Partnering with the police has been fruitful for a group from St Mary Bredin in Canterbury, who are working to stop modern slavery in Kent.
Five people sat in a room, convinced that God had brought them together to do something about modern slavery. They just didn’t know what. So they began praying, asking God what they should do. They prayed and met with lots of organisations, including the police, safe houses, and Stop the Traffik.
They were particularly moved by the testimony of a survivor of the Rochdale child sex trafficking case, which shocked people across the UK. One of the founding members of the group, Cheryl, describes hearing her talk about her experiences:
They decided their focus should be on raising awareness of modern slavery in their community. Cheryl and her husband Manny launched a community group called Stop the Traffik Kent, and began holding events. Through their research, they discovered the six most prevalent types of exploitation in Kent. They decided to share that information with people, and engage them in conversation about how they could help.
Every month they go into a busy shopping area with uniformed police officers, and dress up as if they are caught in those kinds of exploitation. When people are intrigued about why they are carrying a bucket and a sponge (hand car washes), or a fruit basket (fruit pickers), they speak to them about modern slavery. They also give them a wallet-sized leaflet with instructions on how they can spot the signs.
"A lot of people have got suspicions" Cheryl says, but they don’t know what to do next. They encourage people to report them to Kent Police, or the Modern Slavery Helpline. As a result of someone reporting, one car wash was visited by the police. They found a young girl working there who was a possible victim of exploitation. The investigation is ongoing.
As a result of their success, Kent & Essex Police invited Cheryl to sit on their Anti-Slavery partnership group. They meet together bimonthly and share what they are working on, and ideas for new initiatives.
One action they have been working on together is a hot spot mapping exercise. Members of the STT Kent group go out in pairs and walk round an area, noting down the names and addresses of businesses that are most likely to carry the risk of exploitation. Businesses like car washes, fruit farms, and nail bars. The information is then fed into the police’s database, who cross reference the addresses with reported crimes. Kent Police are hopeful that this will enable them to proactively visit potential hot spot businesses, leading to more rescues and more convictions.
Cheryl is encouraged by how much their contribution, and that of churches generally, is valued by the police. Kent & Essex Police’s Anti-Slavery unit was set up a year or so ago, and the new partnership coordinator spent some time getting to know everyone working in the area. Cheryl remembers her saying ‘crikey, it’s the church everywhere I go!’
For Cheryl that is exactly how it should be. ‘Slavery is happening in our community so there needs to be a community response. I think it needs to be the church that facilitates that. Who else is going to do it?’