No mercy for this vile trade in human misery

Yesterday's sentences on the seven men who operated a human trafficking ring were criticised as 'too harsh' by defence lawyers. They were wrong.

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Lured to the UAE with the promise of a high-salaried job, she was put under lock and key when she arrived, beaten for 10 days and then forced to sell her body. She joined 17 others who were forced into prostitution by the same captors, their passports kept from them and forced to pay back the spurious costs of their enslavement. As we report today, Abu Dhabi's Criminal Court imposed sentences of life imprisonment on the seven men who operated the human trafficking ring, the largest such gang in the country, that forced these 18 women into prostitution. Yesterday's decision was criticised as "too harsh" by defence lawyers. They are wrong. Rather, it was the strongest sign yet of the Government's commitment to eliminating the scourge of sex slavery.
The Government adopted an Anti-Human Trafficking Law in 2006, committing itself to the prosecution of sex traffickers to the fullest extent of the law. Still, tackling a problem requires more than legislation. To its credit, the Government has employed increasing numbers of law enforcement officers, and trained them on anti-trafficking methods and how such crimes should be prosecuted. While this particular ring was exposed by a woman who had escaped her captors and alerted the authorities herself, the new policing efforts are beginning to bear fruit. Last year 36 trafficking cases were brought before the courts, up from 20 in 2008. The establishment of a shelter for abused women who have escaped their captors has also served a much needed purpose.
Yesterday's sentence also addresses a claim made by the US State Department in a 2008 report that "government authorities continue to interpret the anti-trafficking law to exclude some who have been forced into commercial sexual exploitation". Clearly, this was not the interpretation of the law that was applied in court yesterday. The syndicate sent to prison yesterday is probably not the only one of its kind in the capital or the country. Much more work remains to be done. While sex trafficking is an awful fact of life in much of the world, that does not make it inevitable here; indeed, in a nation that has made such great strides in its development and protection of human rights, it should not be. The existence of sex trafficking is a stain on the rest of what the country has achieved.
Yesterday's verdict is a victory not only for 18 women who faced unspeakable violence and humiliation. It is a victory for a nation that has made its position clear: those who exploit the openness of this country to enslave and abuse women will find no refuge here.