Communities are being reminded that modern-day slavery is a serious problem often hidden in plain sight.
The Bishop of Lewes, Richard Jackson is leading on a project to shed light upon modern slavery in our communities and to develop strategies to detect and tackle it.
As part of this, he convened a conference in January at the Brighton i360 with guest speakers on the issue and over 80 people in attendance. He said: “We were challenged to explore how we, as individuals and as a church, can be part of the solution in eradicating this modern scourge from our county.”
The delegates heard from guest speakers including Richard Lancashire, of Sussex Police, Helena Croft from Streetlight UK and Caroline Virgo, Project Officer for The Clewer Initiative. Clewer is a Church of England project to raise awareness of the signs of modern slavery in our communities and cooperate with local authorities to support victims and bring perpetrators to justice. Delegates heard how churches are uniquely placed in every community, to help eradicate and expose the devastating effect of trafficking on the many vulnerable men and women affected by it.
Richard Lancashire is the modern slavery lead at Sussex Police. He supports and trains officers in safeguarding victims and helping target the right offenders. He explained that modern slavery encompasses human trafficking, sexual exploitation, forced labour, debt bondage, domestic servitude, criminal activities, child labour, and forced marriage. Delegates heard shocking statistics revealing an estimated 40 million individuals trapped in modern slavery worldwide, with at least 13,000 victims in the UK alone. He hoped that clergy and members of the parishes represented at the event will now have an enhanced means of both recognising indicators of offending, and reporting it.
Streetlight UK provides specialist, support for women involved in prostitution, sexual exploitation and sex trafficking. Helena Croft said: “80,000 individuals in the UK are believed to be involved in prostitution.”
The links between homelessness, forced labour and sexual exploitation were all clearly demonstrated. Traffickers prey on vulnerable people, primarily because they don’t have a network of support. This makes it easy for them to be groomed. Substance addictions and mental health challenges can make offers of employment from traffickers more appealing.
The Clewer Initiative has identified sectors that were particularly problematic as car washes and nail bars, although other vulnerable sectors include building and agricultural work. Project Officer for The Clewer Initiative, Caroline Virgo, was encouraged to hear what is already happening to tackle modern slavery in the diocese of Chichester. She said: “I look forward to exploring how the diocese and The Clewer Initiative can work together to prevent modern slavery in the communities of the diocese and provide support for the victims and survivors.”
Bishop Richard will be convening a task group to tackle the issues discussed at the conference. More about this will be shared in due course.