considered racist if pursuing CSE cases. Boyd (2015) speaks of the papers accusing the council of putting being politically correct over the welfare of children and blaming the professionals for letting down the children. Boyd further illustrates how the media forced professionals to take responsibility for what the media and public felt was their wrongdoings, leading to senior politicians agreeing that children’s services staff should be reprimanded and resign.

What Tuffail acknowledges but fails to fully consider is that it was in fact the English Defence League and the British Nationalist Party that gained media involvement and demanded media attention by their meetings outside courtrooms (Westwood., 2010 and Salter and Dagistanli., 2015). Westwood also states that although the media attention on discourses surrounding human trafficking and CSE, can be damning to some, it also allows debate to continue within the public and political arena. This view is supported by the implementation of two government ordered inquiries, a parliamentary inquiry, a new national action plan, as well as extra resources for improved training (Niblock and Bindel., 2017). These enquiries are not always helpful however, as they allow some voices to be silenced while allowing the voices of those in power to be heard. This allows inquiries to place accountability onto certain individuals, groups or individuals while allowing the policies implemented by the government to go unscrutinised.

Sheriden Burns, interviewed in Niblock and Bindel (2017) clarifies that it is necessary to be reflective of the wider contextual framing of research once it has been published and therefore be aware that the media and audiences are active participants in how the research is interpreted and debated. The way that they government commissions, frames and responds to research is not excluded from this. Although The Home Office (2018) is keen for the debate to remain open as it is important that concerns can be raised, and data allowed to inform research and decisions without being stunted by political correctness, they are also the one’s determining which research is acceptable to undertake.

This article has critically evaluated the discourses surrounding internal child trafficking for sexual exploitation within the UK. It considered the discourses surrounding what trafficking is and how there is a firm belief that British children cannot be trafficked within short distances, that it is portrayed as a new, ethnic phenomenon.

It examined these discourses and found that labels have different meanings for different members of society leading to differing interpretations of what should be recorded and monitored, whose responsibility it is to deal with cases of internal child trafficking for CSE. It found that the offence is committed by planned and organised groups which is beneficial to the victims as it allows the police to intervene, however, with immigration and border agencies taking the lead on the cases, ideal victims and perpetrators have become accepted stereotypes.

The article then analysed research around what makes a victim of internal child trafficking for sexual exploitation and found that an ideal victim is an innocent, young and unsuspecting white British girl who comes from a vulnerable background. It found that if the alleged victim does not fit this stereotype then they are ignored. This includes boys and Asian-Muslim children.

It examined the effects of a vulnerable background and how there have been numerous complaints about the police and social care blaming the victim for what they have experienced, denying them full use of the criminal justice system. It has concluded that the professionals involved in the protection of children who fall victims to internal child trafficking for sexual exploitation need to understand that any child with vulnerability becomes a potential victim. This includes, but is not limited to the ethnicity, sex and social background of the alleged victim.

Following on, I looked at the discourses surrounding the perpetrators as Asian-Muslim men, shaped by policies and the media. The data that was available suggests that this concept is correct where gang related CSE and child trafficking is the offence. It also shows that white British men have the highest overall convictions for child abuse and that there is a percentage of white British convictions for trafficking and CSE, even though small.

Therefore concluding that professionals need to look at each case individually and not through a stereotypical lens. It discussed how the Pakistani community is remaining silent on the issue which is allowing the discourses to continue undebated. As well as White British perpetrators, the dissertation acknowledged that women have a role in trafficking and have only slightly fewer convictions then men. Considering this alongside boys being groomed into the abuse, suggests that more attention needs to be given to the entrance to these groups.

Finally, it analysed the role of the media within the creation and reinforcement of discourses surrounding internal child trafficking for sexual exploitation and concludes that although there are very clear signs that a moral panic has been initiated, it has allowed an open debate about the situation, major inquiries into the events and policy changes that could reshape how this offence is handled in the future.

Taking this into consideration, it concludes that discourses are having a detrimental effect on applying criminal justice policies within the UK and that although there are some benefits of having them in place, new discourses need to emerge and be reiterated to ensure that professionals keep an open mind when dealing with each individual case.

Full references are available on request.



Janine S White

Janine thrives on bringing into awareness the inequalities and misconceptions of society. Janine hopes of a more tolerant and understanding future for the world