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The Church joins anti-slavery drive


by Jo Duckles

THE CHURCH and Thames Valley Police are urging Christians to take action against the modern day slavery that is rife throughout the United Kingdom.
Thames Valley Police record three modern slavery crimes every week across Oxfordshire, Berkshire and Buckinghamshire. That statistic was released as the force launched it’s Hidden Harm campaign to tackle abuse in the region. The Church of England has launched the national Clewer Initiative to help churches know how to help combat slavery.

Photo: Shutterstock

The Clewer Initiative is funded by the Clewer Sisters, an Anglican order of nuns founded in 1852 to help marginalised women who found themselves homeless and drawn into the sex trade. The sisters have been based in Windsor and Begbroke, but now live in the grounds of Ripon College Cuddesdon.

Sister Anne Proudley, one of the Clewer sisters, said: “I hope that churches will take the Clewer Initiative on and it will be rolled out into the parishes so that the general public can be made aware that this is a much bigger issue than the cases we read about in the newspapers.

“The best way you can help is with your ears and eyes. Look out for people at the car wash or supermarket. Notice their demeanour and speak to them if you can. Notice if someone is working in a supermarket and is still there at 9pm when they started at 8am. Be aware if you are someone who uses nail bars or salons. If you are living in an area and you keep seeing different men coming and going to a specific house, always alert the police.”

Alison Webster, the diocesan social responsibility adviser, said: “Many churches are already involved with homeless people, lonely people, and hungry people, all of whom are particularly vulnerable to those who exploit people with slavery. That’s why it’s important for churches to be aware of what modern day slavery is and how it’s impacting our communities.”

Det Supt Nick John, Head of TVP’s Protecting Vulnerable People unit, said: “Modern slavery is happening in this country, right here in the Thames Valley. In the past two years 120 modern slavery crimes have been recorded across our area. With offences in every county of the force, it’s a stark reminder that this is an offence that could happen anywhere, even in your community.”

April McCoig, Thames Vally Police’s Anti Slavery Co-ordinator, said: “There is potential for churches to be a listening ear. Someone might confide in people at a church. A lot of slavery happens behind closed doors. However a domestic slave might leave the house once a week to go to church. The church could have a really important role to play there.

“There is a need to not have any conversations about slavery in front of someone who may be in control of someone else. Be mindful that there are gang masters involved.”
There is now also the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Anti-Slavery Network which aims to bring together a multi-agency partnership to raise awareness of modern slavery, share good practice and identify gaps in the modern slavery response in the region. Members include representatives from the police, local authorities, fire and rescue services, charities and faith and community groups.

In Reading The Mustard Tree is a Christian social action charity that runs the Rahab Project. The project provides a night outreach to men and women working on the street, offering food, drink, contraception and rape alarms and gathers information for the police. During the day Rahab offers advocacy and help with hospital/prison visiting, court support and other support.

Oxfordshire based nuns fund national anti-slavery campaign


THE Prime Minister and the Archbishop of Canterbury have given their backing to the launch today of a project aimed at mobilising the Church of England’s 12,000 parishes in the battle to eradicate modern slavery. The Clewer Initiative is funded by the Clewer Sisters, an Anglican order now based in Cuddesdon, Oxfordshire. The order was founded in the 19th century to help vulnerable, mainly young women who found themselves homeless and drawn into the sex trade.

Theresa May welcomed the Clewer Initiative, a three-year programme to help the Church of England’s 42 dioceses work to support victims of modern slavery and identify the signs of exploitation in their local communities.

The Most Revd Justin Welby outside Lambeth Palace. Photo: Picture Partnership.

The project was being launched today at Lambeth Palace at an event attended by representatives from Church of England dioceses and other denominations, along with MPs and charities involved in work to combat modern slavery.

In a statement of support for the launch, Mrs May said: “Modern slavery is a barbaric crime which destroys the lives of some of the most vulnerable in our society. I value the work that the Clewer Initiative will be doing to enable the Church of England dioceses and wider church networks to develop strategies to tackle modem slavery.

“In particular, I welcome the focus on engaging with local communities to help them to spot the signs of modem slavery.

“We need to shine a light on this hidden crime and to encourage more victims to come forward so that we can provide them with the support they need.

“Tackling modern slavery is one of my priorities as Prime Minister, and as Home Secretary I was pleased to introduce the Modern Slavery Act 2015, giving law enforcement new tools to pursue criminals and increase the support available for victims.

“However, the Government cannot tackle this problem alone and this is why the efforts of organisations and groups such as the Clewer Initiative are so important.”

Work is already under way in dioceses with training and information sessions on how to provide support and identify victims of labour exploitation in areas from the construction and property sector to hand car washes in British cities and shipping.

Bath and Wells, Chester, Derby, Durham, Guildford, Lichfield, Liverpool, Portsmouth, Rochester, Southwark and Southwell and Nottingham dioceses are already signed up, with a further 14 dioceses due to participate later this year.

In Derby, the diocese has become a key member of the Derby and Derbyshire Modern Slavery Partnership, uniting with police and social services working to help victims.

In a video message, The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, encouraged churches to act as ‘eyes and ears’ in local communities to identify victims.

He said: “Jesus came saying that he proclaimed freedom for captives. Freedom is something that we take for granted, but it is the gift of God, it is the purpose of God. Those who purposefully constrain, confine and traffick and enslave people will face the judgement of God for their terrible sins.

“Yet even more serious is when we choose not to see: when as it were we put on our own blindfolds and don’t see those around us who are held in slavery, oppressed, trafficked, in other peoples’ power.

“But we can change it – we can change it so easily, so quickly. We can set people free, set our society and nation free from the scourge of slavery simply by removing our blindfolds and acting on what we see.”

Kevin Hyland, the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, said: “Faith groups have influence, insight and rare avenues into the community; they are therefore a powerful tool in the fight against modern slavery.

“The Church of England has acted on this unique ability by launching The Clewer Initiative, which adds backbone to the church’s anti-slavery approach. Clewer offers important knowledge to leaders of the Church, parish members and the public.

“By informing those who are in a position to identify and support victims of this brutal crime, I am confident that the church is living up to its potential in defending the oppressed and overcoming injustice.”

The Bishop of Derby, Dr Alastair Redfern, who chairs the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner’s Advisory Panel, said: “Modern slavery is present in nearly every community in England and will continue to flourish if we remain indifferent to it.

“Churches can provide a space to gather of goodness and grace, with an open agenda where different groups can meet to discuss how they work together to support victims, and to improve efforts for rescue and prevention.

“We can also act as ‘eyes and ears’ in our communities to help identify victims. Our work in the Clewer Initiative will build on the passion of churches to be with people, to contribute to more effective structures, and to go the extra mile for the sake of those who are suffering.”

The Church of England is working with the Anglican Alliance to help mobilise a wider Anglican Communion response to modern slavery. It has been a regular participant in meetings of the Santa Marta Group, an alliance of international police chiefs and bishops from around the world working together with civil society in a process endorsed by Pope Francis to eradicate human trafficking and modern day slavery.