When the United Kingdom celebrated the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the international slave trade is 2007, few took seriously claims that slavery still existed within its borders. But a new report from the National Crime Agency (NCA) claims slavery in the UK is far worse than previously thought, and the Church of England believes it is uniquely positioned to fight it.

Will Kerr of NCA said last week that earlier estimates of trafficking victims — between 10,000 and 13,000 — were just the tip of an iceberg. There are 300 police operations investigating and tracking slavery cases, and slavery occurs in “every large town and city in the country,” the NCA report says.

Kerr says affected people are likely to be “in the tens of thousands. The more we look for modern slavery, the more we find evidence of the widespread abuse of the vulnerable.”

Philippa Bowen, lay chaplain to the Bishop of Derby, has called on churches to become involved, spotting and reporting instances that could amount to slavery. “We need communities that have their eyes open, who are aware enough of their surroundings that they can say when something doesn’t look right,” Rowen said.

She offered examples: “When the man cleaning their car has no safety equipment and looks underfed and tired; when their neighbor’s live-in nanny never seems to leave the house, and is too frightened to talk to them; when the holiday let at the end of the road is being visited by different men all through the day and night.”

The church will launch a three-year operation in October to train people to recognize signs of slavery in their area. The definition of modern slavery includes “human trafficking, slavery, servitude and forced or compulsory labor, including sexual or criminal exploitation,” the NCA says.

John Martin

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