Report, ‘Open Your Eyes’, Conference on Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking, June 2015

Representatives from Kent Police, Migrant Help, the Gangmasters Licensing Authority and the Medaille Trust were welcomed as speakers by Soroptimist International Medway Towns member Wanda Wright to the ‘Open your Eyes’ conference in June, attended by SI Great Britain and Ireland President, Jenny Vince.

Our Purple Teardrop Campaign representative who attended reports as follows:

This was a jointly organised conference presented by SI Medway Towns and Kent Police, backed by Medway Community Safety Partnership. This in itself was a very fruitful relationship – not only in producing a good range of speakers, but also of audience members. I walked into the venue with a woman from Tesco; there was a number of police representing a range of departments; as well as a goodly selection of SI South East England clubs and Jenny Vince, our Federation President.  Beside the Purple Teardrop Campaign stand, there was another for the Medaille Trust, manned by a Westminster and Southwark Diocesan Representative.

Keith Roberts, Kent Police, highlighted the sea change that has taken place with the passing of the Modern Slavery Bill and the requirement to meet statutory responsibility. This has meant a re-balancing of priorities from ‘easy quantity’ such as burglary to developing networks within the area, across the UK and internationally to deal with the big issues of gang-related crime, the criminal use of firearms and in particular the trading of people for exploitation.

Sgt McLean’s case studies were eye-opening indeed, as he described his work in two major operations where he used his own professional network in the UK and Europe to further the             investigations. One operation dealt with the trafficking of women subjected to drugs and forced sex in both the UK and Ireland. The gang was finally caught at a Manchester hotel and the trial ended with a 23-year jail sentence. The second example he gave was the use of Nigerian girls controlled by ju-ju and traded across Europe for sex, using Stansted Airport as their entry point in to the UK. That operation resulted in a 20-year jail sentence at the Canterbury Courts.

Most chilling was his account of where the victims were first picked up – the variety of locations include cannabis farms, nail bars, brothels, hand car washes, and Police custody suites –     beggars, shop lifters and pick-pockets.

Migrant Help’s Head of Human Trafficking and Victim Support, Christopher Gaul, demonstrated their tremendous work and recommended us to their website covering Canterbury, the South East and East Anglia. Mr Gaul told the audience the “Yvonne” story whereby it took a year of be-friending to get Yvonne to really talk. In her words, she said of her be-friender ‘She cried with me when I  cried, she prayed with me when I prayed.’

The Gangmasters Licensing Authority’s Mark Heath began by reminding us that the Licensing Authority came into being after the cockle-picking disaster in Morecambe Bay in 2005. Working nationally with a staff of 68 means the GLA has to work with partnerships. He then proceeded to set out the subject from a business point of view – ‘Humans are a low risk, high profit opportunity.’ Once a gang gets control of human beings, the victims are forced to set-up bank accounts and these are then controlled by the gang. Individuals are sold from one gang to another and often housed through ‘agencies’ operating on behalf of landlords (who ask no questions). He also referred to problems in the ‘supply chain’ investigations.

Charlotte Kirkwood, Development Manager of the Medaille Trust, talked about the work the Trust was doing for victims in their 7 safe houses, and with funding from other sources, their work with victims outside the NRM system including some living with a ‘trusted person.’ They also work with preventative measures in supply countries, eg Albania, Nigeria and Vietnam, using partnerships with people in the victims’ home countries. By using Skype, they supply counselling, advice and raise awareness in those countries. They also have items on sale from Kenya from repatriates and vulnerable people. Currently, they are setting up representatives in RC Dioceses and the representatives for Westminster and Southwark Dioceses had a stand at the conference. The Trust will also supply a speaker to interested groups at no charge.

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