Christian mission across the world often occurs in contexts of exploitation and abuse. In this article, Nola Leach, Chief Executive of CARE, exposes a growing problem of appalling abuse within the UK.
Maria was born to an impoverished family in Eastern Europe. At 13 she was sold by her own sister to traffickers. Amazingly she was rescued, but then sold a second time by her own father.
Ending up in London, Maria was subjected to the most brutal physical and mental intimidation and forced to see between 65-70 clients daily. Her story was highlighted by William Hague in his Newton Wilberforce lecture.
He also told of one of the most horrifying case studies he had come across: a young Lithuanian girl coming to London on the false promise of a summer job selling ice creams, but who instead was herded into a brothel by multiple gangs and individuals.
She was sold seven times in three months, from an initial £4000 to £1500 as her value dropped like a used car. ‘I have run out of tears’, she said, reflecting on her ordeal. ‘I try to forget, but sometimes have nightmares about it’.
Their stories are similar to many of those heard by those working with trafficked women. Like all victims of trafficking, their stories are all too real. But these are also women whom the Lord Jesus Christ came to seek and save, people precious to him.
What is human trafficking?
Put simply, trafficking is modern day slavery. It treats human beings as a commodity to be bought and sold.
Most people in the world who are trafficked are subjected to sexual exploitation (58 per cent). However, victims are also forced into labour in agriculture or the building trade, domestic servitude, forced criminality, benefit fraud, cannabis cultivation, forced begging and even organ removal.
The estimated global proceeds of buying and selling human beings is, staggeringly, over $30billion annually.
The victims are moved around, threatened and subjected to violence. Traffickers take advantage of their desires for a better life and often use fake adverts to deceive people into travelling on the promise of finding a good job. But the new life they hoped for turns out instead to be one of oppression and ill treatment.
Children are often forced to work in harsh and illegal conditions, supposedly to pay off loans taken by their parents in desperate circumstances. Others are sent by their parents to the UK to live with another family, in the hope of a better education, only to find themselves trapped in domestic servitude for that family, with no hope of escape.
Young girls, including many British children, are groomed by manipulative men who shower them with gifts and attention. Tragically, this is what happened in the Oxford and Rochdale cases of last year. Persuaded to go away together, they are then forced into prostitution by their so-called boyfriend.
It happens here!
Sadly, trafficking and slavery are not things that happen only in faraway places. The UK Human Trafficking Centre, part of the Serious and Organised Crime Agency, calculates that there are approximately 2000 victims of trafficking in the UK at any time.
But this is probably only the tip of the iceberg. Many charities involved in rehabilitating victims say that a significant number of the people they support are fearful of giving their details to the authorities, which means they do not appear in any of the official statistics.
They may be afraid of the authorities, because they don’t have a visa, or their passport has been taken from them; or perhaps they fear that the police might be corrupt or colluding with the traffickers. Many victims are never discovered.
Victims of trafficking are found all across the UK, not just in London or our major cities. Traffickers have been prosecuted in as diverse places as Gloucestershire, Suffolk and Glasgow, and more victims are being found each year.
Trafficking is happening right in the middle of our communities. We need to take action.
What needs to be done?
CARE’s concern is for the most vulnerable within our society and this includes those who are involved in the sex industry. CARE has two particular areas of concern. The first is the need to improve the care that is provided for children who have been trafficked.
Between 2005-2010, 301 of the 942 children who were rescued from trafficking went missing from local authority care and are probably back in prostitution.
A lack of specialist foster carers and limited awareness among social workers means that the specific challenges trafficked children face are not being addressed.
UNICEF and the EU have recommended that countries adopt a system of guardianship for trafficked children. This would give each child a specialist advisor to help support and guide them from the moment they are rescued.
Although a successful pilot project has just been re-commissioned in Scotland, the Westminster government has repeatedly refused to adopt a guardianship system. CARE is calling on the government to redress this and is supporting Lord McColl, a peer in the House of Lords, as he continues to raise this issue in Parliament.
Our other main area of focus is tackling demand for sexual services. More people are trafficked into sexual exploitation than any other form of modern slavery. Demand creates a market for human trafficking and exploits vulnerable people from our own communities.
Shocking statistics show that 70 per cent of women involved in prostitution in the UK were drawn into it, often by grooming when they were children. Of these, 70 per cent spent time in care when they were growing up and nearly half of these say they experienced sexual abuse during their childhoods.
The Policing and Crime Act 2009 introduced a new offence of purchasing sexual services from someone subject to force, but this law has proven difficult to implement and has resulted in few convictions.
CARE is campaigning for a simpler law which criminalises all purchase of sex without the need to prove coercion. There are similar laws already operating successfully in Sweden, Norway and Iceland, and the Swedish police have evidence that this law has dissuaded traffickers from operating in Sweden.
As the psalmist reminds us, human life is incredibly precious, we are made ‘a little lower than God himself’ (Psalm 8). We believe that all people are lovingly created by God in his own image. Trafficking with its exploitation, slavery, violence, abuse and oppression attacks this God-given dignity.
Fighting trafficking might not be easy. It forces us to confront some of the worst aspects of human nature and sin. But Jesus has called us to be light in the darkness, not hide our lamp under a bowl.
The story of the Good Samaritan reminds us that we must not cross the road hurriedly to avoid the mess. Isaiah 58, words echoed by Jesus himself, calls us to loose the chains of the captives. So let’s speak out for victims of trafficking and ensure our communities are places where exploitation cannot flourish.
Let’s pray intelligently for the victims and for the end of this evil trade. Does every woman have a price? Yes, a price that was paid by a loving Saviour, who bought life in all its fulness.
Find out about opportunities to take action and receive regular updates about human trafficking by following us on twitter @loosethechains, or