‘On Saturday October 15th, Catherine Bearder MEP and Women Liberal Democrats held a free conference on the theme of people trafficked into the UK. The non-political conference, aimed at men and women resident in the South East, attracted over 50 delegates to the Penta Hotel in Reading. The conference was held as near a possible to October 18th, which is UK anti slavery day, and EU anti trafficking day. These days aim to highlight a worldwide problem.
Catherine Bearder had decided when she was first elected that a key area of focus for her was to fight modern day slavery. The goal of our first anti trafficking event was to arm the group attending with the tools to raise awareness in their areas and to begin to tackle the problem. Just last month two men were convicted of trafficking girls for the sex trade in Oxford, and this had actually been happening on the neighbouring street to Catherine’s. Two Community Against Trafficking groups (CATs) have been set up by Catherine, in her region, but the aim of the conference was to set up more. Police officers and charities stress the importance of active community engagement in the fight against trafficking.
Baroness Sally Hamwee talked to us about her work in the Lords on this issue, reminding us that someone is trafficked across a border every minute worldwide and that human trafficking was the third largest business in the world. She gave useful and moving case studies of people who have come to the UK full of hope only to find themselves trapped into a dreadful life of degradation and despair.
She was followed by a short thought provoking film “Behind the Smile” which asked the audience to consider why young Eastern European women might be working as prostitutes in their area.
Recently retired Superintendent Bernie Gravett from the Metropolitan Police then described Operation Golf, a joint investigation team founded by the EU. You may have seen the BBC programme on this subject and Bernie the following week. 26 Romanian gang members were charged in Romania with trafficking181 children into the UK for forced criminality, (begging, thieving, shoplifting) and 120 gang members were arrested and prosecuted in the UK for organised crime offences including the trafficking of children. These children can be moved around Europe, uneducated and neglected, and often start their lives as babies, being props for begging “mothers”
Julia Immonen, the founder of Sport Against Trafficking, and Debbie Beadle youth programme coordinator for ECPAT UK (End Child Prostitution Pornography and Trafficking) talked about their work and described their proposed row across the Atlantic in an attempt to raise a million pounds for ECPAT.
Our breakout groups in the afternoon followed a checklist, which asked us to consider what communities could do. Stop The Traffik offered advice: writing a letter to your local paper could be the way to start a group for example, telling the police about concerns about local houses, writing to your MP. The Oxford trafficking ring was discovered and eventually broken because a user of prostitutes was concerned that when the girl he had rung for appeared she seemed terrified and underage. He sent her back and after a few days thought was brave enough to contact the police.
OXCAT the local anti trafficking group raised their profile on antislavery day by “selling” women in cages in the market place, which attracted a significant amount of media attention; and Catherine had a good interview on the Sunday politics show.
Following the conference Reading has begun to set up a CAT group and Catherine is keen to hear from more people who would be interested in helping fight this dreadful trade in their area.
Contact Catherine Bearder at firstname.lastname@example.org
Other useful contacts are
Stop the Traffic www.stopthetraffik.org Tel 0207 9214254
Anti-Slavery International www.antislavery.org Tel 0207 501 8920
ECPAT UK www.ecpat.org.uk
Eaves Poppy Project www.eaves4women.co.uk Tel 0207 735 2062
Women Liberal Democrats www.libdems.org.uk Tel 0207 227 1208
Thank you to all our speakers, to Penta Hotels Reading, and particular thanks go to Julia Bricknell, the office coordinator of Women Liberal Democrats, to Louisa Winnick WLD Volunteer, and to Mark Wheeler and Sally Barnard from Catherine Bearder’s office for the organisation of such a successful and well-run event.’