‘We can no longer shut our eyes, turn our backs or look the other way’

Karen Bradley, the modern slavery and organised crime minister, says level of human trafficking in Britain should ‘shame us all’ and calls for nationwide action in piece

Modern slavery damages not only the individuals whose lives are crushed by it. It violates human dignity and diminishes us all Photo: ALAMY

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Modern Slavery has been much in the news of late. The Government produced the first scientific estimate of the number of potential victims of slavery in Britain today – between 10 and 13,000.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, joined Pope Francis in Rome to sign a declaration to put an end to this abhorrent crime.
And this weekend, the Home Office is hosting the Santa Marta Conference, a unique forum in which International Police Chiefs and Bishops from 33 countries will develop real and practical ways to help victims and catch the people who not only deprived them of their liberty but their humanity.
Slavery. All too often we assume that this is something that happened centuries ago. We like to think it couldn’t happen, not in today’s ‘civilised’ society.
Yet the facts say otherwise. And what sort of society are we if we ignore them?
Last month the Government published its Modern Slavery strategy to accompany the Modern Slavery Bill currently going through Parliament.
Researchers spoke to a number of victims and their stories, frankly, should shame us all.
Take Serena who was 15-years-old when her parents agreed she should marry a man from the UK because it would give her a better life. She arrived, from Ghana, and was locked in a room with no heating, no light and little food. Groups of men and women would arrive, money would exchange hands and she would then be forced to have sex with them. Occasionally, she would be taken out for a drive… to isolated buildings where she and other girls would be raped, made to dress up and pose for sexually explicit photographs.
Or Brian, a 30-year-old man from Kidderminster who was offered a job at horse farm near Newport in 2000. It was 13 years before his family managed to track him down. In that time he had been forced to work 14 hours a day, seven days a week, with no pay. Each night he slept in a rat-infested shed with no washing facilities.
Then there’s Shameem who was only 10 years-old when she was trafficked into the UK from Pakistan to work for an elderly couple in Salford. She was kept in the cellar, repeatedly raped by Ilyas Ashar, 84, while his wife Tallat, 68, forced her to clean, day and night, at a number of properties they owned. The couple claimed thousands of pounds in benefits for Shameem, none of which she received unsurprisingly. Her ordeal lasted a decade.
Thanks to the work of Professor Bernard Silverman, the chief scientific adviser at the Home Office, we now know there are thousands of people, up and down the land, suffering as these three suffered.
People sold or betrayed by loved ones, others duped, tricked or lured by criminals with promises of a better life. Stripped of their freedom, exploited for profit, victims often endure violence, rape, hunger, and abuse. For all, the emotional, psychological and physical damage is incalculable.
The time has come to stop pretending. We can no longer shut our eyes, turn our backs or look the other way.
That is why I am delighted that the Home Secretary is hosting the Santa Marta conference alongside Cardinal Vincent Nichols, leader of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales and Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police.
There is no similar gathering of this kind in the world. It is a real opportunity to develop further partnerships that bring together government, law enforcement, the church and civil society.
It is only by sharing our knowledge and expertise, across borders, countries and continents, that we will bring an end to the stain that is modern slavery.

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