Our History: Part Two - 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.
Written by Kerry Scarlett