CHURCHES are uniquely placed to spot signs of modern slavery in the community, and must use all “eyes and ears” to identify, raise awareness of, and ultimately eradicate the illegal trade across the UK, the Chaplain to the Bishop of Derby, Philippa Rowen, has said.
Ms Rowen was responding to a new report from the National Crime Agency (NCA) which suggests that modern slavery is “far more prevalent” in the UK than previously estimated. Cases, it says, have been reported in every town and city.
A recent crackdown on organised crime has revealed new evidence of the scale of slavery offences — including trafficking, sexual exploitation, and forced labour of victims as young as 12 — the director of vulnerabilities for the NCA, Will Kerr, says.
An NCA report last year identified about 3800 potential victims from 108 countries; the most common type of exploitation was forced labour. But Mr Kerr said this week that the number of victims might be thousands more than previously estimated or recorded.
“The intelligence we are gaining is showing that there are likely to be far more victims out there, and the numbers of victims in the UK has been underestimated,” he said. The Ministry of Justice reported that there had been just 86 convictions for slavery, servitude, and trafficking in the past two years.
In response to the new evidence, the NCA has launched a campaign that will focus on the victims of sexual and labour exploitation to raise awareness and encourage the public to report suspected cases.
This is where the Church could excel, Ms Rowen wrote in a blog posted on the Church of England Facebook page on Thursday. “We need communities that have their eyes open, who are aware enough of their surroundings that they can say when something doesn’t look right.”
This might be an underfed or tired-looking man cleaning a car; a neighbour’s live-in nanny who rarely left the house and was too frightened to talk; or a holiday let that was being visited by different men through the day and night, she suggested.
Signs of stress, visible injuries, and the manner in which people dress and go to work could also be clues to identifying victims of forced labour, including sexual exploitation, the NCA says.
“The Church of England, with a presence in every parish, is uniquely placed to be those eyes and ears, and to spread this message further,” Ms Rowen wrote. “We believe that the tools to end modern slavery already exist within the local community, and that the Church has a primary responsibility in leading these efforts.”
She pointed to the ongoing work of the Clewer Initiative, a three-year C of E project to help dioceses to detect labour exploitation, prostitution and sex slavery, and forced marriage, and to provide support and care to victims (News, 19 May).
The Bishop, Dr Alastair Redfern, who chairs the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner’s Advisory Panel, has been leading the work with his diocese, and finding new resources and partnerships.
The Clewer Initiative will be launched on Freedom Sunday, in October, but churches were already running English classes for survivors, and joining with other denominations to raise awareness, Ms Rowen said. Slavery Memorial Day is next week.
The NCA reported that 111 arrests had been made and about 130 potential victims had been identified as part of a Operation Aidant, a surge in law enforcement focusing on labour and sexual exploitation, during May and June.
Short films telling the stories of some of the victims would be released throughout the sixth months of the NCA campaign, Mr Kerr said. “This is a crime which affects all types of communities across every part of the United Kingdom. It is difficult to spot, because often victims do not even know they are being exploited. None the less, we need those communities to be our eyes and ears.”
Anyone with suspicions can phone the local police force on 101, or the Modern Slavery Helpline on 08000 121 700.