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Yarmouth Christians tackle modern slavery

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The Hidden Voices course, to explore what a church response to modern slavery could look like in the Great Yarmouth area, took place in Gorleston during February and March, and is part of the Clewer initiative.

Network Norfolk asked Anna Heydon, Development worker with Imagine Norfolk Together, for more information:

What form does slavery take in 21st century?
Slavery occurs in various forms now, including labour exploitation (e.g. in car washes, manufacturing, farming, construction), sexual exploitation (non-consensual or abusive sexual acts), domestic servitude (forced work within a private household), organ harvesting (trade in human organs using force or deception) and forced criminality (forced to take part in illegal activities e.g. shop-lifting or cannabis cultivation).

All forms involve degrading conditions and physical or psychological control by the perpetrators.

How big is the problem?
40.3 million people are thought to be victims of modern slavery across the world today. In the UK, a conservative estimate suggests that there are 136,000 people living in slavery (figures from Global Slavery Index). The figures are increasing year on year, although it is hard to know whether this reflects a growing problem or improved reporting and responses.

Is modern slavery a problem in this area?
All the types of modern slavery listed above have been found in Norfolk except for organ harvesting. The levels of modern slavery locally are difficult to determine because it is such a hidden crime and because the police cannot give information about live cases, but we know that it is happening across the region, in both rural and built up areas.

How can churches and/or Christians do anything about it?
Modern slavery is an affront to the character, example and teachings of Jesus, and Biblical history is a story of people being set free by God both physically and spiritually. Slavery occurring in our communities is not therefore something which Christians can ignore. An important way in which Christians can arm themselves against slavery is with knowledge.

Organisations such as The Clewer Initiative and Stop the Traffik provide useful information about how to spot the signs of Modern Slavery. If you suspect that you may have witnessed signs of slavery or trafficking, then please call the Modern Slavery Helpline on: 08000121700. There are also mobile phone apps like the “Safe Car Wash” app and “Unseen” which can help you identify and report slavery.

Churches are also a place where victims of slavery can find healing and restoration once they have been through the process of being rescued from slavery. And of course, prayer is the most powerful weapon we possess.

What is happening to combat slavery in this area in particular?
As is happening around the country, the police and their partners are working hard to tackle and prevent slavery in our area and to support victims. We don’t yet have a safe house for victims in Norfolk, but this may come in time.

In terms of church involvement, the Diocese of Norwich is working with the Clewer Initiative to develop a response to the issue of slavery locally. Currently St Thomas Norwich Trust are providing mentoring and befriending for victims of slavery, and have been involved in setting up a county-wide collaboration group for those working in the area of slavery.

Imagine Norfolk Together are also involved in awareness raising in Great Yarmouth and King’s Lynn, including the Hidden Voices course and training church volunteers who are dealing with those who are most vulnerable.

If there are others out there involved in this work, then please get in touch!

What is happening nationally – Is the government doing anything?
In 2015 The UK Modern Slavery Act came into law. It consolidated previous offences relating to slavery and trafficking and introduced more severe punishments. Recent changes have also introduced greater support for victims, with the minimum period of NRM (National Referral Mechanism) ‘move-on’ support increased from 45 to 90 days.

What is your hope/vision/prayer for the future?
A world free from slavery! But on the journey towards that I would love to see the church working with other organisations to raise awareness of this horrific crime which is happening under our noses, and bringing hope and love to those who have experienced it.

The Clewer Initiative is a 3-year project to enable Church of England dioceses and wider Church networks to develop strategies to detect modern slavery in their communities and help provide victim support and care. It involves working with the Church locally, identifying resources that can be utilised, developing partnerships with others, and creating a wider network of advocates seeking to end modern slavery together. Nationally, it involves developing a network of practitioners committed to sharing models of best practice and providing evidenced based data to resource the Church’s national engagement with statutory and non-statutory bodies.

This article comes courtesy of Network Norfolk.