A new report from the National Crime Agency says modern slavery is now "prevalent" across the UK, affecting "every large town and city in the country". The more they look, the more they find according to William Kerr, the NCA Director of Vulnerabilities. He says "we need those communities to be our eyes and ears". People in the UK may be shocked to hear that this crime is so widespread, but for those working to raise awareness of modern slavery, today's revelations from the National Crime Agency are not surprising.
For years, the numbers of potential victims found have climbed, in 2016 hitting 3805. They came from 108 different countries, including the UK, and were exploited in all sorts of ways; from car washes, to fruit farms, to brothels.
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. When the man cleaning their car has no safety equipment, and looks underfed and tired. When their neighbours live-in nanny never seems to leave the house, and is too frightened to talk to them. When the holiday-let at the end of the road is being visited by different men all through the day and night.
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. 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.
That's why in October we will be launching The Clewer Initiative, a three year project designed to enable Church of England dioceses to respond to modern slavery in their communities. 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. We have already seen examples of this with churches running English classes for survivors, or joining with other denominations to raise awareness of the issue. Work in the Dioceses of Derby, Portsmouth, Southwell and Nottingham, and Southwark is already underway, with each Diocese committing to develop strategies that are tailored to their area.
In one example of local collaboration, the Diocese has become a key member of the Derby and Derbyshire Modern Slavery Partnership, uniting with the police and social services to bring an end to slavery in Derbyshire.
Nationally, The Clewer Initiative is creating resources that can be used by churches everywhere who want to become more aware of the problem. On Sunday 15th October we are encouraging all churches to join together and celebrate Freedom Sunday, giving their worship over to raising awareness of modern slavery. We are also developing a network of practitioners committed to sharing models of best practice to resource the Church. The victims of modern slavery are hidden in plain sight, but together we can find them bring light to this darkness.