Suzette Jones, Diocesan Health and Wellbeing Adviser, talks about the invisible misery of modern slavery in our communities.
There are more than two motorways in Surrey. A human highway exists, invisible to the eye, winding its way across the green and rolling hills of the south east. This hidden exploitation of the most vulnerable is present within our local communities.
No one really knows just how many people are trafficked in the UK, but previous estimates of around 13,000 victims in the UK have been described by the National Crime Agency (NCA) as just the "tip of the iceberg". In August there were currently more than 300 live policing operations with cases affecting every large town and city in the country.
Victims of modern slavery can be any age, race, or gender. There is no ‘typical’ victim. Men, women and children can become slaves in domestic servitude, forced marriage, sexual exploitation, street crime, and the drug trade. Lured by promises of a better life, the reality is more often inescapable debts and threats of violence against families held in ransom by traffickers - many of whom live outwardly ordinary lives.
“Victims of modern slavery can be of any age, race, or gender. There is no ‘typical’ victim”
So how do so many end up trapped and exploited? The answers are all over the news – with countries beset by poverty, war, natural disasters, gender inequality and lack of education, who can blame their citizens for dreaming of a better life? International gangs are increasingly realising the amount of money they can make by controlling people in a huge range of economic sectors. Survivors of modern slavery tell stories of being offered a job, a chance to make money and to build a new life for themselves. Often they are vulnerable, coming from areas where there is little possibility of work and those organising their travel control every aspect of their trip.
Once trapped, even if not completely physically controlled by their trafficker, mistrust of authority often stops victims from going to the police. So, how can we recognise these people and places, and wake up to what is happening in plain sight?
The Clewer Initiative, with its strapline “we see you”, seeks to address this question. Run by the Church of England, the project sets out to enable church networks to develop strategies for detecting modern slavery in their communities, helping to provide victim support and care for those who face misery on a day to day basis.
In support of the Clewer Initiative, the Diocese of Guildford will be working in partnership with the police, other agencies and the wider voluntary sector to raise awareness of where and how modern slavery is operating in the diocese, sharing ways churches can respond to the hidden nature of this issue.
“Don’t unwittingly turn a blind eye – make sure you know how to spot the signs”
Churches and local communities are key players in raising awareness of modern slavery and in reporting their concerns where they suspect something is not quite right. Don’t unwittingly turn a blind eye – make sure you know how to spot the signs of modern slavery, what to do and how you can report it. You may have encountered it at closer quarters than you may realise.
For practical help and advice on how to make this crucial issue stand out, as well as more information on how and where modern slavery and trafficking is taking place, recognising physical and behavioural indicators that may mean someone is being exploited, who to contact and how to support victims, contact Suzette Jones: firstname.lastname@example.org to book a free 60 minute talk.
If you need advice or support on a modern slavery issue call the Modern Slavery Helpline on 08000 121 700. It operates 24 hour a day, 365 days a year.