Yesterday saw the publication of the draft Modern Slavery Bill, and the accompanying evidence review by Frank Field MP. It is hoped that by bringing all existing legislation into one, and increasing the sentencing to life for those involved in trafficking it will go some way to encourage victims to come forward and allow for more successful prosecutions.
Also published yesterday was a briefing paper by a new anti-slavery coalition, including groups like The A21 Campaign, Stop the Traffik, and the Evangelical Alliance, which wants the Bill to include more information about the role of the anti-slavery commissioner and more support for victims.
Danny Webster, parliamentary officer for the Evangelical Alliance, commented: ''Victims need to be placed at the very centre of the bill, the way they're identified needs improving. It's great the government plan on creating an Anti-Slavery Commissioner, but it needs the independence to criticise the government if they're not doing enough."
Like others, I have mixed feelings about the draft Bill, but I applaud the Government for taking this issue seriously and ensuring it becomes an issue of debate in parliament.
Like many other members of the public, I simply didn't realise that modern slavery existed in our so-called 'civilised' western societies a few years ago. The facts really are incredible: I'm sure we all heard Matt Redman and LZ7's single '27 Million', which was about the number of modern-day slaves worldwide. And yesterday we were told that there are an estimated 10,000 trafficking victims in the UK alone – and yet that figure is so hard to verify it is probably a lot higher.
Christine Caine, A21 Campaign founder, has said: "Instead of getting overwhelmed by the statistics, it's important to know that we may not be able to do everything, but we can all do something to fight for freedom!"
And that's how I feel. Since learning about the extent of trafficking my heart has bled and I've fallen to my knees a lot. Often I feel helpless but I do what I can through my writing, raising awareness by interviewing those who are directly involved in campaigning, and generally covering trafficking stories.
One of the things that sickens me most is the fact that this is the fastest-growing criminal industry today. Human beings are seen as incredibly valuable to those trafficking them, because they can be bought and sold again…and again…and again.
I simply cannot get my head around the type of existence the victims have to deal with. Treated like animals, shut up in tiny, dirty holes and then either forced to work endless hours in factories, as cleaners, in food processing plants – or 'service' 20 to 30 men a day.
Try to imagine yourself as a victim – or your child. The average age of trafficking victims in Europe is 12! Unbelievable. While a lot of us may have assumed that victims are brought here from overseas (and many are) there are also regular instances of local people being trafficked too.
So many victims are unwilling to come forward, due to fear of their captors but also of the consequences for themselves. It is true that there have been instances of people not being believed and sent back to the very place they are trying to escape from – or being sent to court themselves, or back to their home country.
Victims need help and support – too many children that are found by authorities after being held as slaves go missing again because systems of protection are currently not strong enough.
There certainly needs to be greater investigation of the circumstances surrounding victims, and an assurance that they will not be prosecuted for crimes they may commit while being held against their will and controlled by others.
One thing is definitely clear – we need to rise up and fight against this, no matter what the cost. This is obviously a hugely complicated issue needing sophisticated equipment, co-operation by authorities around the world, the relentless pursuit of those involved and an equipping of the general public on signs to look out for and what to do if we think we have found a trafficking victim.
Most importantly, we need an endless supply of compassion and care for those who have been unwilling trapped in this horrific reality. This draft Bill gives us all a chance to bring the issue right out into the open, talk about it, learn about it and work together to change things. I hope the government seizes this opportunity to do all it can too.