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Loving the Stranger: How the Church of England Can Help Victims of Modern Day Slavery

03/08/2016 16:37 | Updated 04 August 2016
Alena Gedeonova via Getty Images

In a time of budgetary cuts and the paring down of public services, the Prime Minister's pledge of £33million to go towards eradicating modern slavery is significant. It sends a clear signal not only that slavery is unacceptable - an 'evil' as Mrs May put it - but that it is a reality in our society and something that we all collude in. The exploitation of vulnerable people is due to market forces dictated by those that have purchasing power - whether that is for cheap fashion on the high street or sexual gratification on the back streets. It should be welcomed that the Prime Minister has acknowledged that slavery and exploitation are part of a process which can begin abroad in countries where there are few employment opportunities. Young people have little choice over their futures other than they need to earn money to support themselves and their family. It is quite right that international development budgets should stimulate local economies not just improve literacy rates. Indeed a first class degree is of little use to a young woman if she isn't able to secure a decent job in her community - she is immediately vulnerable to trafficking and exploitation - work that she has no choice but to take.

Exploitation exists under the umbrella of organised crime and it is - as the name suggests - highly professional and strategic. It is also hidden and brutal. This is why the police and statutory agencies face a tough battle, which not only relies on intelligence and police operations but adequate victim support to empower slaves to escape. It must be remembered that many people who find themselves in slavery come to the UK from countries which are often run by corrupt officials, where the police are not always trustworthy, and where there is no such thing as social support. Gangs will be locally based - the traffickers will know the victims' families, which is the main hold over a person - there is no such thing as an idle threat by these criminals.

Despite the seemingly gloomy situation and impossible task that the Prime Minister has set, there is an opportunity for the Church to step up to the table; to provide a unique service that is absent from governmental strategies to combat modern slavery - that of loving the stranger. The Church of England has an unrivalled network across this country. We might have the media claiming that the church is in decline but nevertheless one million people in this country alone turn up regularly to hear what their vicar or lay minister has to say about furthering the Kingdom of God. The Anglican Communion is a huge resource with strong leadership in the most deprived countries of the world - places which have the highest instances of slavery and exploitation. We also must not forget that as the established church we have representatives in the House of Lords who hold the government to account.

The Bishop of Derby has been working closely to end slavery for a number of years in the House of Lords and also in Derby Diocese. Through his work on the draft Modern Slavery Bill and the consequent landmark legislation Modern Slavery Act 2015, the value of partnerships between external agencies and the Church to eradicate slavery became apparent. After the success of the first human trafficking summit in Derby over two years ago, the Derby and Derbyshire Modern Slavery Partnership was established and the Diocese has a place at the table - the only faith group. Through Bishop Alastair's leadership the local authorities realised that the Church is quite a tour de force - it has relationships with a cross range of organisations that the councils and police could not cultivate easily. The Diocese has made an offer of support to the people who are paid and legally responsible for eradicating slavery - it is based on loving the stranger with no strings attached.

We now have a strong working relationship with Derbyshire Police, Derby City Council and Derbyshire County Council who value assistance based on compassion and social conscience rather than statutory obligation. Parishes across the Dioceses help through prayer and hosting awareness raising events to include everyone not just the faithful. The Mothers' Union has taken on the need of the police for supplies for victims by fundraising and producing emergency packs. This came from a conversation with the lead police officer who wanted the victims in his station to have dignity and feel that they were safe - but time pressures meant that his officers couldn't go shopping to the local supermarket after a raid. Through the local voluntary sector and a church based charity which works with prostitutes, a pilot project was established to see how best to look after victims whilst they were deciding on their own future. Creating a safe space is one of Derby Diocese's potential offers.

Many thanks to the Prime Minister for taking modern slavery seriously and funding our dedicated public sector; but exploitation will not stop without the help of the public. The Church is in the position of moral leadership which we should use both to inspire and also support all of those touched by this crime against our humanity.

Philippa Rowen, Chaplain to the Bishop of Derby

This blog first appeared on the CofE website, and can be read here

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