Anti-Slavery Day: ex-Totnes MP leads human trafficking fight
People across the country are today joining forces to raise awareness of human trafficking as part of Anti-Slavery Day, an event initiated by former Totnes MP Anthony Steen.
Taking place each year on October 18, Anti-Slavery Day sees workers, students and charities draw attention to forced labour, human trafficking and debt bondage.
United Nations figures suggest 800,000 people are trafficked every year.
Some 76 per cent of victims are trafficked for sexual exploitation, Eurostat finds, and 70 per cent of victims are women.
Some 17 per cent are men, 11 per cent girls and two per cent boys.
The day was created by an Act of Parliament following the passage of the Anti-Slavery Day Bill in 2010.
The Bill was introduced in Parliament as a Private Members’ Bill by Anthony Steen, former Conservative MP for Totnes. It passed through both Houses unopposed, although amended.
The Bill defined modern day slavery as child trafficking, forced labour, domestic servitude and trafficking for sexual exploitation.
According to the Human Trafficking Foundation, of which Mr Steen is chairman, “there are more people in slavery today than in the entire 350 year history of the slave trade, and one in eight of those is in Europe.”
Today the inter-departmental ministerial group on human trafficking announced the number of people being trafficked into the UK appears to be rising.
Last year the authorities learned of 946 victims, compared with 710 in 2010.
Human trafficking is the second-biggest source of illicit profits after the drugs trade, the European Commission says, with traffickers making $32 billion in profits annually.
Talking to This is South Devon, Mr Steen said: “I’m a social worker and a youth leader by training, and a barrister, so you would have thought I would be the first person to know about trafficking. But I did not stumble across it until 2006.
“That’s how hidden it is. It’s so hidden you don’t know about it. I was on a European delegation to Romania and I saw just how many women were behind bars for trafficking offences.”
He explained the way victims of trafficking often get out is to bargain with their traffickers, offering to get them new recruits in exchange for their freedom. “It’s like Roman law,” he said. “And here 2,000 years later in Europe we are finding the same thing”.
He added: “What was particularly appalling to me was William Wilberforce had abolished slavery, but I learned that it’s 10 times the size. How can you abolish it and have it 10 times the size?”
Comparing the slave trade of William Wilberforce’s day with modern day slavery, he said: “Before we could see slaves everywhere – in the fields, in the streets – and it was accepted. But now it’s not accepted it has gone underground.
“You would think everyone would go out of their way to find out where trafficked people are, but they don’t.
“Police won’t talk about it because they probably don’t think it’s a priority, social workers won’t disclose their victims because of confidentiality, lawyers can’t tell you who they are working with - so all the professionals who could be helping lift the lid are helping keep it hidden.
“We have all these conferences and the media do lurid articles, but no one actually meets victims because they are hidden, and when they are found they are hidden even more.”
Today dozens of cities will host events to commemorate Anti-Slavery Day. Films about modern day slavery will be screened in Bristol, Gloucester, Loughborough and Leeds, while conferences, child trafficking training days and concerts will be held in cities including Nottingham, Croydon and Leicester.
Organisers hope it will put pressure on government, local authorities and public institutions to address the scale and scope of human trafficking.
Stressing the importance of Anti-Slavery Day, Mr Steen said: “You need awareness. People have to know there’s a brothel around the corner, they have got to know there are men in the fields on debt bondage.”
To find out more about Anti-Slavery Day, visit www.antislaveryday.com.