Finding hope at Anti-Slavery Day

Finding hope at Anti-Slavery Day

In 2010 The Anti-Slavery Day Bill was passed, declaring that each year, on the 18th of October, there would be an opportunity to raise awareness of modern slavery and inspire people to eliminate it. The Bill defined Modern Day Slavery as child trafficking, forced labour, domestic servitude and trafficking for sexual exploitation. The first index on modern slavery, published by the Walk Free Foundation earlier this week, claims that there are currently over 29 million victims of this slavery worldwide, and some of them are here in Oxford, amongst out dreaming spires.

Earlier this year, in the Old Bailey, seven members of a sex grooming ring were convicted of abusing children from Oxford. The youngest victim was just 11 years old when the grooming started – and was beaten with a baseball bat and forced to have a back-room abortion at 12. The court was told that these girls were victims of physical and sexual violence including being suffocated, burnt, and being plied with hard drugs.

On Friday, Oxcat (Oxford Community Against Trafficking) staged a number of demonstrations in central Oxford, in an attempt to raise awareness of the issue of human trafficking and ensure that more people are informed so that we might avoid a repeat of the horrific cases mentioned above. Among the demonstrations were a powerful spoken word performance and a provocative dance routine depicting the plight of a woman trapped in sexual slavery – certainly designed to make people stop and think.

Oxcat’s Caroline Lennartson commented that ‘Friday’s Anti Slavery Day demonstration on Cornmarket street  is what a community waking up to the reality of Human Trafficking looks like. And it is powerful.’

Oxcat have been playing a big role over the last few years in making the community aware of these issues, and they hope that this year’s demonstrations will be a further step towards a safer society. They are strongly encouraging people to look at their website to familiarize themselves with potential signs of human trafficking. ‘As we each become more aware of the Community around us, we can become more a part of it. Our vigilance could make a big difference in the life of a friend or a stranger.’

They seem to be making progress. Josh Berkley, a student at Jesus college, spotted the Oxcat demonstrations on Friday and praised the work that they were doing, saying that he had also come across them previously – ‘Oxcat enlightened me about the severity of the issue of slavery close to where we live.’

Some students have even started volunteering with OXCAT. Jenny Gwyther, a third year student at Worcester college, said that: ‘I couldn’t believe that something so horrific and disturbing was happening in the city I loved, amongst the streets that I have walked.’ Jenny is passionate about the issue and keen to see more people involved: ‘If we, as a society, cling to an ideal of freedom and democracy then surely it is in our interests as well as our sheer humanity that we rise up to take a stand and actively put a stop to the treatment of individuals, women, children and men, as commodities.’

As campaigns to fight Modern Day Slavery gain momentum, it is likely that we will hear more about Oxcat and the issue of human trafficking. Hopefully they will be successful in preventing further cases occurring here in Oxford.


Standing in the street to stop trafficking

A flash mob of blindfolded protestors stood statuesque on Cornmarket for five minutes on Tuesday to raise awareness about human trafficking.

Coinciding with National Anti-Slavery Day, a crowd of supporters donned blindfolds and froze in place at 1pm for five minutes. At five past one the surreal event ended with the call “You can now open your eyes to human trafficking”.

The Oxford Community Against Trafficking (OXCAT) set up a stall on Cornmarket Street advertising “Girls for sale” while shivering girls dressing in black stood in metal cages at the side of the stall. A handful of suited ‘sleazy’ sales men advertised their ‘wares’ over megaphones with calls of “Girls! Girls! Buy them now and sell them on!” Some people stopped to take photos of their friends posing besides the cages and signs.

The protest was in response to the recent trial and prosecution of Anastassios Papas and Graham Cochrane.

Cochrane and Papas ran the ‘Fun Girls in Oxford’ escort agency, but were arrested after a tip-off that they had been employing girls as young as 13 as prostitutes. The pair were convicted of trafficking women within the UK for sexual explotation in September, with Papas receiving a seven-year sentence and Cochrane five.

Detective Inspector Simon Morton of Thames Valley Police said that the girls Papas used “were told they were going to be cut up and put in a box if they did something that he didn’t like. They were threatened continually. He was forcing them to be raped every day.”

OXCAT believes that Papas and Cochranes’ convictions have just scratched the surface of sex trafficking issues in Oxford. Spokesperson Owen Gallacher said: “Human trafficking is normally associated with big cities, but it could happen anywhere”. He continued:  “The number one thing to do is to raise awareness; let people know that it exists and what the warning signals are. We want to get people to open their eyes.”

The leaflets OXCAThanded out on the day stressed that Papas and Cochrane’s crimes are unlikely to be an isolated case. They added that “there are at least 4,000 sex trafficking victims in the UK, according to the Home Affairs Committee” and that “the majority of victims are girls aged 12-25”.

Though many of the protesters came in response to OXCAT’s online campaigning, a large number were also recruited on the day. Keble student Sarah Poulten said: “I joined because I think it is an important issue and conscious raising activities are the first step in getting things done because people are forced to realize there is a problem when they would much rather just ignore it.”

Another student declared that they had known little about the issue before coming to the protest. “It’s amazing to think that it happens right here on your doorstep. When you hear about human trafficking you think of Eastern Europe and places like that. You forget that it is just as big an issue here in England, even in Oxford.”

One second year student at Wadham College said: “it is easy to forget that anything like this happens when you’re stuck in the Oxford bubble, but at least some effort is being made to draw attention to it”.