Human trafficking is the fastest growing criminal industry in the world, affecting every nation and city. It is always close to home. According to the UK Government’s Modern Slavery Strategy;
‘Modern slavery is a complex crime that takes a number of different forms. It encompasses slavery, servitude, forced and compulsory labour and human trafficking.
Victims may be sexually exploited, forced to work for little or no pay or forced to commit criminal activities against their will. Victims are often pressured into debt-bondage and are likely to be fearful of those who exploit them, who will often threaten and abuse victims and their families‘.
As I walk through the quintessential alleyway of a leafy London borough feeling grateful for the English summer, it is hard to believe that around the corner I will be entering into a safe house.
This hidden location is home to a number of women who have endured the atrocity of human trafficking. We are greeted by the familiar smile of our caseworker, Julie*, and the ‘hugs’ poster on the wall. It reads:
Makes impossible days possible
Makes happy days happier
Stepping further into the house, it is the comforting aroma of home cooking that greets us next. A couple of the women cluster together in the kitchen to share meals, and no doubt exchanges of the struggles and celebrations of daily life.
Upstairs, Katie* is the first in the classroom where we are about to begin our third leg of the Day 46 programme, this week looking at ‘Wellbeing’. It is a humbling experience to gaze into the smiling eyes of someone who has been subjected to more than I dare to even think about. A committed and willing soul, eager to join in and seek out the dignity of work for herself and build a new future. There is tangible hope in the room.
So frequently in the media we are presented with overwhelming statistics surrounding trafficking, but humanising the numbers surrounding trafficking is at the heart of the Sophie Hayes Foundation.
The UK is sadly not immune from these figures. Last year, the reported total of victims/survivors came in at 3266, with the figure in reality reaching 10,000-13,000. This number is the equivalent of six average sized secondary schools in the UK. And this number is rising.
Could you imagine your best friend or sister or daughter being one of them? Their valuable and unique confidence and security stolen, for greeds‘ sake? The reality is that these women are no different from you or I.
While the figures are huge, it‘s important to recognise that the UK has a firm social and global conscience of the issue. The Modern Slavery Act – a partliamentary bill – which was passed in 2015, was a breakthrough moment for Britain, having not seen something like this in 200 years. We are honoured to be a part of this movement.
Addressing the issue further in our homeland are governments, businesses, charities, schools, social enterprises and individuals. Kevin Hyland, who is the UK Anti-Slavery commissioner, has a firm stance on the issue and maintains that he ‘will be holding to account those who have a statutory or moral duty to act‘.
This is great news. We have a credible figure to lead and deliver a survivor and human rights centered approach to trafficking. And there is still more to be done.
This is where we have found our place for making lasting and effective change through our identity, confidence and employability ‘Day 46’ programme which coaches and mentors survivors like Katie* on a 1:1 basis, as a part of their recovery.
It is the heartbeat and DNA of the foundation to generate hope and to empower women, helping them find their voice through exploring their strengths, identifying goals for their future and make an action plan to get there.
Throughout our journey we hope to give you an insight into this unseen world both locally and globally. And, in doing so, raise the conscience of communities throughout our nation.
*Names have been changed for confidentiality reasons