Modern Slavery, a different kind of slavery without locked doors
Modern slavery is mostly targeting women Photograph courtesy of: Flickr, Ira Gelb
Slavery is often associated only with forced labour and the African American movement in the USA. But what people tend to ignore is that there are still different kinds of modern-day slavery, which vary from human trafficking, to bonded labour, domestic and child slavery. The victims usually originate from vulnerable social groups, people that try to establish a better life for their families and themselves. In 2012, the countries with the highest victim potentiality were Romania, Poland, Nigeria, Vietnam, Hungary, Slovakia and the UK.
Last week, the event "Perspectives on Modern Slavery" took place in London, with a speaker panel consisting of Guardian Journalist Annie Kelly (currently working on the Modern-day Slavery in focus project), Inga Thiemann (PhD candidate in Human Trafficking), Andrew Leak (Lead, Medico-Legal Services for the Helen Bamber Foundation), Lynne Chitty (UK Care Director for Love146) and Mark Heath (Head of Business Change and Development at the Gangmasters Licensing Authority). The speakers talked about their personal experiences with the survivors and the difficulties they faced in building a relationship with them, as well as the social, political and financial issues that cause the phenomenon of slavery.
Annie Kelly explained, through her personal experience, how the victims are targeted and how they are tormented psychologically into thinking that slavery is the only solution. When people of a poor financial and educational background decide to move across bigger and more prosperous countries, the only way is through people that promise to find them work and residence, in exchange of labour for a specific amount of time. "That person could have been vulnerable, for example, in Poland, was brought to the UK with a promise of a better life and ends up being without passport, in a country where he doesn't know the language, the system or anybody to help him", says panel speaker Mark Heath. "And that's why people can now be entrapped, without actually being entrapped with a locking key", he continues.
Andrew Leak spoke about Helen Bamber Foundation's work with survivors of slavery, pointing out how difficult it was to help them overcome the entire physical and psychological trauma, as a result of the abuse they've been through. He also talked about how difficult it was to help people with different religious backgrounds and beliefs overcome the superstitions their abusers used against them: "If you have a background in a culture that believes in witchcraft and if this juju (objects such as amulets and spells) is so inbuilt into someone's culture, one of the most difficult things that we face is breaking that juju spell and reassuring people that nothing bad will happen to them".
Lynne Chitty, which has been working with trafficked children for 25 years now, describes how difficult that is, as children are even born and raised into trafficking and they learn from a young age to live with the fear that their abusers may harm them, even after long they have escaped. The Care Director brought an example from her personal experience: "This young person was rescued and she had to do a child protection interview that young people do on video, she found it so distressing that she tried to take her own life". The exploitation that some of these young people experience on their journey is horrendous and not everyone can stand it; "one girl said to me that she had to leave because she couldn't let what happened to her happen to her sister".
Marion D'Ardenne, volunteer at the Purple Teardrop Campaign, an organisation that raises awareness and supports safe houses for trafficking victims, gave an advice on how we should all react in case we notice a form of modern slavery; we should call the Police and report what has been noticed, or call the Modern Slavery helpline at 0800 0121 700. She also commented on the passage of a new law about slavery: "It has been heartening and interesting to understand and share the process of the passage of the Modern Slavery Bill through Parliament. When this becomes a law, it will be a definite achievement and pave the way forward".
What is really important to keep from this event is that slavery is something that has not been yet extinct, even though it was abolished in the 19th century. Modern slavery can take many forms and fool not only the victims into believing a stranger, which entangles them in a web they can't get away from, but also the bystanders that may not realize or want to realize what's happening in front of their eyes.