New Horizon has been one of my summer highlights for as long as I can remember. Growing up in Geneva, my family came back to the motherland every summer, scheduling our visit to coincide with New Horizon where my sister and I got a crash course in Northern Irish culture, getting over-excited about visits to Tesco and the SU programmes.
The seminars were something I “graduated into” around the age of 13, tagging along with my parents and taking notes in my gigantic yellow scrapbook. This year, I have been asked to speak at a couple of seminars on something that I’ve been following Jesus with – something that was completely unknown and still is terrifying, but that has shown me hope I’d never known before.
Human trafficking is something you might have heard of – it’s become a bit of a buzz word in recent months. Politicians, the press, the world of film, several cultural campaigns: we are concerned. And rightly so. The conservative estimate is that there are 27 million slaves in the world today. Men, women, and children. People coerced, entrapped and exploited for the benefit of another. Bought and sold, for profit. Beaten, for profit. Abused, for profit. Raped, for profit.
The truth is that human trafficking – the new term for slavery – has been found in at least 162 countries. And Northern Ireland is one of them. The period between April 2011 and April just past saw 27 people rescued from slavery. If the suggestion that only 1-2% of victims are rescued from slavery is true, the problem is much bigger than what we’d like to imagine.
Victims of trafficking are used in the contexts of forced labour, sex trafficking, and domestic servitude. The most common kind here is sex trafficking – our sex trade is “booming”. In the times of the recession we so often hear about, £500,000 is spent each week on commercial sex in NI. Many of the people in the sex trade are thought to be there by force. But we also allow other forms of slavery to happen: people locked behind closed doors in the home of another, made to act as personal slaves in an unfair, unethical environment. Others are made to work to provide us with fish and mushrooms or clean cars, paid little or nothing, working unhealthy hours, with no way out.
Until now. Northern Ireland is catching up on itself with regards to the problem of human trafficking here. Only recently having discovered the reality of human trafficking in NI, the PSNI is going above and beyond to rescue as many victims as it can and bring the perpetrators of this horrible crime to justice. Migrant Help and Women’s Aid provide rescued victims with the care they so desperately need when they exit what many describe as worse than death. Law and policy makers are doing their research and ascertaining what kind of environment is safe for victims and unsafe for traffickers. Communities are becoming “anti-trafficking” – raising awareness, putting in place structures for aftercare, raising funds for those already involved in this.
But is this your problem? Why should you bother with something so complex and so evil? I believe that slavery is something that breaks God’s heart and I think he wants us to be broken over it too…in order to invite us along on the ride of abolition, towards freedom and redemption.
Really, though? What can you do about it? We need people from all tribes and trades. We need you to know about what is going on in your own world, your own country. We need you to connect with people in your circle who may be able to help. We need you to know what to do when you encounter a victim. We need you to grasp the fact that it is our culture that has allowed human trafficking to flourish – because without a culture in which human worth has been lost cradling the crime, it wouldn’t be allowed to breathe.
We need you.
Come along on Monday morning at 11.45 to hear more about what human trafficking looks like both globally and nationally. Come with any questions you may have – awareness leads to action, and action leads to change. Come and become aware.
And then, come along for part two on Thursday – a look at why I have hope that abolition is possible in Northern Ireland. I will be sharing a bit about No More Traffik, an ongoing campaign against human trafficking that we launched in May 2012, and the very exciting steps towards freedom we have seen.
Following Jesus sometimes takes us into scary territory. This certainly has. But it has meant riding behind the King who is storming the castle and letting us watch…and I’d love for you to be a part of it.