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SEE-ME Anti-Slavery Day: It takes just one person to make a difference!

Lisa Fraser

A hundred young people attended the latest SEE-ME conference co-organised by Wonder and St Mary’s University Twickenham. The aim of the conference was to raise awareness of modern slavery for Anti-Slavery Day on 18th October. Key charities, leading experts and former victims shared their experience, to help us grasp the extent of the situation in the UK.  

Helene Miller, Detective Sergeant with the Modern Slavery and Kidnapping Unit at the Metropolitan Police, made clear that the police system in the UK focuses on supporting the victims and that people who are being exploited should not be afraid of asking for help.

Garry Smith, CEO of the Medaille Trust, shared the testimonies of people who have been supported in one of the nine safe houses run by the charity. With these vivid examples, we are now able to see what it is like to be ‘a modern slave’ in the UK. We were immensely humbled by the testimony of a young woman who suffered from exploitation for several years before escaping from her abusers. She found shelter in one of the refuges run by the Medaille Trust and is now committed to raising awareness on modern slavery, particularly within African communities.

Fr Mark Odion, African Project Coordinator for the Santa Marta Group, assists the UK and Nigerian Catholic Bishops in preventing trafficking. He presented his work with young people in Nigeria. While he urges them not to attempt the perilous journey to Europe, he also understands that they need to see a future in their home country. Therefore, Fr Mark has been instrumental in setting up the GrowEdo project, to help local communities make the most of already existing agricultural resources. GrowEdo supports young people in learning new skills, such as building solar panels with local wood to dry fruits, export them and generate income. These new resources give the youth reasons to stay safe within their communities.

Dr Carole Murphy, Deputy Director of the Centre for the Study of Modern Slavery at St Mary’s University, presented her report A Game of Chance: Long Term Support for Survivors of Modern Slavery, which assesses the Modern Slavery Act 2015. She argued that though the Referral Mechanism works very well in theory, it is not fully and equally implemented across the country. For instance, the law and police forces do not have the same level of awareness to spot the signs when they interview potential victims. Therefore, Carole recommended reforming the current system, by matching resources and ensuring greater consistency in the way local stakeholders implement the Act.

Mary Honeyball MEP, a leading figure against modern slavery in the European Parliament, highlighted the gender aspect of trafficking. She said that women and girls are disproportionately affected by modern slavery through forced labour and sexual exploitation. She warned that demand-led trafficking, like prostitution, is aiding modern slavery and argued that government focus on tackling demand. She strongly supports the so-called ‘Nordic system’, which focuses on supporting and empowering victims – for instance, by providing them with accommodation, psychological care and training. She also said that this model is based on trustful relationships between victims and the police – and she urged the UK to take inspiration from this model.

The talks were followed by workshops led by young people to inspire action. We tried to develop ideas for campaigns to offer language lessons to victims; spot signs of modern slavery in the hospitality industry; and hold local councils accountable for their actions.

The conference was part of SEE-ME (Solidarity, Education, Engagement - Modern-Day Slavery in Europe), a project funded by Erasmus+, which was initiated from July 2018 and will continue for about a year. Over the upcoming months, further events will be held to help develop some of the campaigns that have emerged from young people. In the beginning of 2019, some of these campaigns will be ready to be implemented in local communities or proposed to parliament.

Find out more about our SEE-ME Programme