Slavery In Our Midst

Chiswick Churches for Justice and Peace on human trafficking

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The Mayor of Hounslow joined an audience of around 70 concerned Chiswick residents in Christ Church last week to hear about a shocking modern version of slavery.

“Human Trafficking in the UK” (the title of a meeting organised by Chiswick Churches for Justice and Peace or CC4JP), has until recently been a problem that is out of sight. But thousands of women – some children under 17 – who have been trafficked into the UK come from countries in every continent in the world.

Revd Dr Carrie Pemberton, the Chief Executive of CHASTE (Churches Alert to Sex Trafficking Across Europe, founded in 1993), spoke with passion about a subject that has until now been out of sight.

About 80,000 women in Britain are involved in prostitution, which is often associated with drugs; sex is now a regarded as a leisure industry and the UK “market” relies mainly on non-British women; the global sex industry is worth around £10.5 billion per year, and much of this leaks into illicit enterprises such as drug running; some women are forced to have sex with up to thirty clients a day, pimps can “earn” up to £100,000 a year. Legislation has all too often concentrated on the prostitutes, not on the clients nor on the pimps; prostitution can lead to numerous serious medical conditions that don’t go away; and many of girls feel guilty because they were brought up as Christians.

The Police now regard human trafficking as their second most serious threat in the UK. It is the fastest form of criminalisation in the world today.

CHASTE aims to provide healing and support for prostitutes so they can start a new future outside the sex industry; it has a safe house for the over 18s (£300,000 is needed to run such an operation) , which means basically only 20 beds are available. Various religious groups – Quakers, Baptists, local churches -- are involved, as are NGOs such as Barnardo and the Salvation Army as well as the police. And the government is trying to work particularly with Eastern Europeans.

Dr Pemberton urged people to discuss the problem with as many of their neighbours and friends as they can. Talking about relationships is a good way to begin (in Sweden school children are asked to discuss how they would feel if they had to pay cash for sex with one of their classmates). UK legislation since 1999 requires the Police to follow up those who purchase sex, as well as pimps, and punishment for the guilty includes the publishing of names with prison as a final resort.

Poverty is the major impulse in the trade. To Roumanians, those from Belarus, or from Nigeria, from Lithuania, Brazil, Pakistan or Malaysia, the UK (like other Western countries) is a land of plenty. But trafficking results in slavery, forces the young people away from their familiar environments and language. Abuses include rape, beating, bullying, being forced into debt up to £3000, profound fear and depression. The majority of prostitutes are women but young men are also abused by sexual exploitation.

The centres of prostitution are not always the big cities; during the recent Operation Pentameter (started by the Police in 2006) over 100 brothels in the Cambridge area were visited.

So are there any in Chiswick?

October 17, 2007