London, March 10 (IANS) Ministers, police and social workers in Britain have failed to prevent the spread of "modern slavery", leading to sexual exploitation and forced labour of adults and children from across the world, a study has said.
The study says political indifference, ignorance and a leadership vacuum has meant that Britain that led the way in abolishing slavery in the 19th century is now a "shameful shadow" of its former self as the practice has made a comeback in a contemporary guise, the Guardian reported.
Describing ministers as "clueless" in their response to tackling human trafficking, the report titled "It Happens Here" by the Centre for Social Justice said the approach to eradicating modern slavery was "fundamentally wrong-headed".
Instead of helping victims trapped into forms of slavery after being trafficked from overseas, the legal system prosecutes many for immigration offences, it said.
Researchers said there was a lack of awareness among officials whose job was to identify and help trafficked victims.
"We have encountered unacceptable levels of ignorance and misidentification of victims among the police, social services, the UK Border Agency, the judicial system and others," the report said.
While social workers were "not equipped" to identify victims of modern slavery, police officers often chose to arrest trafficking victims instead of protecting them, it said.
One police official recalled the case of a girl who had managed to escape from a brothel and flee to a police station where she described how she had been trafficked.
"She had no passport. Under these confusing circumstances, we chose to arrest her for being an illegal immigrant," the policeman was quoted as saying.
Although the government requested that each force have a senior officer responsible for human trafficking, only half of the 33 forces that responded had appointed one.
In addition, 90 percent of police officers ignored an online educational course designed to raise awareness of modern slavery, the Guardian said.
The study said foreign adults and children as well as British citizens were being exploited in factories, fields, construction sites, brothels and houses.
It identified more than 1,000 cases, but cautioned that official figures remain "a pale reflection of the true size of the problem".
The 224-page report was written after an 18-month investigation. Experts interviewed hundreds of witnesses, including journalists.
The investigation found people were used for forced criminality including benefit fraud, organised begging and forced pickpocketing and drug cultivation.
British girls were being trafficked within the country for sexual exploitation. In one case, a girl taken into captivity by a group of men was allegedly raped 90 times.
In 2011, of the 2,077 potential victims of modern slavery identified by the UK Human Trafficking Centre, 40 percent were men.