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The meaning of the F-word: Trafficking

Louise Mensch, MP for Corby (Conservative)

Does our male-dominated society understand what rape means? All too often, it appears not. The incredible violation of having your body pierced by a stranger, without your consent, stays with its victim for ever. A single rape can and does shatter lives for years afterwards. Yet activities in which women and girls are raped not once but over and over again attract ludicrously low sentences. Google the sentencing guidelines for human trafficking and be profoundly depressed by the language, the maximum sentences and the examples. Trafficking for sexual exploitation – sentence not to exceed 14 years. Trafficking in prostitution – sentence not to exceed 14 years. Of course, we know such sentences are halved in practice.

The Crown Prosecution Service guidelines give sentencing examples for the most egregious cases – a man repeatedly trafficked a 15-year-old girl into "prostitution", selling her over and over again to different men. His sentences totalled 18 years only. For how many rapes, for how much horror, for this minor? Nor was she involved in prostitution, which is the voluntary selling of sex by an adult woman. She was a child who was gang-raped. "Sold for multiple gang rapes at 15" would have been accurate. For this, the man did not even get life.

In another "extremely serious" case, multiple offences against "women and young girls" involving "prostitution" (or gang rape) merited 23 years in total. How many women, how many children, how many rapes to get that mere 23 years? How many months or weeks per rape?

Let the police, the CPS, the courts and politicians recognise what sexual trafficking is and the difference between prostitution and gang rape. It is part of the overall culture of hand-washing on sexual violence against women. Traffickers are slavers and rapists and they should go to prison for their entire lives, in recognition of the lives of the girls and women they have stolen.

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This article first appeared in the 12 March 2012 issue of the New Statesman, The weaker sex